Do you wish you could travel abroad? Do you dream of trying fresh Japanese sushi, or hearing the lyrical Italian language at its source?
We believe everyone can travel — but we also acknowledge it’s harder for some than others. If you can’t make it happen right now, we have some good news: You don’t need to fly overseas to experience another culture.
In fact, we recently discovered an easy way to forge international friendships — a way that can actually earn you a healthy side income. (For one woman, we’re talking more than $5,000 last year!)
Meet Homestay, a site that helps you rent out your spare room to guests from all over the world.
They’ve already hit it big overseas (with 50,000 hosts in 150 countries), but don’t have a strong U.S. presence yet — which means you could potentially be one of the only hosts in your area.
If you love meeting new people and want to boost your income, keep reading.
What’s It Like to Be a Homestay Host?
Three years ago, Edna Stevens’ children grew up and moved out of her home in suburban Minneapolis. One of her friends recommended she rent out her spare rooms — and as a traveler herself, Homestay was an ideal match.
“I’ve always loved learning about different cultures,” she says. “If you can’t get to the other countries, having people in your house from those countries is awesome because you can learn right in your own home.”
Edna charges $30 a night and, though she’s only had four guests, has earned more than $1,000 during her two years on the platform. She’s used her earnings to upgrade the rooms, saying, “Not only do I get to enjoy the fact this room is remodeled, but so do my guests.”
Yvonne, who requested we didn’t use her last name, lives in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. When she was unable to work last fall, Yvonne’s landlord suggested she rent out her two extra rooms.
Though she started out using rival site Airbnb, Yvonne now receives over 90% of her bookings through Homestay. In the past year, she’s had more than 100 guests, who stay three to 16 nights and pay an average of $65 to $75 a night.
Each month, she earns between $500 and $1,500; in total, she’s earned more than $5,000 renting out her spare rooms.
How is Homestay Different Than Airbnb?
You may be thinking: Homestay sounds great, but is it any different from Airbnb? Yes and yes. Here are four important distinctions:
1. Homestay Guests Want Cultural Immersion
This is by far the biggest differentiator between the two sites: Homestay doesn’t allow empty rentals, so their guests are specifically seeking personal interaction.
Not only does this mean you’re opening yourself up to a pool of new friends, but you may not have to worry as much about bookings from party animals or people who view your personal sanctuary as “just a place to sleep.”
Both Yvonne and Edna said they’ve had genuine and interesting guests through Homestay, many of whom they’ve stayed in touch with.
“I’ve met really sweet, awesome people from all walks of life,” says Edna. “One girl was from Bangladesh! I mean, think about it: How often do you get to have somebody from Bangladesh in your home?”
2. You Can “Meet” Your Guests Beforehand
If you’ve been tempted to try Airbnb, but have been nervous about letting strangers into your home, you might like Homestay’s video chat feature.
Whereas Airbnb only lets you contact potential guests via email or texting, Homestay’s platform allows for Skype-like video calls.
“Speaking to a person directly, it’s always nice,” says Edna. “You can feel them out before they come to your home.”
3. Homestay Isn’t Big in the U.S. Yet
You could view this as either a pro or a con. Though Homestay is well-known in the U.K., it’s just beginning its expansion into the United States.
The downside of this is — at least to begin with — you may not receive as many bookings as you would through Airbnb.
The benefit? You won’t have much competition, so now could be the perfect time to establish yourself with some great reviews.
4. You Handle the Payments
When a guest books a stay with you, Homestay charges a 15% booking fee as their commission. It’s then your responsibility to collect the remainder of the payment.
In comparison, Airbnb charges the guest a 3% commission and a 6% to 12% “guest service fee” in addition to the nightly rate. They only release the payment to you, the host, 24 hours after the guest has checked in.
Though Homestay’s method creates more work for you (Edna, for example, wishes there were a way she could accept credit cards), others enjoy the flexibility this provides.
“With Homestay, they only collect the booking fee, then it’s between me and the guest to arrange payment,” explains Yvonne. “Sometimes I may ask for 50% up front and 50% on arrival, which kind of provides more of a cash flow.”
Should You Host with Homestay?
If you’re considering hosting with Homestay, ask yourself these two questions.
Do I Have a Spare Room in My Home?
As noted above, Homestay doesn’t allow empty rentals: You can only host Homestay guests in the home you live in.
(If you don’t have a spare room, but are still eager to save money and learn about new cultures, try booking a Homestay the next time you travel.)
Do I Want to Make New Friends From All Over the World?
One thing’s certain: You should only become a Homestay host if you’re eager to meet new people and discover new cultures.
“It’s a good way to learn a little bit more about their countries and where they come from — you pick up a lot of travel tips as well,” explains Yvonne.
“You get to meet people from all over the world,” adds Edna. “Literally without getting on a plane and spending the money. … What’s the purpose of life if you have great things and then you just keep them to yourself?”
We would agree: Cultures, knowledge, conversation — they’re all better when shared.
How to Become a Homestay Host
Want in? First, create a free listing on Homestay, complete with photos and a description of you, your home and your neighborhood. Set a nightly price (keeping Homestay’s 15% commission in mind).
Once you click publish, your listing is live! Travelers will be able to see your spare room and request a booking, which you can accept or reject.
If you accept it, you’re expected to interact with your guests and provide a light breakfast each day they’re there.
“You must be living in your home during the guest’s stay, and be available to spend a little time with them, to make it a truly authentic and unique travel experience for them with a local,” states the site.
What do you think? If you’ve always dreamed of hosting people from all over the world, this could be the platform you’ve been searching for.
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Homestay for working with us to bring you this content. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.