Kennedy: the lucky doll sets off the Chattanooga family’s world tour

When it was announced last week that a family from Chattanooga had been assigned a self-directed trip around the world by vacation rental company Airbnb, we heard a response repeatedly.

“Wow,” people were saying, “would you like it to be me? “

Jealousy aside, the history of the Chattanooga family speaks volumes about the fate and power of positive thinking.

If you haven’t heard the story, Stephanie Hays, a 35-year-old tourism professional from Chattanooga, and her husband, Peter Woolcock, who works for Chattanooga Football Club, have been chosen to be part of the exclusive “Live Anywhere on Airbnb “promotion.

Hays, the daughter of Ken and Ellen Hays of Chattanooga, was one of 12 people worldwide out of more than 300,000 applicants selected for the program. For world travelers like Steph and Pete, being selected for the Airbnb program was like winning the lottery.

“We’re just incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” Hays said. “It’s something we were going to do anyway, and now we can do it alongside one of our favorite brands.”

Hays, Woolcock and the couple’s almost 2-year-old son Hays Woolcock will soon be leaving on a 10-month trip to cities around the world. They will choose their itinerary and Airbnb will pay for the travel and accommodation costs on one of the company’s rental listings around the world. They can stay for one to three months at each stop.

Incredibly, Hays said she and her husband started talking about a year of world travel with their little one before this contest hit their radar.

“Over the past few months we’ve started talking about it out loud, saving and planning,” Hays said in an interview. “After 2020, not being able to travel and realizing what was important to us, we really made it a priority to travel and spend time with our son.”

And then it happened: For his wife’s birthday earlier this year, Woolcock arranged to give her a Japanese Daruma doll. The doll comes with empty eyes. According to Japanese tradition, if you fill one eye and set a goal (or make a wish), the doll will help fulfill your heart’s desire. Then, once the goal is reached, you color the other eye as a tribute.

It worked several years ago when the couple were gifted a Daruma doll by Japanese friends and used it to fulfill their dream of moving to India. They eventually lived in Mumbai, India for two years, where Hays worked for a tourism company.

More information

Follow Stephanie Hays and her family’s journey on Instagram at @alwayswithhays. To view the website that was part of the family’s entry into the “Live Anywhere on Airbnb” contest, visit

When Hays got her birthday Daruma doll this year, she immediately filled one eye and wished a year of traveling the world.

“We sat down and said, ‘OK, that’s the next goal. Let’s do it,'” Hays recalls.

Incredibly, the doll worked its magic – once again.

Truth be told, there was merit mixed with magic.

Airbnb has undoubtedly noted that Hays and Woolcock are confident travelers who, by their own tally, have stayed in Airbnb listings in 19 countries and have welcomed Airbnb guests to their homes on three continents.

“If you can’t travel, it’s kind of the best thing to do to welcome people into your home who are,” Hays said.

Hays has a graduate degree in tourism. Her most recent job was at Chattanooga Tourism Co. Woolcock, born in England, has also traveled extensively. The couple, who met in Shanghai, China, also lived in London and Mumbai before moving to Chattanooga in 2015.

Hays said she will attend a workshop this week to learn more about their upcoming Airbnb trips. She and her husband will both be quitting their jobs here, but they don’t rule out returning to Chattanooga one day.

“We’ve lived here for six years, which is three times as long as any of our other stays,” Hays said. “We are definitely preparing for our next adventure.”

Contact Mark Kennedy at [email protected]

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