Disasters in an Airbnb booking often lead to an abrupt departure of guests, a demand for a refund, poor reviews, and lost income for the host.
Most people, guests and hosts alike, would simply try to forget about the experience and move on. But for German travelers Elke Thau-Montgomery and Rudi Thau, and their American hosts Beth Ann Moon and Jennifer Steinberg, the opposite would prove to be true.
In their case, these two couples from opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean turned an unfortunate Airbnb booking into a continent-spanning five-year-old – and counting – friendship.
In 2017, Beth and Jennifer of Florida listed the apartment connected to their home. As a gay couple, they were wary about homophobia, and Beth even joked that she hid from their first few guests.
As time went on, guests from the US came and went, and largely kept to themselves. Elke and Rudi, however, would be a different case altogether. The couple stood out from the beginning.
They gifted their hosts with a bottle of gin and were friendly and relaxed. They chose to make their Airbnb booking with Beth and Jennifer because of their home’s location, which was near the Everglades in the southern tip of Florida, as well as the house’s inviting backyard pool. They also had a VW Beetle and Elke told Rudi, “Let’s go there, they must be nice people.”
True enough, the cross-continental couples hit it off from the start. When the German couple presented their American hosts with gin, Beth brought out another, bigger bottle, from the same distillery!
The two couples ended up drinking and chatting outside all night. Elke said, “We were laughing at each other.”
Beth added, “We hit it off as soon as they arrived.” Jennifer shared, “It was really the first time that we had ever connected with people that were here. They were just like us, we had so many things in common.”
Unfortunately, tragedy struck a few days later, testing the four’s newfound friendship.
The plumbing stopped working in Beth and Jennifer’s home. The hosts contacted emergency contractors who promptly switched off the water supply and dug a giant hole in the backyard.
Jennifer explained, “They jack-hammered the outside because the ground is made of coral rock. It was quite an interruption. Elke and Rudi couldn’t use the bathroom. It was a bad situation.”
The hosts were so apologetic and would have immediately understood if their guests decided to cancel their Airbnb booking. “Most people, I think, that were at an Airbnb would demand their money back and demand that we get a hotel for them,” said Jennifer.
“I didn’t know what to expect. And the next thing I knew, they were in our backyard building us a fire pit.” Doing the unexpected, Rudi and Elke were not rattled at all by the disruption, and actually found it quite entertaining.
They also made it clear to their hosts that they were not going anywhere unless Beth and Jennifer wanted them to.
Elke felt bad for their hosts, but even then, they went far and beyond their roles as guests in an Airbnb booking. To cheer up Beth and Jennifer, they set upon a series of kind gestures to cheer up their panicked hosts.
Rather than drive a wedge between them, the crisis brought the couple closer. Jennifer stated, “They just became such close friends. They knew we were upset. And they tried to do things around our house to make us feel happy. And they didn’t go anywhere. They stuck with us.”
Everyone adjusted to new living arrangements. Elke and Rudi could use the bathrooms in the main house, and the four spent their evenings sitting around the new fire pit.
They emptied the two bottles of gin while talking about their interests, beliefs, and respective countries and cultures. Elke said, “We all kind of think the same about things — politics, cultural things, and stuff. We connected and that was cool.”
As longtime travelers, Elke and Rudi were accustomed to greeting their Airbnb hosts with warmth and friendliness.
Still, they had never bonded with their hosts the way they connected with Beth and Jennifer. “We didn’t have an experience like this before and we’re very grateful for it, to get some wonderful friends out of that,” said Elke.
Jennifer agreed, saying, “I’ll tell you that I never had that experience with anybody. Due to our ages, we never really expected to make such close friends so late in life.”
The two couples decided to stay in touch as the Airbnb booking came to a close. Even before the travelers left, Beth and Jennifer booked flights to visit their new friends in Bavaria.
And once Elke and Rudi arrived back in Germany, the Americans refunded their stay, knowing that they would not accept it if they knew about it earlier.
Months after, the four reunited in Germany, and it seemed as if they had never been apart. It was Beth and Jennifer’s first time Europe, and apart from Germany, they visited Austria and the Czech Republic as well.
Jennifer shared, “We’ve just been seeing the world and it’s because of Rudi and Elke. There isn’t any way that we could have ever done, what we’ve done and what we’ve seen in Europe on our own.”
This first trip started a tradition for the four friends. Every winter, Elke and Rudi would spend an extended vacation with Beth and Jennifer. The Americans would then return the visit during the fall.
They even stopped accepting Airbnb bookings – the space is now solely reserved for Elke and Rudi’s visits and their own adopted dogs.
The four’s friendship has only grown stronger ever since that memorable Airbnb booking more than five years ago.
They are now more family than friends, as their loved ones have also met and bonded. Beth said, “Even when we go to Germany, their family is our family.” The Americans are even included in a homemade maypole erected on their property in Bavaria.
A maypole is a tall wooden pole traditionally used in European folk festivals. Jennifer declared, “It’s just such a kind representation or symbol of our combined cultures and how we feel about each other like family.”
While the two couples bonded instantly after they met, they both credit the plumbing disaster for creating their extended family.
“I don’t know if I can say any one thing was the alchemy that clicked, because it just happened. But I think it was the plumbing. Maybe we’d be friends anyway. But if we hadn’t had a crisis to get through together, it wouldn’t have been the same,” said Jennifer.
Elke reflected, “Besides that chemistry between people, I do believe it’s a little bit the way also we reacted to this little mishap with the plumbers. Rudi and I tried to take it with a lot of humor, because things happen, it’s just the way of life.”
Now the four are planning their 2023 vacation, this time to Croatia. When they’re not together, they stay in touch through frequent video calls. This surrogate family is happy to continue a relationship that grew from what turned out to be an ideal Airbnb booking.
As Jennifer said, “You never know who you’re going to meet. Just be open-minded and let people into your heart. These chance encounters can change somebody’s life, and Rudi and Elke have certainly changed my life. It’s not always about romance. It’s about people and the energy they have and how you just never know.”