“How renting out my spare room changed my life”

Posted by
Amy Swales
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The idea of total strangers staying in your spare room (or being in the house at all when you’re not there) is a little disconcerting for many of us.

However for four women, the decision to rent out their homes via Airbnb was a life-changing one they’ll never regret – enabling careers, family and relationships to flourish.

While for some, the extra money it brought in was a lifeline, for others, meeting a guest changed their life in a way they couldn’t have foreseen.

And should the following tales inspire you to start snapping pictures of your kitchen and setting yourself up a bed on the sofa, remember to check out our hosting tips here first.

“It enabled me and my kids to stay in our family home”

Rebecca Edwards, head of marketing and PR at PBS America, became an Airbnb host in 2014. Edwards, 44, rents out a loft room in her Dalston home (complete with complimentary quality cat time), and says the money earned meant that she didn’t need to uproot her two sons following her divorce.

“I’d not used Airbnb at all, but I’d recently split from my ex; he was keen to sell the family house, which we both owned, so that he could buy himself somewhere to live. Selling would have meant moving away from the area, from my kids’ school, from all of our friends, and I was keen to keep things ‘normal’ until we’d managed the break-up.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to start getting bookings, but within a couple of days of listing, I’d secured my first – two 19-year-old Dutch girls working in London during their year out. They needed somewhere to stay before their lease on a flat started and they stayed with us for six nights. One was working on a cupcake stall at King’s Cross Station and brought spoils every night, which was an instant hit with my boys!

We stayed in contact – I lent them a blow-up mattress when they left as they waited for their new bed to be delivered, and they had us all round for tea one day. They were the perfect first guests – kind, considerate, good company – and so completely put any concerns I had about hosting to rest.

Becoming a host has enabled me and my kids to stay in our family home and has helped me secure financial independence. After six months of hosting and putting all of the money into a joint account, we remortgaged and bought my ex an ex-local authority flat nearby with two bedrooms, so the kids could also stay with him. We are still good friends and work hard to work well together as co-parents, so maintaining a joint mortgage and two properties feels natural and easy.

My life is definitely richer and more varied. Be honest, be open, be inviting, be kind, and your guests will give you all of these things back in spades. I’ve shared some amazing conversations with guests and received some generous thank you gifts in return – restaurant vouchers, handmade decorations, local delicacies from their home countries.

It’s been an enabler for me. I’ll always remember being able to book the holiday of a lifetime to California. It was type of trip I’d never have done with my ex and the first holiday I’d ever planned by myself, so it was very symbolic for me, not least because it was scheduled exactly a year after we split. We had the most amazing time living it up with friends in LA and family in San Francisco, before driving back down the coast and staying in Airbnbs.

I’d tell anyone to just do it. Invest in good bedding and towels, declutter, get inspiration from Pinterest. Think clever with your listing – I quickly realised that many guests loved spending time with my cats so now I market my loft room accordingly! Make your listing live now and worry about the guests later. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to build my start-up without it”

Hermione Taylor, 33, is the founder of Do Nation and signed her London flat up to the website in 2014. She credits hosting for giving her the financial freedom to pursue her new business.

“I needed to make some extra money to support my start-up. I’d had a full-time housemate, but I really wanted to live on my own, and as I work from home a lot I also needed to be able to use the space flexibly. Given I am often away, it made sense to sign up to a site like Airbnb so I could get the best of both worlds – living alone most of the time, and getting income when I’m away.

As a start-up founder, income is often sporadic and uncertain. So renting the room out gave me some space, allowing me to focus on building and scaling the business. Secondly, I have a little garden where I grow lots of fruit and veg, and I love it to bits but I’m out of town a lot in the summer; having people renting the flat meant I could ask them to water it for me, and keep those raspberries blooming. They also get to eat homegrown beans and tomatoes!

Additionally, I wanted to use something that aligned to my values and that of Do Nation, which is all about encouraging more sustainable ways of living. That’s closely linked to the sharing economy and Airbnb fits with that perfectly. I always think it’s so wasteful to leave such great space empty and unappreciated.


Of course I was nervous with my first guests, especially as I was on the other side of the world, but it all went fine. We had a Greek family; the wife was a film-maker and actually made a horror film in the flat! They left me a lovely note, a hand-drawn family portrait (which still lives on my fridge), and a selection of Greek gifts: appreciation like that is what makes the whole experience so magical to me. You have to have a shared trust with your guests and it’s a great reminder that no matter what the media often leads us to believe, humans are pretty great creatures.

