If you’ve stayed at an Airbnb before, you’re probably a little confused by this title. What do I mean “how to pick a good Airbnb?” How difficult could it really be? Isn’t it common sense?
Well, yes and no. The thing is, choosing an Airbnb isn’t like choosing a hotel or hostel. And, if you think about it, it’s still a relatively new service and there are still plenty of people who are still Airbnb first-timers (or at least, about to be).
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, but mostly it was due to plain old worry. I mean, you’re staying in a stranger’s house for goodness sake. And there are no shortage of Airbnb horror stories. But before you freak out, here are my top tips on how to pick a good Airbnb and other tips for using Airbnb for the first time.
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Using Airbnb for the First Time
Firstly, what is Airbnb?
The Airbnb website summarizes it best: “rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190+ countries.” Breaking it down even further, your accommodations options are one of three: 1) sharing a room with people, hostel-style, 2) renting your own room in a house or apartment, or 3) renting an entire property for yourself. 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!
Benefits of Using Airbnb (instead of hotels)
- Cost effective (usually)
- Flexible hosts (especially with regards to 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.
Drawbacks of Using Airbnb
- Location: Sometimes the apartments are hard to find.
- Expectation: Sometimes rooms don’t live up to the pictures (although some of my tips of choosing an Airbnb help you avoid this)
- Cost: Depending on the city, Airbnb might not actually be that cost-effective.
- Convenience: Nobody is going to drop by and clean your room or make you breakfast during your stay. If that’s what you’re after, definitely book a hotel instead.
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 the other three times I stayed in a room in an apartment with a stranger. It was actually fine, I promise. Now that I’m updating this post in 2020, I’ve stayed in countless Airbnbs all around the world with NO negative experiences and you can, too!
You too can have a safe and fun Airbnb experience if you follow this how-to. Read on to learn how to pick a good Airbnb.
Using Airbnb for the First Time
Creating Your Profile:
- Follow the directions, signing up either through Facebook, Google, or your email.
- Populate your profile with all the information requested: photos, your personal information, etc. Be sure to get verified by submitting a form of ID and don’t forget include a little blurb about yourself as well – people want to know that a real person is staying in their home.
- Voilà! You’re done and ready to start searching for your accommodation.
How to Use Airbnb: Step-by-Step Directions
Had to the homepage. Hit the “stays” button, then once the page loads, search for the location you’re visiting in the top left search bar. Note that 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 that page loads, the more filters button allows you to filter as much or as little as you’d like.
The most important filters to consider are the dates you’re visiting, the number of guests staying, the number of beds and / or bedrooms you need, and the type of accommodation you want: entire place, private room, shared room, or hotel room (I guess some hotels are on Airbnb now).
Next, filter by the price you want to pay per night. Airbnb has indicative gray bars to show the price points available.
Lastly, go back to the “more filters” button to select all your must-have amenities that you can’t live without. Everything from the host language to WiFi to the neighborhood you’re staying in. If I were traveling solo, I would definitely check WiFi, 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.
Note that this is just a basic overview of how to use Airbnb. I’ve included all my tips on how to choose an Airbnb that best suits you in the next section.
How to Pick a Good Airbnb
I know that the idea of a good Airbnb is a bit vague so let me break it down: essentially, I mean an Airbnb that’s clean, safe, and best suited to YOU. One of the luxuries of booking an Airbnb is you can filter by as few or as many amenities you’d like – it’s all about finding a comfortable local stay that works for your budget.
Book in advance
Like hotels, Airbnbs should be booked in advance. A lot of the good Airbnbs get booked up first so be sure to book as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re traveling during peak season or during a special event. Just remember that each Airbnb has its own cancellation policy so be sure to double-check before booking.
Choose the type of property you’d like
One of the most important things to remember when using Airbnb for the first time is that not all Airbnbs offer the whole place up for rent. Some offer rooms within a larger property and others include the option of sharing a room with someone, although this is atypical. Therefore, if you’re interested in only seeing a certain kind of room options, be sure to use the filters button to filter out the room types you don’t want. I’ve stayed in both a private room (and made friends) and rented out entire apartments / houses and have always had pleasant stays.
Use the map to filter the location
Before choosing an Airbnb, I do some research about different neighborhoods to stay in when arriving to a new city. Hotels are typically in more touristy areas but Airbnbs can be anywhere, so it’s important to choose one that isn’t inconveniently located or in an unsafe neighborhood.
One of the tricky things about Airbnb is that you aren’t given the exact address of the accommodation until after you book. However, you’re able to see which street the Airbnb is on and which neighborhood it’s in and make an informed decision accordingly. In fact, you can even use the “search as I move the map” function to filter your options by neighborhood. Sweet!
Consider the amenities you need
One of the best things about searching on Airbnb is that they’ve thought of everything when it comes to filtering by amenities. Under that “more filters” button, you can filter by anything and everything. Need a washing machine for a longer stay? Check. Need A/C because you’re traveling somewhere hot during the summer? Check. Looking for a unique property? Check. No matter what you’re searching for in an accommodation, you can filter for it.
