How I Lived In Airbnbs (& Out Of A Suitcase) For A Year

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
We're constantly looking for ways to lead a simpler life. No cluttered kitchen or overflowing closets, just the bare necessities. If we could downsize our belongings to just one suitcase and travel the world, we'd do it in a heartbeat. That's why we found Yearbnb — Kevin Lynch's visual diary of living in Airbnbs for an entire year — utterly mesmerizing.

As the executive creative director of BBDO South China, Lynch hopped between three cities on a regular basis. Too busy to figure out permanent living arrangements at each location, the Chicago native decided to embark on a life with no car, no home, and no key in his pocket — by booking short-term stays exclusively through Airbnb. With nothing but a small carry-on suitcase, he's stayed at 88 listings so far, spanning 75 neighborhoods.

"Kevin is not our typical user," says Maria Parra Rodriguez, Head of Global Consumer Communications at Airbnb. "However, we do hear of travelers seeking to be immersed in the local culture in ways that other hospitality companies cannot provide — and getting that sense of belonging through connections they made through our bookings."

For his part, Lynch has crashed in all sorts of rooms, from a beachside teepee to a cowshed that was too small for his 6-foot-2 frame. We tracked down the globetrotting expat to ask some burning questions about his ultra-mobile lifestyle. Read on as he recounts his most interesting adventures and packing essentials, and shares his secrets to a more pared-down life.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
What compelled you to undertake this project?
"I had an opportunity to move from our Shanghai office to our headquarters in South China. I've never lived in Hong Kong, so when I moved to the city, I needed to make up some ground and get to know the place and the people I'm communicating with. I didn't have a solid plan on where I was going to live. Once I realized how easy it was to get around and how many cool accommodations there were to check out on Airbnb, I was hooked."

What was the most memorable stay for you?
"This cowshed was one of my favorites. I've stayed in a couple boats as well, and have a rooftop-tent stay coming up. I also really enjoyed a stay in the back room of an art studio/retail space. You had to make sure you were dressed before walking out to the bathroom, or else you'd be waving at shoppers in your underwear!"
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

On average, how long do you stay at each spot? How much do you usually spend on each stay?
"The average is just under three nights per visit. I've had a few 'one-night stands,' and the longest stay has been 11 nights. My work schedule dictates a lot. I didn't even know I'd be embarking on the journey when it began, so there really wasn't any preparation at all — financially or otherwise. On cost, the average is under $100 USD, which is considerably less than other housing options in Hong Kong."

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. What are some of the creative ways you've seen your Airbnb hosts maximize their living space?
"Hong Kongers certainly make the most of every square foot — windowsills become closets. Kitchen storage gets very vertical. One bed was literally suspended from the ceiling; during the day, you hit a button, and it retracted up to become the ceiling above the dining-room table. The funny thing is, most places don't feel that crowded. If you don't have much space, you just buy less stuff. Simple."

Speaking of buying less, do you have any tips for our readers who want to adopt a more pared-down and simple lifestyle like yours?

"I liken living in China to camping. You know how, when you go camping, you don't have all the stuff you're used to, like your full set of steak knives, or all five of your favorite pillows? And yet, things turn out fine. You realize a fork and spoon can cut pretty well, and that a balled-up sweater makes for a pretty decent pillow. And, you end up having a great time, even with a lot less stuff. It's helpful to have this 'camping' attitude in China, because you really can't find (or fit) all the stuff you want. But, I think it's helpful to apply anywhere. To realize that if you tossed half the stuff you owned right now, you'd get by just fine."
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
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What are some of the essentials you always bring with you?
"I grew up in simple times, when a fellow didn't know terms like 'skin care.' A toothbrush and toothpaste? Check. Deodorant? Always. A razor? Only if I have a big meeting that week. Beyond that, it's just clothes, and I'm blessed with being a really terrible dresser. I'm not kidding. If I ever wore an ironed shirt, I don't think my co-workers would recognize me."

Was there anything special about the way Hong Kongers lived, with such big crowds and small spaces?
"When you go to cities where living spaces are limited, you see use of public spaces being maximized. In Hong Kong, you can walk around parks at midnight, or at 5 in the morning, and see people hanging out, exercising, playing mahjong. On some outlying islands, people even grab folding chairs and set them up along the dock all afternoon just to people-watch as the ferries come in and out. Small living spaces can foster a much more social city."
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

How do you deal with the inconvenience of constantly moving in a foreign country?
"Too often, we focus only on our expectations rather than our needs. This week, the lock on the front door was really difficult to open. Now, I could send a tweet expressing my dismay over the lock, post a status update about my terrible, terrible day, or send off a missive to Airbnb wondering why they would possibly allow this BS in their community. Or, I could fidget with the lock for a few more minutes until the front door opens. My expectation is that a front-door lock should be easy, and it wasn't. But, my need was for the front door to open, and it did."

Looking back, do you have any special takeaways from this experience?
"I work in advertising, and one of the coolest things we get to do is delve into other people's lives — figure out how they think, what they love, how they live. It's a shame some expats don't take the time to dive into the local culture and really figure out what makes people tick — it's immensely rewarding if you do. With this project, I get to do that on a full-time basis. I also have proof of what I've long suspected — that you don't really need much stuff to be happy."
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