Last year we decided to make some changes in the business, creating a tool that anyone can use to encourage their colleagues to try more environmentally friendly habits. I knew that building this would put a big squeeze on our income, and it was only possible thanks to hosting. I have the most rewarding job I could dream of, making a real difference to people’s lives and the world around us, so I’m hugely grateful that I can still be doing it.”

“I fell in love with London again”

Having had a few bad experiences since moving to the UK from Sydney in 2014, 29-year-old Ydonna Santos first listed a room in her London flat last summer to help out other newcomers to the capital, as well as financially helping her to live in the city she now loves.

“Having experienced Airbnb as a traveller and having first-hand experience with the difficulties of finding a place to stay on short notice, I decided to contribute to the travelling community by becoming a host. I wanted to assist people interested in getting to know London and the community I live in.

As with anything new, there are always things to worry about – is it safe to have strangers in the house? Will the guests leave a huge mess or steal anything? After investigating it thoroughly I decided to give it a go as it’s easy to cancel guest stays if any issues do arise. I was extremely nervous and worried about getting a complete psycho, but in the end, the guest was a very nice businessperson and left the place spotless.

When I first moved here, I had never been to London before and had a string of awful experiences with properties and flatmates. Now I'm happily living on my own and get to control who comes in and out of my flat – I meet amazing people from all over the globe.

It’s been fantastic for meeting new friends, not only travellers but other hosts in my area. While it has opened my eyes to what’s happening around the world, it’s really given me a sense of community and pride. Guests always love the area and appreciate my tips and tricks.

One particularly wonderful experience was a first-time user from Central America who had never been to London before. She could not thank me enough for helping with directions, taking her on a tour of the area, and brunching in a typical London cafe. I like to think I can erase my tough ‘moving to London experience’ by making someone else's amazing and that's why I love using Airbnb.

It’s helped raise my Instagram profile and reduce the cost pressures of living in London (I have a small baking business but it’s more of a hobby – some of my lucky guests get to try out recipes). But the biggest benefit is meeting great travellers who have ignited my love of London life.”

“I met the love of my life”

Guest services professional Molly Freiberg, 32, has been using Airbnb since 2012 and knew that renting out her Philadelphia home would mean meeting new and interesting people. However she probably didn’t foresee that she’d end up falling for one of her guests.

“I became a host because I wanted to meet more people and learn a new skill by using the website – challenging for a Luddite like me.

I had been in a long-term relationship with a guy who was really negative about people generally, believed they had bad intentions or were, at the very least, annoying. I deferred to him and this made our life small. After we broke up, I realised how lonely I had gotten and how much of myself I had been hiding – I wanted to be active in welcoming people into my life, and grow instead of shrink.

I didn’t have any reservations about using Airbnb because I’ve travelled and stayed in other people’s homes throughout my life. When I was a kid, my family used to stay on a Quaker farm during lambing season. I also stayed in mountain huts throughout the Appalachian Trail, cabins in Maine, beach houses in New Jersey, a homestay in South Africa. Because these experiences were so singular, touching, and personal, I trusted a service that that seemed to be a community.

My first booking was a group of German students touring the east coast. They sent me a message to request to book my place for a night the day before they wanted to arrive. I was nervous – so nervous that I forgot to give them the keys and had to drive back! After they checked out, the place was in beautiful condition and they had left me a chocolate bar with a cute note.

Airbnb has made me more welcoming and compassionate. I host guests from all over the world, all different cultures, races, sexual orientations and gender on an air mattress in my living room. I feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful travellers and adventurers. Plus I fell in love with my partner! He is a French guy living in Germany who rented out my spare room in October 2015. Usually I try to give my guests their space but Clement and I hit it off immediately – and he cooked me crêpes two mornings in a row.

After he left, he changed around the rest of his trip to come back to Philly and take me on a date before flying back to Europe. This time I let him stay over for free! In April 2016, I took my first international flight as an adult alone to see Clement in Berlin. He had been visiting me every month but I hadn’t been to him.

It was the first time I was truly submerged in entirely new surroundings without the safety blanket of Americans around and because of my experiences with guests and Clement, I felt happy, open, confident and trusting. I saved up and quit my job to spend a few months with him. It was really important to our relationship and having Airbnb income to cover my expenses in the US was what made it financially possible.

Saying my life would be completely different without it would be an understatement. My life is so big and wonderful now.

I would tell others considering it to let possibilities in your life unfold. You don’t need to know where it’s going or to feel bad if you aren’t an expert yet – what matters is that you see all experience as opportunity for learning, and you are accountable to yourself for your fulfilment and contentment.”