A bunch of you are probably thinking: what do you mean “how to pick the perfect Airbnb?” Isn’t that common sense?
Well, yes and no. The thing is, finding a good Airbnb isn’t like finding a good hotel. And if you think about it, it’s still a relatively new service. I, for one, didn’t stay in my first Airbnb until 2015, despite having heard of the service in 2011. Sometimes it was due to cost, other times due to convenience and sometimes it was due to plain old worry. I mean, you’re staying in a stranger’s house for goodness sake. And I’d heard my fair share of horror stories.
What is Airbnb?
Their website summarizes it best: “rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190+ countries.” Breaking it down even further, your options are usually twofold: 1) A spare room in an apartment for rent or 2) A full apartment for rent. The cool thing about Airbnb is that you aren’t just limited to apartments or homes. In fact, you can stay in cool and unique accommodation such as a tree house, a clock tower, or even a castle!
Pros and Cons:
There are tons of benefits to Airbnb:
- Cost effective (usually)
- Flexible hosts (especially with check-in and check-out)
- Local neighborhoods, rather than touristy ones
- More spacious than a hotel room
- A kitchen to cook in or have your morning coffee in (usually)
- Non-touristy recommendations from hosts
I mean, there’s just something to be said about having coffee and / or breakfast before you start your day.
The negatives are easy to point out as well:
- Location: sometimes the apartments are hard to find
- Expectation: sometimes rooms don’t live up to the pictures
- Cost: depending on the city, it might not actually be that cost effective
So. While I agree that Airbnb isn’t necessarily spectacular for every destination, it’s always worth looking into when booking accommodation.
In 2015 alone, I stayed in a grand total of five Airbnbs. I’m kind of addicted to be honest. Two of those times I rented the whole apartment, and three of them I stayed in a room in an apartment with a stranger. It was actually fine, I promise.
You too can have a safe and fun Airbnb experience if you follow this how-to. Read on to learn how to pick the perfect Airbnb.
How it works, step-by-step:
On the homepage, type in where you want to go, the dates you’re interested in and how many guests are staying. In the “where” box, you can be as specific as you’d like or as broad as you’d like; i.e. “France,” “Paris,” or even “Eiffel Tower.” Once you hit enter, you’ll arrive at the main search page, where you can further narrow your options down.
This is where some people mess up. You can filter your results by “entire home/apt,” “private room” or “shared room.” If you’ve never used Airbnb, this is easy to miss and people do miss it. So, make sure you check the box that suits your needs.
Next, filter by the price you want to pay per night. Airbnb has indicative gray bars to show the price points available.
Now click on the little button on the left that says “more filters.” This button is key. This is where you can select all your must-have amenities that you can’t live without. Everything from the host language to wi-fi to which neighborhood you’re staying in. If I were traveling solo, I would definitely check wi-fi, lock on bedroom door, and maybe even a washer if I were on an extended trip. It’s entirely up to you.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, you can start tackling your options. When you start clicking on listings, you’ll notice that the descriptions often vary wildly depending on the host. That’s okay, as long as you ask the right questions to get the information you need. If there’s one part of travel where I don’t like spontaneity, it’s accommodation.
Here’s what I always ask:
- What are the directions for key pick-up? Will you be available or are there special directions? (If applicable, please note that I won’t have a phone).
- Can you give me specific public transportation / taxi directions to the apartment? Can you also provide them in the country’s language?
- What time are check-in and check-out? This is important if you’re arriving or leaving at an odd time, or if you need to leave your luggage for a few extra hours.
And if I’m staying in a shared apartment, which is likely as a solo budget traveler:
- How many rooms are in the apartment in total?
- How many people will I be sharing the apartment / bathroom with?
- Is there a lock on the bedroom door?
- Will I have access to the kitchen and/or washing machine?
- Will toiletries, a hair dryer and/or a towel be provided?
Other things to note:
- The cancellation policy: sometimes things happen. You can check the cancellation policy in the prices section, but if you think you might cancel, double-check with the host.
- The pictures: look at them. If something looks weird, ask about it. Sometimes beds are actually sofa beds so ask if you think that might be an issue.
Before you book:
Read the reviews and look at the ratings! If there’s something particularly glaring in the reviews, I try to shy away from that listing. Same goes if it has less than 5 reviews. That’s a personal thing, but if you’re basing your decision off just a couple of reviews, it’s much harder to gauge the quality of the listing.
Now you’re ready to book! Hit the “request to book” button and you’re ready to go. Note: sometimes hosts offer a discount if you stay longer than a week. It never hurts to ask, and they have the ability to send you a special offer.
As soon as you know your arrival details, let you your host know. This makes it much easier for them to gauge when they have to be home and avoids you having to wait around wondering where your host is.
Note that Airbnb has a help and resolution center, as well as a 24/7 customer service phone number.
Yes, it can be a slightly longer process to book an Airbnb, but in the end, it’s worth it. I had great conversations and meals with hosts in Spain, learned about local culture in Portugal, and stayed in a two-bedroom apartment for the cost of a single room in Turkey. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked!
If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, get $20 off your first booking using my promotional code here. Happy travels!
Have you ever stayed in an Airbnb? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!
P.S. Check out this post from Tales from a Fork to get the scoop on Airbnb etiquette!