How Spending 1,500+ Nights in Airbnbs Helped Me Build a Business and Life That I Love (Daniel Rusteen’s Story)

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This post is brought to you by some of the unique items Danny travels with: a massage tool, food scale, and a multipurpose pillow.

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Danny’s story is an excellent example of finding a career that capitalizes on your talents. He found a steady stream of income by combining several areas of his expertise to offer something unique in an unsaturated market. Thanks to this, he’s found huge success as a digital nomad. And he works about two hours per day.

Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Danny!

Key takeaways from Danny’s interview:

“Whatever you do, there’s only one thing you need to focus on: be the best. By being the best, opportunities will arise. I wish I knew this before. If I had this mindset when I was working a traditional job, I would’ve realized that I needed to quit because I was unable or incapable of being the best.”

“I travel monthly. I feel like I’m the only one to do this. There are so many places to explore, and I can get to know a big city very well within about three weeks. I feel one month is ideal because I can get the monthly discount on Airbnb, the visa is usually 30 days, gyms become affordable (day passes are pricey!), and this is sufficient time to make local friends who don’t bother with passerbyers of a few days to a week. If you want to travel with a similar style, I recommend you become a minimalist. I recommend you do this anyway, but it makes travel so much easier. I can pack in 20 minutes.”

“Take a step outside your comfort zone. Introduce yourself. Learn how to start up conversations randomly. It’s probably my most powerful skill being able to talk to anyone in the room. I make connections almost daily, which has led to getting invited to weddings, local events, or even just learning about neat cultural things like slang or politics, etc.”

“Some people like to see the differences in places and like to force themselves to feel culture shock. I’m the opposite. I see the similarities. While the language, architecture, food, and history may be unique and different, I’m more about the people. And people around the world are exactly the same. They all want to be happy and healthy. They want to be left alone to enjoy their lives.”

Table of Contents

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

Daniel Rusteen laying on a chair on a boat in a floating market

I’m Danny, my online persona is dannybooboo. I was born in California and lived there for 29 years until I became a fully location-independent digital nomad.

Technically I’m living in Colombia at the moment. Technically because I’m a minimalist and so all of my things are with me where I am. However, I move monthly, so I don’t live anywhere as it’s traditionally defined.

For work, I help Airbnb hosts make more money. I do that by helping them increase their search rank and the Airbnb guest experience. I’ve worked directly with hosts from 65+ countries. If you count all my free content, I’ve probably helped hosts in every country around the world.

This all happened because I was fired two times in a row. I used to be an accountant ☺

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

I’m a CPA and worked as one for about five years until Airbnb fired me. This was the very beginning of my new, nomading life, but I actually had to work for another company until they fired me too. At this point, I became an entrepreneur doing something very similar to what I’m doing now.

Some people like to see the differences in places and like to force themselves to feel culture shock. I’m the opposite. I see the similarities. While the language, architecture, food, and history may be unique and different, I’m more about the people. And people around the world are exactly the same. They all want to be happy and healthy. They want to be left alone to enjoy their lives.

Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business. 

Well, I got fired. Twice. If I hadn’t been fired, I’d probably be leading a very different life. Upon the second firing, though, I was already in my new entrepreneurial zone. In fact, even before I was fired, I started a Fiverr account and sold my first “Airbnb Listing Optimization” for $5. That was June 2016, and it took me 45 minutes to complete. Now I sell a constantly evolving but similar report for $300.

After Airbnb (the first company which fired me), I started working from home. I’m sure we’ve all worked from home at one point or another and seen it as difficult, less productive. That’s how it was for me. I thought it was the ‘home’ in ‘work from home’ that made me less productive. Turns out, it was the work. Accounting wasn’t for me.

After Airbnb, though, the work from home became pleasurable. I even looked forward to doing it. I was more independent, more productive than ever because I was more of an entrepreneur. I felt like I was, in fact, running the business. After a year there, I knew that I was running the business and decided to start my own.

Initially, I continued working from home, but over the course of five months, I realized I didn’t have to live in an expensive city. I could do what I was doing anywhere. In January 2017, I took a solo three-month trip to Australia.

Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain customers and scale your business?

Daniel Rusteen looking to the sky with arms wide open in a courtyard of apartment buildings in Hong Kong

I’m so lucky that I sell a product that is in high demand with very low competition. It’s very niche, and I’m the best in the world at what I do. It’s also Airbnb-related, and I’m a former Airbnb employee, that helps.

But, I’m truly an expert. When I talk, people listen. The difference is the amount of time I’ve thought and applied different strategies. If you’re a new Airbnb host, you can just go do it. Many do it this way, and many end up successful. Or, you could leverage the 8+ years of experience I have being an Airbnb employee, Airbnb guest of 1,500 nights, Airbnb property manager, and Airbnb Superhost.

All of my customers come organically through my blog posts, YouTube videos, or social media.

What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?

I travel monthly. I feel like I’m the only one to do this. There are so many places to explore, and I can get to know a big city very well within about three weeks. I feel one month is ideal because I can get the monthly discount on Airbnb, the visa is usually 30 days, gyms become affordable (day passes are pricey!), and this is sufficient time to make local friends who don’t bother with passerbyers of a few days to a week.

If you want to travel with a similar style, I recommend you become a minimalist. I recommend you do this anyway, but it makes travel so much easier. I can pack in 20 minutes.

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

I like to dislike a place based on the people I meet there. That’s really it. Colombia and Brasil compete with each other in the friendliest culture of the 35 countries I know. I think Brasil wins.

