One of the most frequent questions I receive via email and social media is how I afford to travel so often. And I completely understand why people must be scratching their heads when I’m on a different continent for four months in a row. But before you jump to the conclusion that I’m living off a trust fund (I wish that was the case, seriously!), I’m going to tell you the secret to how I’ve been able to purchase so many plane tickets over the past year: strangers sleeping on my living room futon.
This is a fact that has made some of my relatives gasp for fear of my safety, new people that I meet raise their eyebrows at my obvious weirdness, and select cool people say, “that’s awesome!”
I first began using Airbnb when I traveled to Europe for two weeks of country hopping after graduating from college. By now, if you’re a traveler, you’ve likely heard of Airbnb and perhaps even used it once or twice yourself. It’s an amazingly affordable way to travel to new places and experience life like a local. But have you ever thought of hosting guests yourself?
My first Airbnb guests were two girls from Switzerland who were backpacking across the US, and since then I’ve hosted couples, friends and solo travelers from Japan, Ukraine, Argentina, Mexico, France and beyond. Setting up my profile was relatively easy – I made up the futon in my living room with a nice comforter from Marshall’s and some pillows, snapped a few photos with my iPhone and uploaded them along with a description of the apartment. My nightly price? Just $60. Sure beats a hotel in NYC!
At first, reservation requests were far and few between. But after I received a couple good reviews, the inquiries started rolling in on a steady basis. I was receiving messages from potential guests 2-4 times per day during New York City’s high tourism season (spring/summer). By renting out my apartment for just two weeks per month, I was pocketing more than $800. Now you see where I’m getting all the money for international flights?
Hosting guests on Airbnb is the easiest money I’ve ever made, but it’s not for everyone. First of all, you have to be super laid back. Second of all, you have to live in a desirable location. If you’re in New York City, you’re in luck because hotel prices in the Big Apple are so insane, there’s a huge market. Third, you have to be hospitable. If you don’t like meeting new people, making your house look pretty and cleaning up after backpackers who accidentally spilled their ramen noodles all over your kitchen, you might want to look into an alternative side gig.
While I’ve had the occasional iffy guest, 95% of my Airbnb experiences have been fantastic. My guests are friendly, excited to explore the city, clean, respectful and flexible. Some of them even bring me chocolate (usually the Swiss) or leave me handwritten notes about how much they enjoyed staying at my place.
Did I mention that they’re staying on my futon? In my living room that is separated from the hallway by a curtain? And they’re thrilled with it.
Travelers who are willing to stay on a random person’s futon are obviously chill people. They’re not going to flip out because your towels aren’t fluffy enough, and they might not even bat an eye when your radiator explodes with boiling hot water blasting the ceiling at 3:00 a.m. (yes, that happened – oops).
So are you ready to try it out?
1. Take plenty of pictures. You can do this yourself (I did it with my iPhone) or Airbnb will send a professional photographer to capture your space. However, make sure you style it up to look like somewhere people would actually want to stay. Add some fun throw pillows to the bed, make sure nothing is wrinkled and if you’re feeling super motivated, throw some fresh flowers on the nightstand!
2. Add special touches. Travelers are exhausted, worn out, confused about their surroundings and probably stressed. Little touches like an international converter or phone charger already plugged into the wall, a map of the subway and cheap but convenient breakfast go a long way toward a five star review!
3. Clean your apartment! And take this one seriously. Before each guest, I make the bed with fresh sheets, dust all the surfaces, make sure the kitchen is shiny, Swiffer my floors and pay special attention to the bathroom. No one wants to use your gross bathroom, trust me. Once I started making enough money, I was able to outsource cleaning to a professional once a month to make sure things were truly spotless.
4. Be honest in your photos and description. Nothing ruins your chances of a good review like an apartment that doesn’t meet the guest’s expectations. I learned this when I had two people visiting who brought very large suitcases and weren’t too thrilled with my fourth floor walk up situation. I realized I needed to add this detail to my description. You’re better off losing a guest who doesn’t want to walk up four flights of stairs than getting downgraded in the search results thanks to a negative review.
5. Outsource as much as you can. I enjoy chatting with my guests and sharing my personal recommendations for NYC. But I absolutely don’t have time to be a full time maid and receptionist! I try to do my own laundry, cleaning and check ins when possible but this isn’t always the case. For example, if a guest wants to check in during the middle of the day when I’m at work, I can have them pick up the key at a Key Cafe location (around $7.99 per month) or have a Task Rabbit deliver it for around $25. If a guest is checking out and another guest is checking in the next day, I send the sheets and towels out to be washed at my local laundromat. If you’re going to make more than triple the cost of the service you have to hire to check in the guest, it’s worth it.
6. Most importantly, vet your guests before you accept them. If a guest has no prior reviews, I always ask them to complete multiple “offline verifications” and fill out their profile in detail before accepting the reservation. If I feel even slightly uncomfortable with someone, it’s not worth the money. I also ask them questions about their trip to ensure they will enjoy my apartment. For example, a couple who was honeymooning recently sent me a reservation request and I made sure they realized that their room would only be separated from the hallway by a curtain. They hadn’t noticed that, and they rethought their plans 😉
But what about murderers? Thieves? House trashers? I can honestly say that despite hosting guests practically constantly over the past 8 months, nothing has ever been stolen or broken in my apartment. Almost all my guests make the bed and take out the trash when they leave, even though I tell them they don’t have to. When they come in late at night, they’re so quiet I almost never hear them.
This, I think, is the beauty of Airbnb. The media often portrays our generation as antisocial freaks who are unable to have a face-to-face conversation and are terrified to pick up the phone and make a call. But we’re actually willing to open our doors and Ikea futons to strangers, and excited to meet people from all over the world. And we’re making good money while doing it!
Sadly this is my last month as an official NYC Airbnb host as I’m moving to Boston, and my final guests from Germany are checking in this weekend. But that’s a whole different story for another post.
Have you ever hosted guests on Airbnb or stayed in an Airbnb accommodation? Would love to hear about your experience!
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