One of the most frequently asked questions on The Weekend Jetsetter is, “how do you afford to travel so much?” It’s the reason I created a whole e-book on the topic! And the answer has changed over the years – today, it’s because I have a decent job with a salary that enables me to travel, and a strong credit score so I can easily open points-earning credit cards. But I wasn’t always an expert travel hacker…
Let’s go way, way back to 2011, when I was living in New York City as an entry level publicist making a very sad salary that certainly wasn’t sufficient to live on in New York. I lived in a roach-infested living room in Queens with a “retired” model who needed the money for $650 a month (thanks Craigslist!). A curtain separated my space from hers.
People who have never lived in NYC are probably horrified right now. Meanwhile, people who do live in NYC are like, “Hey $650 a month?! Where do I sign up?” That’s exactly how I felt – grateful that I’d found a place I could (almost) actually afford.
After getting established, I was promoted at my job and eventually got another, higher paying gig – meaning, I could afford to live in a real apartment. But I was inspired by my former roomie. And even though I could afford a whole apartment by myself, I would really rather be spending that money on something else… like plane tickets.
I didn’t really want a random Craigslist roommate living in my living room, but the thought of not having to float my entire rent check alone was too appealing. So I turned to Airbnb.
I had a few good reviews from traveling on the site that helped establish me as a trustworthy host from the beginning. So I made up the futon in my living room, snapped a couple photos, posted it for $60 per night and voila! In a very short time, I was receiving $800-worth of bookings every single month.
In fact, I was receiving more than that – I could have had the place booked every night. But I was content to keep it to 10-15 nights per month and avoid having guests during weekends I was planning to hang out at home or have my own family/friends visiting.
I had quite a busy work and social life when I lived in New York so I was rarely ever impacted by having guests. I even worked out a deal with my laundromat that they would provide the keys to guests while I was at work. Typically, guests were asleep when I left in the morning and either in bed or out on the town when I got home. My apartment wasn’t exactly a place you want to hang out all day!
Surprisingly, my 400-square foot, fourth-floor walkup in Queens featuring a futon in the living room (separated from my living space by a curtain – thank my former roomie for that trick) was a hot ticket. I was getting tons of five-star reviews. I was honestly shocked that this was so lucrative! If you don’t believe me, check it out:
The point of this story is that I made $800 per month on Airbnb to supplement my income – and it was SUPER simple to do.
I didn’t have an amazing apartment, I wasn’t home all day to cater to my guests, I was offering a cheap Ikea futon as a bed, and I honestly didn’t live in a great location. It was a safe and cute neighborhood, but Woodside, Queens isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. My place was truly not the ideal vacation destination – but people were booking it like crazy.
Travelers willing to stay on a random futon are obviously chill people. They’re not going to flip out because my towels aren’t fluffy, my shower takes a few minutes to heat up, and they might not even bat an eye when my radiator explodes with boiling hot water blasting the ceiling at 3:00 a.m. (yes, that happened – oops – and I still maintained my 5 stars). Basically, these people were easy to host.
So if you have an extra room or a futon to rent out, but it’s not perfect, why not give it a shot anyway and earn some extra money to spend on travel?
Tips to Make Money on Airbnb & Be a Great Host
- Be honest in how you portray your place, even if it sucks. You don’t want people to think they’re booking a room that’s on-par with the Ritz, and show up at a place like, well, my old place in NYC. The reason I had so many 5-star reviews in a crappy apartment is that the experience matched up perfectly with what was advertised. There were no surprises – guests knew in advance that they’d be lugging suitcases up five flights of stairs and sleeping on a futon in a room without a door. And they booked anyway!
- Take tons of pictures. My place wasn’t the best, but I was sure to take a wide variety of photos to ensure people had the full view of what it was like before booking. And I added some fun, cheap throw pillows from Marshall’s to spruce up my futon.
- Be a great host – even if you won’t interact with your guests in person. My five-star reviews often mentioned how responsive I was to guests’ questions leading up to the trip, how easy the directions I provided were, and how helpful guests found my emailed tips about where to eat and shop in the neighborhood and how to get into the city to see the sights. If you make the experience seamless for your guests, they’ll be happy.
- Pro tip: provide the wi-fi password in advance of arrival! I had multiple guests who had arrived at my place but couldn’t contact me because their international phones didn’t work. But since I posted the wifi password on my Airbnb listing guide (only viewable after someone books), they were able to log in from outside and get in touch.
