This is the fourth guest post from Boris and Ana, who are crossing the USA on an electric bike.

We’ve stayed with 10 different hosts during the last month of our tour, and with each stay, the reason we chose to be Airbnb guests is justified again and again. It’s an incredible experience – much richer, more human, and far more pleasant than a hotel could ever be.

But what about our hosts? What makes somebody want to become an Airbnb host? What makes them embrace the concept so passionately and go to such great lengths to keep their guests satisfied?

Our hosts in Des Moines, Iowa – the fantastic husband-and-wife team of Susan and Todd – shared their story and what got them hooked on Airbnb.

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Both Susan and Todd served in the military for more than 20 years and retired a few years ago.

Not one to sit still, Todd soon took a new job at Homeland Security in the Midwest, and they relocated from Oregon to Iowa. They bought a 6-bedroom, 5-bathroom house so that their two songs could live with them in comfort.

But plans changed. Their older son soon joined the military, and the younger on moved out for a more “flexible life.” Suddenly, Susan and Todd were left with a giant empty nest.

“It was a whole lot of house,” Susan reflected.  While Todd was finding his new job engaging, Susan missed feeling relevant and needed.

Then Susan stumbled upon Airbnb. She felt like a prayer had been answered. Todd agreed to try to rent out a single spare bedroom. “If it works,” the couple reasoned, “we’ll have a guest or two a month and make a few extra dollars.”

Susan quickly got to work, turning the main guest bedroom into an Airbnb rental and put up a listing. To her surprise, the morning after her listing went live, they got their first request. Except it wasn’t just one guest. It was three. Friends were coming to town for a wedding, and they had requested two separate rooms.

Susan called Todd at work to share the news and asked what he thought about renting two bedrooms. He agreed reluctantly, half-expecting to stay up all night listening for noises from potential hooligans.

But the guests proved friendly and fun to chat with. All went better than expected. And the next day, Susan got a second request.

From that point on, the flow of guests never stopped. In the past 12 months, they have hosted 617 nights, enabling them to nearly cover their mortage. With the extra income, they have made improvements to their home and will be rewarding themselves this year with a two-week vacation.

No longer working full-time for the Army, Susan has found a new purpose through Airbnb. She gets to meet travelers from all corners of the world, enjoys the company of ambitious, intelligent, open people, and develops new and long-lasting friendships. By keeping their prices below the standard hotel rate in Des Moines, they find that upscale, educated, computer-savvy people choose to come to their home and enjoy a nice bargain while Susan and Todd enjoy the company.

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As we sat around the kitchen table eating burgers that Todd grilled earlier, Susan described some of the unusual guests they have hosted over the past year. This included an Australian Buddhist monk, a Swedish particle physicist, and a vet from Zimbabwe who was in Des Moines to be certified as a blood pathologist.  With her natural charisma and knack for fresh baking, Susan made all these guests feel at home nearly instantly.

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In a new home within a new community, Airbnb has filled not only a physical space for Susan and Todd, but also an emotional one. The feeling of connection is one they pass along to everyone who is lucky enough to spend some time with them. It’s much more than a place to lay one’s weary head. It’s about forming memorable connections, meeting people of diverse backgrounds, and making lifelong friends.

Things took a turn for the worse soon after this was written. Find out what happened in Anna’s next post: How to Make True Friends.