When I was growing up I lived in a huge 5 bedroomed house and when my siblings flew the nest (I was the youngest and last to go) I found myself sitting at the breakfast table with an eclectic assortment of visitors - a renal surgeon, a very handsome scuba diving instructor, professors, the mayor of a small town in France and an Irish man doing his PhD. These people had come from all around the world and had opted to stay at my parents' house in Golders Green instead of a hotel.
My parents had registered with an agency and turned our family home into a bed and breakfast. What was lacking in terms of modern luxury was far made up in terms of the warmth and hospitality my parents showed to all of their guests. Nothing was too much trouble and people returned year after year. My favourite quote in their visitors book is: "We've visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Coliseum in Rome and the Habibs in Golders Green which was the highlight of our trip."
I think mum really put the 'breakfast' into bed and breakfast never scrimping on food for her guests with pancakes, kippers and other luxuries on the menu. I'm not quite sure how they made their money but they were the best hosts any guest could wish for. On many occasions I would find myself being an advocate for the guests - making the case that they were full and really couldn't manage another croissant or bagel that my parents were encouraging them to finish.
But they loved it and they were great hosts - shown through guests returning over the years, coming back for their evening glass of sherry in the lounge no doubt. When dad became ill with kidney failure the renal surgeon from America insisted on seeing his notes to see if he could provide any advice or support. And although since dad died my mum is hosting less guests I honestly believe they gave 110% to everyone who walked through the front door.
So 15 years down the line, firmly ensconced in my own flat, the training my parents have given me has led me to running a 'bed and breakfast' of my own. Thanks primarily to Airbnb - the web portal which has enabled me to rent out my second bedroom to 'strangers' from around the world - my life has changed; I think I've found my calling.
In the 18 months I've been hosting guests I've found myself adapting to lots of different roles. For a number of the younger guests who've come to London in search of work opportunities I've given career advice, helped with CV writing, polished up covering letters to potential employers and offered useful work contacts.
The lovely Argentinian sommelier who used to cook me dinner when I came home from work is now working at a Michelin star restaurant. The Italian guest who didn't blink an eye when I said I'd seen a mouse (she suggested we cooked mouse gratin for dinner) is now living in Oxford doing a PhD having secured herself a sponsored place. I don't take credit for getting her the post - just giving her the confidence that she could do it.
I've been a counsellor for the single dads who've come to London for dad and child time and in one instance helped a dad overcome a fear of heights with a little persuasion from myself ("Yes you will go on the London Eye. Your son wants to go and you need to take him.")
But I'm also an Ambassador for London. Having grown up in London I know great places to go and can give an insight into London to suit all guests who might not otherwise find that service in a hotel.
Although I don't necessarily provide the class of breakfast my parents used to offer, I do accept that I might have turned into my mother when I find myself telling my guests that they haven't eaten enough and I don't want to see anything left on their plates.
As Airbnb works on a review system - guests review hosts and visa versa - you are only as good as your last guest and I am thrilled by my 5 star reviews and feedback, and my visitors book takes pride of place in my lounge. I've met some fantastic people who have become very special friends of mine.
It hasn't all been perfect though. My worst guest was an individual who thought that for his £35 a night he'd be staying in a hotel, hardly went out during the day opting to use my flat as his office, and managed to break every 'house rule' from eating meat in my vegetarian flat to disturbing the neighbours with his late night music and phone calls. But lessons are learned and I believe I'm much wiser and will be able to handle a situation like this much more confidently in the future (his review is still there if you search for it). And not forgetting mousegate of course (the mouse never returned).
As a freelancer this sideline has made a huge difference to my life. The additional income from my day job - where I help and support UK charities to harness digital media in telling their stories - enables me to put aside money to indulge my love for....travel (mostly using the Airbnb network); without it I definitely wouldn't be able to afford these breaks.
And the future for my life as a host is looking bright. I'm developing a very exciting concept which links my hosting experience with my passion for making a difference to the world around us. This week I am going to spend the weekend in San Francisco at the first Airbnb Open event - a conference for hosts to meet other hosts from around the world and share stories and ideas. I've been invited to deliver a workshop on Humanitarian Hosting and attend a roundtable discussion to explore the ideas that Airbnb has for encouraging social change within the organisation itself. I think a concept like Airbnb can be a force for good and I for one hope to encourage a strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) element within the organisation. Watch this space.
And if you want to experience life in an Airbnb - my own Habi&b as I've called it - is open for business, so come and stay!Suggest a correction