By Tim Hunt
Traveling the world in AirbnbsUploaded: Sep 5, 2019
When I received a press release last month touting Airbnb’s explosive growth across the world, my mind turned immediately to my Pleasanton friends Jay and Ofelia Gomez.
The long-time residents operated Ofelia’s Kitchen on Hillcrest Avenue (north of East Avenue in Livermore) for nearly 20 years before selling the business in 2014. Those 20 years were characterized by six-day weeks (only closed on Sunday). Her home-made soups and sandwiches were delightful. She made her own wheat bread—grinding it from organic kernels—daily.
Freed of the six-day work weeks, they have settled into the new season of life with two parts. There’s the nine months from September to June when they are committed two days a week to leading Bible Study Fellowship groups. Jay leads a men’s group, while Ofelia leads a women’s group in Spanish.
And, then there’s summer when they hit the road and make full use of the Airbnbs. My bride and I have been blessed to travel fairly widely, but are pikers compared to what Jay and Ofelia have done in the last few years. Sitting down with them last weekend, Jay said they have taken three trips longer than 70 days and used Airbnbs exclusively except in that rare instance where they had to rely on a hotel. With the same length trip next year they will have spent a year in Airbnbs.
The Airbnb press release noted that the company’s listings around the world topped the number of rooms of the biggest seven hotel chains combined. It reported four million check-ins on one Saturday and more than six million listings worldwide.
That made it easy for the Gomez family to travel and get in touch with real people. They returned last month from a 75-day trip that had them flying from the Bay Area to Oslo, Norway and then on to Greece. From Greece, they went into Turkey, then to Slovenia, Georgia, Moscow and then onto the Scandinavian countries.
Ofelia remarked, because kitchens are available at many Airbnb properties, they saved lots of money by cooking for themselves. In many cases, the owners guided them on what they should see and where to go. One, who owned a farm about 30 minutes from town, picked them up and brought them to the farm. Then, after describing the market they should go to, she handed them the keys to her car with the provision they return it by a certain time.
Ofelia lays the foundation for the trips by using TripAdvisor and its reviews and then checking the locations on YouTube for the low budget approach. The combination allows her to determine where she wants to go and reserve Airbnb rooms. Once she’s completed that, Jay develops a spreadsheet with their itinerary and then loads it on a Google map on his laptop. It was amazing to see how much land they traversed on their recent and second European trip.
They love the outdoors, so her bias runs toward beautiful places. She also tries to avoid staying downtown, feeling they would spend all of their time there instead of exploring other parts of the city.
On their most recent trip, they only traveled by plane twice once they landed in Greece before taking the flight home from Oslo. Buses and trains are their favored mode of transportation. Jay reports buses allow him to see the countryside instead of being focused on driving a car. They reported no language challenges—they speak English and Spanish (they were born in Colombia).
In 2018, that wasn’t the case when they traveled through Asia, visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Viet Nam and spending a month in China. Particularly as they got to the more rural areas, they need an app to translate. In China, they also found that people did not carry cash, everything was paid with the WhatsApp. They had to download it to do business. They were also surprised how modern some of the Chinese cities are and what a contrast they are to Laos, for instance. Jay said it was like driving from Tijuana into San Diego.
They’ve also used Airbnb in Hawaii as well as trips around the East Coast, the mountain West and the deep South. They connect with local people, watch their budget carefully and celebrate the amazing world God has created. Are there challenges—sure—but check out their smiles when they talk about their adventures.
One Airbnb lodging in China was located 200 steps above street level and that was after climbing a steep hill. The directions weren’t great, so it took a bit to find the right unit once they reached that level. Jay loves Google maps to navigate to Airbnbs and it came in real handy at this location.