- Overcommunicate and exceed expectations. While it’s great to be honest and set expectations, it’s even better to exceed those expectations when guests arrive. Some of the ways I did this was leaving them a welcome note, or leaving some complimentary snacks, oatmeal or ramen noodles out for guests arriving late at night. I’ve also left people a subway map and Metro cards with a couple rides on them since I know how confusing it can be to figure out the subway as a first-timer! Another easy thing I did was leave my international plug converter and a couple extra phone chargers in their room – stuff everyone forgets! Toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc. might also serve as lifesavers that cost you a couple (tax deductible) dollars and lead to 5 stars.
- Be there to help. Sometimes, a flight will get delayed or cancelled. Someone will lose their luggage and ask to borrow your phone to sort it out with the airline. A guest will have a problem with something and complain. If you’re going to be an Airbnb host, it’s critical that you can be flexible – especially with check-in/check-out times. That doesn’t mean you need to be available 24/7, but it does mean that you need to offer to help — these people don’t have a hotel concierge to turn to!
- But don’t be too there. Even if guests are staying in a room in your home, they might not want to hang out. Or maybe they do — I had a few guests that I grabbed a beer with. But the bottom line is: you should let them determine if they want to spend time with you. They might just want the room, and some privacy. And if you’re uncomfortable making small talk with strangers, you’re under absolutely no obligation to host them beyond providing the room and a key.
- Save money for taxes. I raked in $800 per month on Airbnb, but I also had to pay taxes on that money. It’s probably safe to save around 30%, but you should check with your tax professional just to be sure (I was super cautious and saved 50% because at the time, I knew 0 about taxes). If you meet a certain threshold of income outside of your salaried job, you may also need to pay taxes quarterly.
- Keep track of expenses. The money you spend maintaining your Airbnb amounts to a tax deduction, so keep those receipts! I was able to deduct cleaning supplies and sending the sheets to be professionally cleaned after each guest. I also hired a cleaning person every few stays to give the place a deep clean – which was also deductible. I even did fancy calculations to determine how much electricity my guests were using in “their” portion of the house on days that I rented it out (it’s important that you only deduct costs associated with the rental portion of the house and not your own).
- Make sure it’s legal / cool with your landlord – I was an Airbnb host during the wild west of the sharing economy. There were no laws! Today, many cities and states have specific rules governing whether or not you can rent your home out, how much you can charge, how long renters can stay, etc. Ignorance is no excuse, so make sure you have the green light before putting up your listing.
- If you have a landlord, it might be tricky to get their buy-in for you to be an Airbnb host – but you definitely need it. Many property management companies search Airbnb to find their illegally-listed apartments, and take action against the renter. If your landlord is hesitant, some people have found success by paying for additional insurance or even splitting a portion of profits to convince them.
- Play around with pricing to find the sweet spot. I chose to list my place at $60 a night because it was a little less than all the comparable homes in my area – but it was still more than I was paying in rent per night, so worth it. However, I did occasionally up the price on holiday weekends – I remember that one New Year’s Eve, I was able to rent it out for $180. Trust me, $180 is a steal for a visitor to NYC on NYE!
- Outsource, if it’s worth it. Hosting on Airbnb shouldn’t take up all your free time. Hopefully, you can price your space high enough that you can afford to have the laundry done and a cleaning lady come by on occasion. You can also outsource things like giving the guests your keys through TaskRabbit or a service like Key Cafe.
If you’re interested in signing up to be an Airbnb host, I’d be grateful if you’d click here to sign up through my referral link. Since I can’t host in my current apartment, I might as well earn some money through referring you to do so — right?
But what about serial killers, thieves and people who trash your house?
I was an Airbnb host for over a year, and I never met any of them. Nothing was ever stolen or damaged in my apartment. The vast majority of my guests were respectful, going as far as to strip the bed, take out their own trash and tip-toe in quietly while I was sleeping. I had a couple annoying guests, but nothing that made my $800 a month travel fund less appealing.
Plus, many guests have stayed somewhere before and have reviews from other hosts that will help you decide whether or not to accept them. And if not, they can fill out other identification forms on Airbnb to give you the confidence they are who they say they are. A few questions about why they’re coming to town and their plans can also be appropriate in making a decision – and if you feel like something’s off or you’re uncomfortable, there’s no pressure to accept a reservation.