Since May 2014, more than 150 people have slept in my bed, lounged on my porch and contributed their tresses to the hairball that perpetually clogs my shower drain. This month, I'll host 15 people from nine cities, including Toronto, Seattle and Detroit, and pocket more than enough to cover my mortgage.
Airbnb is the easiest money I've ever made. But the constant presence of strangers can wear on you, especially if you like being alone.
I live in Bywater a few blocks from the Mississippi River. The neighborhood is in demand among Airbnb travelers (always travelers, never tourists) — it's close enough to the French Quarter to be convenient, far away enough to be "authentic."
Like the Mississippi with its life-giving sediment, travelers flow through my home and leave it a little richer. There's the Dutch professor who gave me an impromptu art lesson. The Israeli graphic designer who gifted me with her art, which now hangs in the master bedroom.
Of course, I'm not doing this for the cultural exchange alone. Even Airbnb isn't so disingenuous as to suggest it's not about the money: Click the "Why Host?" link and Airbnb offers, "Hosts ... welcome travelers into their homes to earn money and meet people from all over the world." What the site doesn't clarify is how the constant presence of strangers can alter your psyche and your relationship to your home.
Before I listed my house on Airbnb, I asked a friend what hosting was like. "You do a lot of laundry," she said.
This is true. But the multiple loads of sheets and towels are the easiest part of the job. I never can fully relax when I have guests, because I'm always on the clock.
For me, a typical day hosting looks like this: I wake up on a twin mattress in the spare bedroom my boyfriend uses for a music studio. (We share the twin bed. It's a snug fit.) I work in my bath around the guests' because I don't want to disrupt their schedules. Then I dig my clothes out of the kitchen drawers. Because the master bedroom is rented at least three weeks of the month, I've moved my clothes out of the walk-in closet and into the kitchen drawers and hall closet. (Another snug fit.)
I wash dishes, take out the trash and make the living area look like the sort of place somebody who's dropping $79 (August rate) to $199 (Mardi Gras rate) per night might expect. Usually, the guests are sleeping when I leave for work, but sometimes they're awake and bright-eyed, ready to chat about New Orleans over coffee or maybe request fresh towels or bike maintenance.
The guests are almost uniformly pleasant. Some are so awesome I'd want to hang out with them even if I wasn't getting paid to do it. Others consider me part of the furnishings — I give them the keys and never hear from them again. I don't have any horror stories, unlike my sister, who's a host in Rochester, New York. (A woman puked on her comforter.)
One of the most difficult parts of hosting is navigating the tricky intersection of social and financial contracts. It's hard to know whether guests consider me a concierge service, a potential friend or something in between.
In this and other respects, Airbnb is a polarizing entity. It can weaken a neighborhood's social fabric. I have a friend who's leased multiple apartments for the purpose of Airbnbing them. But in my case, the extra income is a stabilizing factor. I'm paying my mortgage down aggressively, and I'm not displacing anyone.
I wouldn't have a roommate if I didn't do Airbnb. I'd just have a big bedroom with a walk-in closet I could actually use. And a lot less money in the bank.