Story and photos by Erin Lindsey and Denny Brownell
Erin Lindsey and her husband, Denny Brownell, run the Escape Brooklyn blog.
People form travel friendships at home while pursuing personal passions.
In the early 1800s, the first commercial railroads revolutionized travel. Next came automobiles; roads were paved, and the All-American road trip was born. Commercial planes followed, allowing people to cross the country — not to mention the world — in a day. So what’s the newest concept to revolutionize travel? It doesn't have wheels or actually travel at all. It's the culture of "sharing."
Whether gathering trip inspiration from social media, learning about car-sharing services or finding ways to open your home, the internet has created a culture where travelers can better connect. This phenomenon isn't just changing the way we travel — it's changing the way we live. Across the country, people are giving up the security of their jobs and opening their homes to travelers. Aside from supplying income, this frees up previously packed schedules so people have more time to focus on their passions.
One of those people is Rik Sassa of West Pawlet, Vermont. Rik worked as a carpenter and stone mason for other people’s projects for 30 years before finally throwing in the towel. “I never had enough time or energy to take on the things I wanted to do myself, which was often disheartening,” Rik told us. "So I began renting out my own house as a vacation rental." Rik quickly learned that the income was enough to meet his needs and soon began building more.
His second creation was a two-story treehouse that sleeps five people. Next, Rik will finish the "hobbit house" he's been working on — a cozy two-bedroom home with a beautiful fireplace. The house, in true hobbit style, is built into the side of a hill. "In the past, I couldn't convince others to buy into all the quirky, artistic building projects that I had dreamt up. So now, I do it for myself and they're much to the delight of my guests," Rik explained. "Plus, I get to use them too, and I increase my equity along the way.
But that’s not the only benefit. “I also get to meet so many different people who are appreciative and usually in a great mood since they’re on vacation! Some become friends that I stay in touch with,” Rik goes on. “But even more than that, I get to run my own business and see my place the way I always imagined it.” Rik's sentiments are echoed by nearly every home-sharer we meet.
Victoria Cantwell is another success story of someone who’s changed her life by sharing her property. In Argyle, New York, nestled between the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains in Vermont, Victoria hand-built and maintains two tiny cabins on her 5.25-acre property. After several years of success, she built a treehouse this summer, tallying her offerings to three. Before her life as an Airbnb operator, Victoria was just an outgoing woman who loved antiques. Now, she's turned these passions into her dream job and gets to host different people nearly every weekend, while continuing to buy (and sell!) the vintage and antique items that decorate the three rentals. Victoria rents her cabins year-round, but she looks forward to winter when things slow down and she can indulge in her other passions: painting, baking and massage therapy.
The success stories continue with Mark Foster of Bovina, New York, who bought his home in 2011. Immediately after he bought the house, Mark was a "weekender" for several years, working in Brooklyn during the week and heading to upstate New York on weekends. After a few years of feeling it out, though, he realized he could continue his filming and directing career from Bovina; he cut ties with his apartment and studio in New York City. With a little more time on his hands, he continued his exploration of roasting coffee, a curiosity that was born toward the end of his time in the city. "It all started in my film studio, where my co-workers and I would go through tons of coffee every week. I began researching how to roast my own and bought a little countertop roaster for the office in NYC." After more experimenting, Mark built his own roaster for larger-scale operations, and it blossomed into a separate career entirely.
While Mark was busy mastering the art of roasting coffee, another business began to blossom, too — although he didn't know it yet. He always had a steady stream of friends and visitors who would stay in the extra four bedrooms in his house. After a while, someone suggested he turn it into an Airbnb, taking advantage of the beautiful house in its idyllic countryside location. Realizing it was a great idea, Mark opened up FosterBuilt Inn on Airbnb — the rental instantly became a hit. Guests not only got a cozy room in a cool house, but they also got to try FosterBuilt Coffee with the option to take some beans home from the small gift shop. On weekends, a mobile coffee shop is often set up in his front yard, offering a social space for people to come together and have a cup of Joe.
With the combined incomes (and passion) from his directing career, coffee roasting and Airbnb, Mark and his girlfriend recently completed a cross-country journey in which their warm hospitality came full circle. Opting out of hotels, Mark and Siobhan took their mobile coffee shop on the road, staying with other inspirational folks who opened up their homes and land. The creative couple used social media to share their journey — and to motivate others — but they're also filming it for a project called Ground Support USA. The film will tell the story of their journey to seek out people who are making a positive difference in their communities across the United States.
Last, on perhaps the grandest scale of all, Joshua Druckman is something of a pioneer in the sharing culture. Just a few hours from New York City in Woodridge, New York, Joshua has been building a string of rental properties he calls the Outlier Inn for 15 years. A musician and producer, Joshua became disenchanted with New York City, where the music industry was cutthroat. So he looked north, where he spent many of his childhood summers, settling on a small farmhouse with 2 acres of land.
In the beginning, Joshua moved to replant roots in order to explore and discover himself. But after a couple of years of rehabbing his home and recording albums at his music studio, a small parcel next door went up for sale with three dilapidated bungalows — Joshua jumped on it. "I bought the property and turned one of the bungalows into my music studio — which was previously in one of the bedrooms in my farmhouse. I rehabbed another one as a two-bedroom rental. The third sat decaying for many years and was the perfect spot for photo shoots." Joshua began hosting musicians and bands that were looking for a getaway, even before Airbnb's existence.
The rest is history. Joshua continued to buy more and more land, rehabbing existing structures and building new ones. He's up to nine rentals now on 12 acres of property: a two-family guesthouse, a two-bedroom cottage, a one-bedroom bungalow, a four-bedroom farmhouse, two tiny houses, a geodesic dome and a 1950s Spartan trailer. His ultimate goal? "My idea is to share the inspiration that attracted me to the area in the first place — which I continue to draw upon daily. I wanted to create a community and offer a relaxing place in which to work and explore ideas, free of the pressure and constraints of NYC." Though he never set out to be a vacation rental connoisseur, one thing has remained constant: Joshua's love for the area. "I just want to share my inspiration with others and offer people a chance to experience it firsthand." We have a feeling he'll continue to do so for many years to come.
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