A year of Airbnb: Meet the man who lives only in online rentals

Zoe Li, for CNNUpdated 5th January 2015
(CNN) — What would drive a man to give up the luxury of serviced apartments for nothing but Airbnb rentals -- some good, some terrible -- for an entire year?
Ask Kevin Lynch.
Originally from Chicago, Lynch moved to Shanghai over a year ago with his wife and daughter "for an adventure."
When a position in the advertising company he works for opened in southern China, he began making extended solo business trips to Hong Kong, each time staying at a different place he found on Airbnb.
Originally, Lynch pledged to carry out his Airbnb lifestyle for a year, but now he's hooked and says he'll continue the experiment indefinitely.
Get out of the 'expat bubble'
"I wanted to make up for the fact that I didn't grow up in Hong Kong, to gain credibility with clients and really understand Hong Kong beyond that expat bubble that a lot of people stay in," says Lynch.
"And it sounded fun," he adds.
The intrepid traveler has rolled his suitcase all over the territory, deliberately picking neighborhoods far off the beaten trail.
When we spoke with him, Lynch was on his 80th Airbnb stay in Lau Fau Shan, an area nearly at the northwestern Hong Kong border known for a once-thriving oyster farming industry.
"The thing that strikes me most strongly about Hong Kong is the diversity of the places I've been to," he says.
"If you're not from here, the only things you're seeing are cable cars, the Peak and dense urban neighborhoods in Mongkok and Central.
"But what I have loved so much are the outlying islands, Shek O and Big Wave Bay.
"They have the feel of Southeast Asia, yet you can hop on a train or bus and 20 minutes later you're in the fast-paced chaos again."
The advertising creative says he began his Airbnb project out of his own initiative and acts independently of the company.
"We know each other and like each other," says Lynch of his relationship with Airbnb.
"There's no compensation, no discounts, no nothing," says Lynch. "They've had a couple of community gatherings here in Hong Kong that I've been invited to, but other than that we know how to appreciate each other."
We asked Lynch for his five most memorable stays and he happily obliged.
"I really think that this was by far the highlight of my year," says Lynch.
"It was in one of the most predictable neighborhoods -- that expat bubble that I mentioned," he says. "This place was right on Staunton Street just off the SoHo escalator.
"I'm used to walking into places that are super small, but when I walked into this place all I saw was the small couch and table and I thought I'd have to sleep on the couch.
"Then the guy hits this button on the wall and the ceiling lowers down and it stops just a couple centimeters above the table.
"It was the bed.
"It was singly the most crazy aspect of any space I've ever been to before. It was probably not the best sleep, but (it was) the most memorable."
Cheung Chau
Lynch arrived at Cheung Chau without any idea of what he was walking into.
"It was during the week that we have the Buddha's birthday holiday," says Lynch. "I thought I would stay near a beach so I was just looking for an island to stay at and found this place listed."
When he booked the apartment, the host asked him if it was OK that there would be a ban on meat on the island that week.
"I was like, that's weird, but sure.
"Then she asked if I mind that there would be a parade passing right outside my door. Turns out the place is 28 steps -- I counted -- away from the bun towers.
"I found myself in the heart of this crazy unique bun festival. It was one of the most memorable days and I had no idea what I was in for."
Mui Wo
For his stay in Lantau Island's Mui Wo, trying to find the place was half the fun.
"The directions the host gave me were I forget how many turns and bridges and watch out for this building and that one. It was all these hand-drawn things.
"I'm amazed that all these things are just a ferry ride from Central and they retain their character so well."
The home he stayed in was a refurbished cowshed.
"I look for neighborhoods that I've never been to as well as anything that just looks interesting -- good interesting or bad interesting.
"I was the last person to stay at the cowshed before they began renovating the place. I hope they keep the ceiling."
Discovery Bay
When Lynch's daughter came to visit he wanted to find a special place to stay.
A 60-foot yacht in a luxury marina in Discovery Bay fit the bill.
"The boat was incredible," says Lynch. "There was a helper, four bedrooms, and because our flight into Hong Kong was delayed we couldn't enjoy the boat very much on our original stay, so the host gave us another free night to make up for it."
Sea Ranch
This residential development on the south end of Lantau Island is only accessible by boat and foot.
"In the 1970s it was a happening place, but it has gone through various bankruptcies and now there are few people living there.
"It has its own private ferry service from Cheung Chau Island.
"I rode that ferry four times and each time there was no more than three people on it and no one talked to each other. It was creepy."