Russia was interesting because the people are a lot friendlier than you’d imagine. If you go, definitely learn some Russian language as the English is very low.

Vietnam is a very warm and friendly place. Luckily most of the young speak English. I think to truly enjoy a country, you must speak the language, but this one is just too difficult for me to have an interest in learning right now.

Finally, Kazakhstan also has some of the friendliest people on the planet. I made the most friends here in the month I visited out of anywhere I visited up to date.

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

Daniel Rusteen sitting on a chair on a patio in Ubud, Bali looking out over the jungle

I actually wrote a book on how to find where in the world is best for you, how to pick very specifically where to live in that city, and how to meet friends. I recommend you read it, too.

I was born an introvert, but that life is boring. Travel has finally made me as close to an extrovert as I think I’ll ever be.

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at meeting people at turning strangers into friends. This was through a lot of trial and error, embarrassment, and frustration, but also so rewarding.

I spent my first six months living a very solitary and lonely digital nomad life. My main advice is to do two things. First, increase your exposure, meaning go to places where there’s a possibility of meeting strangers. That’s not in your Airbnb.

Second, take a step outside your comfort zone. Introduce yourself. Learn how to start up conversations randomly. It’s probably my most powerful skill being able to talk to anyone in the room. I make connections almost daily, which has led to getting invited to weddings, local events, or even just learning about neat cultural things like slang or politics, etc.

What digital tools do you use for your work/business?

Website chat, website popups in conjunction with Active Campaign for email management, an SEO tracking tool called SE Ranking, a neat tool which shows popups on the bottom left side of my website when anyone buys (called FOMO), and affiliate software (Affiliantly)

What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?

Daniel Rusteen on a river canoe in the jungle wearing a domed hat

I run a lifestyle business. The magic about my business and what I urge your readers to look for is the mechanic magic, as I call it. 

You bring your car into the mechanic with a problem. You don’t know much about how cars work, definitely not anywhere near what an expert mechanic knows. Because of this, you have no idea what the mechanic is actually doing, for better or worse.

The mechanic can charge you $100, which only takes him 10 minutes, but fixed your problem. You have no idea, nor do you care, because it seems worth it.

I have that same mechanic magic. An Airbnb host wants to be the best they can be, they pay me to help, but they don’t actually know what I do. It’s that grey area where I make money. I know how much my services are worth, but no one knows how much time I put into each order.

My hourly rate ranges from $300-$500 per hour.

Because of this, I work about 2 hours per day.

Contrast that with SEO business which many digital nomads do. It’s hell. There are a million of you. You all try to charge a lot, but most buyers want a discount, and everyone thinks they know what you’re doing.

For someone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in your field, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?

My space is extraordinarily specific, so instead, I will give some general advice that I hinted at before.

Whatever you do, there’s only one thing you need to focus on: be the best. By being the best, opportunities will arise.

I wish I knew this before. If I had this mindset when I was working a traditional job, I would’ve realized that I needed to quit because I was unable or incapable of being the best.

If you’re a content creator (podcaster, YouTuber, blogger, etc.), tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!

Daniel Rusteen laying on a couch in a luxury looking at a tablet

I define myself as a few things, and content creation is one of them. I have written three books (one is a best-seller), I have two YouTube channels, I write blogs for my personal and professional websites, and I’m active on social media.

My first ever “professional” youtube video was in Mexico City, and I used a tripod and my cell phone (no external mic), and I decided to sit in front of a fountain! LOL. I even thought out loud in the video that my choice may not be the best acoustically.

Nowadays, I have a small external mic, I always buy the newest phone, and I pay a professional to edit my videos.

Here are some relevant pieces for what’s been discussed or relevant to our current world climate:

My SEO Guide For Small Business (I took three months to become an expert, and here’s what it takes)

How I Think About Risk (An article inspired by Coronavirus)

Why I Don’t Watch The News

And here is my personal Instagram account.

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

Holy crap! What an intense question.

Well, the nice thing about being a content creator is that I’ve already written down my personal life commandments.

Words are our most powerful tool. Your world is created first in your own mind. With good health comes a host of other benefits, both physically and psychologically. Time is your most valuable asset.

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

I carry a few odd things:

What’s your favorite book and why?

Daniel Rusteen in Ubud, Bali jumping in the air from a street in the middle of rice paddies

I have eight books that have changed my life. Two are on health. Three are on psychology. One is about sex. One is on finance. One is of learning languages.

Here is a link to my digital bookshelf with all eight all-time favorites, including summaries and my personal book notes.

Tell us about a deep passion of yours! What has your journey been like, and what advice/resources would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about this topic?

Meeting people. I know it sounds generic, but I’ve taken it to the next level. I’m a born introvert, and this is very comfortable to me. But it’s also boring and doesn’t make me feel fulfilled. I’ve had to learn how to interact with humans. I’ve read books, even taken two multi-day seminars.

I meet people in the gym, in café’s, on the street, in public transit, on dating apps, etc. I’m able to make conversation with almost anyone. I’m able to turn strangers into friends, sometimes lovers.

Recently, I’ve started an Instagram account where I bring together the people who I’ve met in a house dinner party-type event. This is something I do around the world wherever I am (typically, I move cities every 30 days).

How can people learn more about you and your work?

I created my personal website in 2019, and it’s my baby. I probably spend more time on it than my business.

Otherwise, if you happen to be an Airbnb host, you can check out OptimizeMyBnb.com.

You can also type in dannybooboo or Daniel Rusteen online to find a bunch of content, including my  personal YouTube channel.

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.