I remember my first time staying in an airbnb while studying abroad, on a weekend trip in Scotland. A group of friends and I rented a few bedrooms in a couples apartment. They were super cool and let us use their kitchen, and we had some pretty deep conversations after our nights out in Edinburgh. When I returned to the states, the travel bug consumed me. Post study abroad depression is totally real, and I knew I had to do something about it. It was then that I realized you don’t need to hop on a plane to Europe in order to have a cool travel experience. A journey of self- discovery began and I lost the need to find someone to travel with. I decided to embark on weekend trips and from there it’s been one hell of a journey! I’ve now stayed in more airbnbs than I can count on two hands.
It all started with Karenville. I have now been to Karenville a handful of times, during all four seasons. It is a village compromised of tiny homes, built by a woman named Karen on her beautiful land in the finger lakes region of New York. Her family has owned the land for nearly a century. Karen established a hobby of building tiny victorian homes, and eventually decided to rent them out. The village is completely off grid- no running water, electricity, or WiFi. During my first visit, I stayed in “A Tiny Hotel”, which is the only building with heat on the property, other than Karen’s cabin (which she also rents out).
I was amazed at how wonderful simple living can feel. I thoroughly enjoyed pumping fresh spring water from the well and taking a primitive shower with boiled rain water. The rain water feels so much different on your body, I had never felt so pure and connected to the earth as my body absorbed the minerals. There are many animals- goats, chickens, hamsters, deers, and coyotes howling at night in the near distance. Initially, the sound of the coyotes terrified me but now I find myself yearning to hear those howls almost every day.
I then returned to Karenville over the summer and stayed in a tiny Hobbit Hut down in the woods among the Hickory trees.
Hundreds of fireflies lit up the Danby State Forest as I gazed out of my window at night. The hut is set off in the woods, away from the rest of the village. I laugh now as I remember Karen saying she is impressed by city folk who decide to stay down there alone. My third visit to Karenville, I stayed in Kokopellis Playhouse, a tiny log cabin.
I love log cabins and front porches but I especially love tiny log cabins with front porches. I enjoyed a few IPAs with a book in hand as the sunset. Karen’s property is set right off the Danby State Forest and the Finger Lakes Trail, so I enjoy getting to hike while I’m there as well. I was the first person that Karen ever rented Kokopellis playhouse out to and it was magical. We went on a stroll to her apple trees and I took in the fall foliage. It is always cool getting to know Karen’s other guests around the fire at night or while cooking in the kitchen.
Once fall was coming to an end, I came across a tipi rental on Airbnb and contemplated going alone but then decided to take my dad as an early Christmas gift. As the weekend was approaching, we saw it was going to be 20 degrees. I asked my dad if we should wait till the following weekend when it would be 15 degrees warmer. He said, “Nope, let’s go this weekend. It’ll be an adventure!” My dad went out and made sure we had really good sleeping bags and what not. We left early on a nice (very cold) Saturday morning and hit the road for the Catskills.
After checking the tipi out and getting situated, we went to explore Kaaterskill Falls.
We got back to camp and my dad showed me his ways- got the fire started inside the tipi before sunset and we cooked some chicken sausage on the outdoor fire pit.
As the sun began to set, the temperature seemed to drop quicker and quicker. We were pretty cozy in the tipi with the fire going and sleeping bags rated for 30 degrees. It was a pretty sweet father-daughter experience and I was glad to get my dad back in the woods, especially in cold weather since he used to go backpacking during the winter. Once an outdoorsman, always an outdoorsman.
The tipi adventure sort of sparked the idea to return to Karenville in the winter. I camped out in a hut in the woods for two nights. It was about 18 degrees both nights but I had the right gear and made it through.
I remember saying out loud to myself as I climbed into my sleeping bag at night, “Whose idea was this? Oh right, yours. Idiot.” The next morning was incredibly cold but I remember feeling so very safe in the world as I looked out at the frost on the window as the sun rose beyond the hickory trees.
About a month later, I stayed in a small cabin on the same property as the tipi. This was pretty spontaneous- it was a Friday night and I just had an urge to get to the mountains. I opened the Airbnb app, booked the cabin, packed my hiking gear and some food and was out.
Within the next month or so, I landed the job as a Tour Coordinator with Active Minds. This job would have me traveling across the country and exploring all different sorts of rentals. After our first full day on the road, we arrived at a rustic cabin in Sparta, Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The cabin had a back deck and after cooking dinner, I made a cup of tea and journaled outside. There was so much fog sprawling out across the lake, I felt like in was in a movie. It was so mystical. I am a sucker for any sort of stormy skies.
The owners of the Airbnb came by the next morning, an older couple. They wanted to make sure we arrived safely. “Do y’all know where the space heaters and extra blankets are? The grocery store is right down the street and we can shown y’all the way if you’d like.” This was my first moment of experiencing southern hospitality and it just kept happening from that point on.
My time in the South continued as we made our way to Auburn University in Alabama. I came across a treehouse listing and decided to book it. Sleep in a hammock up in a tree house? Ummm, YES. Please.
The treehouse was in the backyard of a families house in a nice rural community. The man had built the treehouse for his daughter when she was little and now that she is older, he rents it out. I met the entire family and they were so nice. I arrived the day before Easter and was feeling pretty homesick, but didn’t let on to it. They invited me to Easter brunch the next day, asked about my mission, and we shared several stories with one another. In a sense, they reminded me on my own family and suddenly, I didn’t feel so homesick anymore. They also have a tiny house on their property which I hung out in to read and get some work done.
