If you’re looking for a side income, consider listing a room (or your whole home) on Airbnb. Paula Pant of Afford Anything shares how she uses Airbnb for a steady side income stream.

When I bought my first house, I decided to buy a triplex, a three-unit property. I moved into one unit (with roommates) and rented out the other two.

The rental income covers the mortgage, plus extra. I pay zero out-of-pocket housing costs. Score!

Everything was humming along fine until my friends and neighbors started commenting, “I bet you could earn more if you rented those units on Airbnb.”

Darn it! Why did they plant that idea in my head?! I was skeptical—what if there are long vacancies? But my insatiable curiosity got the best of me.

Airbnb, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a person-to-person alternative to staying at a hotel. Accommodations range from a spare bedroom to a 10,000-square-foot castle; there’s something for every price point.

Could I make it work? Could it cover my mortgage? My friends recommended that I test-drive the idea. “Just try it for a month,” my roommate advised.

I jumped in headfirst, learning the ropes along the way. Here are a few hard-won lessons:

  • You can’t try it for a month if you have to furnish an apartment. I spent more than $2,000 readying the space for the first guest, including buying a bed, dresser, couch, TV, coffee table, dining table…you get the idea.
  • Think through the “stuff of life.” It’s amazing how many tiny objects we overlook: can openers, ice cube trays, coffee filters, reading lamps, curtains, trashcans, potholders, bath mats.
  • Budget at least two full working days to get the space ready, plus another half-day to set up the listing online, and a half-day for research and learning. In total, it took me about a week to prepare the space.
  • Pick one color palette and buy everything in that tone. It gives the space a sense of cohesion.
  • Snap amazing photos. Airbnb will send a free professional photographer, but if you get stuck on the waiting list for months, splurge on hiring one. It’ll pay for itself.
  • Start with a low price. Increase your rates as five-star reviews begin pouring in. My unit started at $75 per night, and then rose to $99, then $125, then $155.
  • Leave tasteful tourist guides—like a hardcover local history book—on the coffee table.
  • Create a “Welcome Guide/FAQ” booklet that says things like “here’s how to operate the thermostat.”
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. This is the best way to score five-star reviews.

How did I fare financially? I averaged $1,698 per month (after expenses), which is $400; that’s $600 per month more than I would have earned on a long-term rental.

In addition, I met fascinating people, including:

  • Several guys from Costa Rica who came to town for an electronic music festival
  • A newlywed couple who checked in within two days of saying “I do”
  • A woman from Sweden who visited IKEA for the first time…in Atlanta

One of my favorite aspects of travel is the ability to meet people from across the globe. Becoming a host brought the world—literally—to my doorstep.

I’d call that a win.

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, traveled to 33 countries, launched a business she runs from her laptop, and uses the profits to invest in real estate. She shares details about these adventures and more on her website, Afford Anything.

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