The Chattanooga family wrap up their year-long trip around the world Courtesy of Airbnb

For the past year, in this space, we have been following the trip around the world of a family from Chattanooga who won 10 months of travel accommodations in the “Live Anywhere on Airbnb” competition.

It felt like a dream come true last year when Stephanie Hays, her husband, Peter Woolcock, and their then 2-year-old son, Hays, embarked on their adventure. Well, 12 months and more than 15 countries later, they are ending their journey and thinking longingly of Chattanooga.

They are among 12 travel groups around the world chosen from 314,000 applicants to participate in the Airbnb promotion. Hays is a former brand manager for Chattanooga Tourism Co., and Woolcock previously ran an after-school football program here.

Their Airbnb itinerary looked like this: Greece (October 2021), Morocco and UK (November), Thailand (December), Sri Lanka (January), South Africa (February), France and Spain (March), Mexico (April ) , South Korea (May), Vietnam (June).

What follows is an email interview with Stephanie Hays earlier this month.

TFP: How is it going? Are you finishing your trip?

Stephanie Hays: The Airbnb program ended at the end of June, but we went to Malaysia for a few weeks, then to the Philippines for a month, then back to South Korea. We loved our stay here in May and wanted to travel more and spend more time in Seoul. This is where we’ve been for two months, but (we’ll soon) be flying to Japan (which just reopened after 2.5 years) and spend at least three weeks there.

South Korea and Vietnam (Hoi An) were two of our favorite places this year, so we finished the program strong. And it was really fun to get to know Seoul more deeply. We have now spent almost 3 months out of the last 13 here and we love Korea.

TFP: Were any of your accommodations particularly pleasant or well located?

Hay: We have stayed at some absolutely amazing properties this year. Highlights include a private riad in Marrakech run by an interior designer, a house in Sri Lanka with a lush outdoor pool and second-floor alfresco living space, and fresh coconuts in the hotel’s fridge. neighbour’s backyard, and another house with a swimming pool overlooking the rice paddies in Hoi An, Vietnam, with bicycles that we could use during the month to explore.

TFP: I know part of the reason for this competition was for Airbnb to learn more about how customers experience long-term rentals. Do you have any general observations that you think would be helpful to Airbnb or travelers in general?

Hay: We submitted feedback to Airbnb throughout our 10 months on the program. This included a variety of small feedback we thought we could improve the experience of booking a stay, or the stay itself. For example, adding the ability to create simple floor plans to listings to better understand the space or better educating hosts about what it means to host someone for 1+ months and what guests could research which might be different from a short-term stay (i.e. the ability to meet a host face-to-face if that host wished, more in-depth neighborhood information like the best grocery stores, or, in our case, access to playgrounds or parks.)

TFP: As things start to wind down, are you starting to feel any emotions about this experience? Is it possible to become addicted to travel and feel a little disappointed when this chapter of your life begins to end?

Hay: Oh, we are certainly travel addicts and so immensely grateful for this year. I have never felt such gratitude in my life. Spending the year doing what we love most with our son at such a fleeting age is a dream come true. We are very sad that this chapter of our lives is coming to an end, but on the other hand, we would like to incorporate aspects of this year into everything we do in the future. This year has shifted our priorities a bit, and the ability to travel frequently, and at a slower pace, is something that’s really important to us, if we manage to incorporate that into our lives in the future, maybe through remote work. So, as cliché as it sounds, we’re just trying to enjoy every second, while figuring out what’s important to us and achievable, moving forward.

TFP: Do you think your son Hays will keep memories of this eventful year? Which stops were the most fun/special for him?

Hay: He definitely remembers a lot from that year, but it’s unclear how long those memories will last. Our hope is that even if he doesn’t remember the details, this year will shape him in a positive way. It will certainly be adaptable, I think. He has visited more than 15 countries this year. It was so amazing to watch him navigate changing environments and develop his own travel preferences. He loves anywhere with water, fish markets and temples – and, like any child, playgrounds. I wish I had kept (notes) on how many playgrounds around the world we’ve been to this year. Before Hays, I don’t think I ever noticed a play area while traveling, and now we plan whole days around them.

TFP: I know this was the ultimate adventure, but since you’re homesick about Chattanooga, what do you miss the most?

Hay: Of course we miss Chattanooga! People, most. We have an amazing group of close friends there and leaving on six weeks notice was tough! Before Chattanooga, we had lived in Shanghai, London and Mumbai for two years each. We had been in Chattanooga for six years, so longer than anywhere else we called home. We miss my parents, but they came to see us four times this year, so it was amazing. And we miss the little things, like spending the night and making dinner. Or waking up on a Sunday with no plans and no pressure to go explore a new neighborhood or see something new. And we really miss babysitting for Hays! But we don’t miss any of those things more than we love traveling, right now. We’re so grateful for this year and understand that it’s temporary, so we know there will be time for stuff like this in the future.

“Stories of Life” is published on Mondays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mken[email protected] or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.

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