In St Augustine, Florida, Alexa and I stayed on a boat. It was super cool and the sunrise was epic.
After a few weeks in the South, our journey across the country to California began. The second I step foot in the truck on this drive, my mind was on getting to Yosemite. After four straight days of 12+ hours on the road, we arrived in Fresno, about 2 hours South of the southern gate to Yosemite. I slept for 5 hours and then hopped in the truck and drived north with zero clue of where I would sleep that night. I arrived in Oakhurst, which I guess you could say is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I knew camping was not an option since you have to obtain permits or book a campsite months ahead of time, so I opened up the Airbnb app, yet again. Initially, I had inquired about an airstream but the owners never got back to me so I accidentally stumbled upon the Leaping Lizards Creekhouse and I sure am glad that I did. I rented a room in Eddie and Judi’s quirky house and immediately felt at home.
Eddie and Judi greeted me with huge smiles and cold water. We enjoyed a lot of laughs by the fire, the sort of laughs that hurt so much and then nothing is funny other than the sound of one another’s laughter. They reminded me of my parents and took me right under their wing. Judi had egg sandwiches and coffee for me in the morning before I sought out hiking. I enjoyed their company so much that I kept making the drive up whenever I could, the place kept calling me back!
On my birthday, Judi and Eddie took Alexia and I out for dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant. We drank margaritas, laughed and it was just so nice. Judi and i also went to explore a local Sequoia Grove near their home, since Mariposa Grove in Yosemite was not open yet (the drive into Yosemite valley is also TERRIFYING and this chick was TIRED). Judi and Eddie are currently driving cross country in their RV along with their dogs. I can NOT wait to see them on the east coast!
When we were in the desert, I stayed in a tiny “dollhouse” on a property with wild donkeys. The husband and wife warned me about rattlesnakes and as he had his classic rock playing while doing yard work, told me to just yell for him if I saw one. Alrighty then.
My sister Ashley and I decided to explore Joshua Tree National Park one weekend and stayed in “The Magical Psychic Tower” of Morongo Valley in the high desert. The high desert I guess can be considered the mountains of the desert, at elevations over 2,000 feet. We had a pretty sweet view of Mount San Jacinto.
I so badly wanted to see a mountain lion or coyote but all we saw was dozens of rabbits at night- it was SO odd. I remember how strong the sun was in the desert and how drastic the change in temperature was once the sun went down. We spoke with the owner who also lived on the property. Her eyes lit up as she spoke of the desert. While it was beautiful, you will absolutely never find me living in the desert. Oh, hell no.
The following weekend, I decided to make my way back up to the Sierras, this time visiting Kings Canyon National Park. I rented a room in a beautiful house. There was a bottle of wine on the bed upon my arrival, with a cutely lit room.
The house had a beautiful backyard and I so enjoyed hanging out with fellow travelers. A group of guys were traveling to Colorado from southern Camifornia. The owners gave me recommendations on how to approach Kings Canyon as a solo female traveler. The kindness of strangers has been super cool and it’s always nice to be around others who understand the need to be on the road, the necessity of belonging to more than one place.
One of my most recent stays was at a house on Cape Cod. My partner Eric and I rented a few bedrooms in a man’s house, who lost his wife a few years ago. This man, Bill, thought about selling the house but his grandkids convinced him to start an Airbnb instead. It has been a healing mechanism for him, if you will.
We arrived pretty late and Bill had freshly baked snicker doodle cookies and juice for us. He also made us sandwiches after hearing we had yet to eat dinner. “No, thank you” is not an option in Bills home. Bill also had breakfast and coffee for us each morning.
We had so many laughs. Bill never ran out of stories to tell. We got to talking about Ireland and were both overflowing with joy as we spoke of the country that we each have a strong connection to. Bill told me about his experience renting a car in Ireland, and how he found himself on the completely wrong side of a roundabout. People were honking and he had no idea what to do. At this point, I was laughing uncontrollably. I asked him to please stop speaking as I thought I would pee myself. He wound up crashing the car and when he did an impersonation of the woman’s reaction at the car rental place, I couldn’t help but to spit my coffee out. He also got lost trying to find his Airbnb there and wound up drinking tea with the Airbnb owners neighbors. When I asked Bill where I should hike, he told me that he didn’t want me taking the truck and took me instead as we stopped at some historic places along the way. I asked a few times, “but are you sure? ” He told me he’d he offended if I kept asking that, so I shut up. We talked along the way about books, history and also just enjoyed the silence.
We got pulled over by an undercover cop at a crosswalk for not stopping completely at the crosswalk. Bill looks at me and goes, “I’ve seen undercover cops for drug busts but at a crosswalk? Can you believe this, Courtney? ” I was laughing so hard and fighting back tears as the cop took Bills license.
Bill insisted that night that Eric and I be his test subjects on bacon and cheese cornbread. I was not complaining. It was difficult saying goodbye to Bill as I left for Jersey. Something tells me our paths will cross again.
As I signed his guest book, I read a quote, “there is still no word for old friends who have just met.” I’m not sure if there is a phrase that will more accurately describe my experience on the road than this. What a journey this has been, and something tells me it is only the beginning.