One of the most important things to consider, though, is the number of beds / bedrooms and type of beds there are. Sofa-beds count as beds on Airbnb and sometimes a space can accommodate 3-4 people but only have one bedroom, for example. This is where many people run into surprises so be sure to read the description of the property carefully. And if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to message the host and ask!
Inspect the photos posted, carefully
I know not everyone is a photographer but dark and blurry photos almost automatically take an accommodation out of the running for me. I see good quality photos as a sign that the host puts in an actual effort in their home – I mean, they did put in effort into taking photos of it, after all.
Much like anything you see online, angles can be used to manipulate how spacious, bright, etc a home is so don’t be afraid to ask for more information or additional photos from a host if you really love a property. If a specific room is left out of the photo gallery that’s usually a red flag as well. You want a place where the host has nothing to hide.
Consider staying with a Superhost or in an Airbnb Plus
If it’s your first time using Airbnb, one of my top tips for picking a good Airbnb is staying with a Superhost or in an Airbnb Plus. But what are those, anyway?
- Superhosts are experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests. They typically have a high number of highly-rated reviews from customers.
- Airbnb Plus is a selection of only the highest quality homes with hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail. Every home is verified through in-person quality inspection to ensure quality and design.
Airbnb Plus homes are a super safe bet because you’re guaranteed to be staying in a clean, beautiful home with an awesome host. With Superhosts, you should of course still read reviews and descriptions, but you’re also far less likely to star in your own Airbnb horror story with this option as well.
Read reviews and star ratings carefully
Scroll to the bottom of the listings and read the reviews carefully. Are there any particular issues that come up that might be a dealbreaker for you (like cleanliness, for example)? Does the hot water run out in the shower? Is the apartment stifling due to lack of A/C? Keep an eye out for any trends and keep them in mind for booking.
The same considerations should be taken for the star ratings. At the top of the reviews section, you can see the ratings broken down into six key categories including communication, location, check-in, cleanliness, and more. Even if the overall star rating is high, it’s important to consider which area might be lacking in the accommodation – low cleanliness is a dealbreaker for me, personally.
Know the rules and the cancellation policy
Every Airbnb listing has a section at the bottom with both house rules and the cancellation policy. For the most part, most house rules are pretty standard, addressing things such as pets, smoking, and noise. Cancellation policies vary but I’ve found that most are pretty flexible, offering full refund if you cancel a week in advance, etc. However, every host and listing is different so be sure to double check this before booking somewhere non-refundable. You can always check out the Airbnb help center if need further clarification.
Confirm the check-in / check-out time
I’ve found that most Airbnb listings have check-in and check-out times that are similar to hotels but the nice thing is that some hosts are willing to be a bit flexible if you ask ahead of time. I’ve had hosts allow for early check in, late check out, luggage storage, and more. You can always ask them in a message, especially if your flight is particularly early or later in the day.
Check out the host’s profile too
It’s not enough to just read the reviews of the specific listing – be sure to check out your host’s profile too. I always make sure they’re verified and don’t have more than 2-3 listings under their profile because I want to make sure my money is going to an actual resident and not some big company gaming the Airbnb system. Lastly, I make sure that the host has a solid number of reviews before booking a stay. All respect to new Airbnb hosts but I don’t want to be a guinea pig on my vacation!
Have some back-up options
Unlike hotels, once the Airbnb of your dreams is booked for the dates you want, it’s gone. There aren’t other rooms available or anything. This is why I strongly recommend booking far in advance when possible. You should also have a few back-up options that you’d like to stay in just case your first choice gets booked. If you’re using Airbnb for the first time, you might not know this but Airbnb allows you to make wishlists where you can save the properties you’re interested in. You can also share them with people, in the case that you’re planning a trip with someone or something.
Don’t be afraid to ask the host questions
Seriously, don’t be afraid to message the host and ask anything that pops into your mind about the property. Feel free to explain that you’re new and that you’re considering a stay at their property; a little background information about you and who you’re traveling with doesn’t hurt either. Think of it as a friendly introduction email with questions. To contact the host, head to the section called “the host” on the listing and hit the “contact the host” button. I’ve also included the list of questions I always ask to ensure I’m picking a good Airbnb.
Questions for Airbnb hosts when choosing an Airbnb
- 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 there for a few extra hours.
Questions for Airbnb hosts when staying in a shared apartment
- 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?
Book your stay
Now that you’ve considered all these tips on how to pick a good Airbnb, you’re ready to actually book your stay! 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, are booking last minute, and more. It never hurts to ask, and they have the ability to send you a special offer.
What to do once you book your stay
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. I also exchange phone numbers with my host and ensure they’re reachable via Whatsapp.
Note: Airbnb has a help and resolution center, as well as a 24/7 customer service phone number in case you run into any issues and your host is unable to help you.
Although it can be a slightly longer process to choose an Airbnb and book it, 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!
Happy travels! I hope this guide helps you to pick a good Airbnb for your needs.
How do you choose the best Airbnb? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!
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