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We just returned from a two week trip to Spain where we stayed in nine different Airbnbs on our road trip around the country. As someone who only came around to Airbnb in the past year or so, booking these places and staying in such a vast array of accommodations was a crash course in what to do and what not to do. So I’m sharing my best Airbnb tips and maybe a few Airbnb experiences along the way. From breaking down my planning process to what I’ve learned for the next time, I hope this post leaves you feel confident and ready to book!
Why Use Airbnb?
Before we get into all the Airbnb tips, we have to talk about why. While I will never hate on a nice hotel room, I prefer to stay somewhere with a little more character. Not just character in terms of design, but in terms of being owned locally. (Paris Hilton does not need me to continue adding to her eventual inheritance.) If I lived in my ideal world, I would always stay at an actual Bed & Breakfast. Give me a weird decorating aesthetic and breakfast served on a glassed in sunroom every day of the week. However, an actual Bed & Breakfast can be tricky to find in the US and are even harder to find abroad. (If you have a good trick for finding them in either location, I’d love to hear it.) Which is where Airbnb comes in.
While AirBnB does sometimes list boutique hotels, most accommodations similar to a very informal B&B, usually without the breakfast. (But, not always.) A listing could be anything from a room in someone’s apartment, to the whole apartment to the whole house. At best, an AirBnB experience (or traditional B&B) is a great way to support local folks who are kind hosts and offer the best recommendations on what to do, see, and eat. At worst, you are stuck sharing a bathroom with someone you don’t know. (Obviously, the absolute worst-case scenario would be a host that makes you feel unsafe. While I’ve have never had that experience. In that case, my advice is always to trust your instincts and find different accommodations if you need to.)
In its simplest form, Airbnb works like any aggregate booking website. You put in your destination, check-in/check-out dates, and let it populate a list of options. For me, just putting in my destination, dates, and number of travelers generates a list of accommodation choices that is overwhelming. Lucky for me (and for you, if you are also easily overwhelmed), there are plenty of filtering options that will cull your list with just a few clicks. If you get nothing else from this post, know that utilizing the filtering option is my favorite of the Airbnb tips.
(Note – I’ve been burned a few times by not entering the number of travelers and having that impact the price once I’m ready to book. Make sure you enter that upfront, to ensure you’re looking at the true final price.)
Besides those three pieces of information, I always then filter by price and by Superhost status (both of which can be found in the filter boxes just below the search bar). The price filter is easy as it is just a range that you set. I always set the maximum at about $50-$75 higher than what I really want to pay. By doing that, I know that I’ll find any hidden gem that may just out of my desired budget, but would be worth the extra money. Superhost is just a button that you click so that the list will only populate with hosts who have that badge. There’s a whole list of criteria that have to be met in order to be listed as such, but the two I care about most are that they get a high score in both cleanliness and in their overall reviews.
I’m sure you could find plenty of articles online debating the pros and cons of Superhost status. (Maybe it’s all a gimmick, I don’t know…) However, that badge makes me feel more confident in the fact that I am basically sleeping in a strangers home. Superhosts usually have a ton of reviews, which I read carefully. (We will get more into reviews later.) I also assume that having a Superhost badge increases the popularity and profitability of the posting. Maybe it is jaded of me, but I assume that Superhosts are more likely to be accommodating because they want a good guest experience (which then translates into a good review) that won’t threaten their status. (Rereading that sentence, it did sound really jaded and pessimistic, but it’s still true.)
Aside from those few, I rarely choose any other parameters. With those set, you’re then able to scroll through the list of search results and try to figure out which one is the best fit.
Obviously there are a lot of factors to think about when choosing your accommodation, but I think that location is probably the most important. That considered with your method of transportation. Renting a car? You should check the “Free Parking on Premises” box under “Facilities” in the filter box. You might not be able to find one, but dream big and you can always uncheck if need be. Taking public transportation? Make sure you’re in walking distance of a station. Want to walk everywhere? Check out the neighborhood and whether it is walkable from the attractions you want to see.
(Note – Airbnb does not give the exact address before booking (for safety reasons), but the map at the bottom of the listing should give a general enough idea that you can make an educated decision.)
Aside from where it is located, the other important description is what type of place you’re getting. Some listings are the whole house. Some are the entire apartment. Some are a room in a house or apartment. Whether or not the bathroom is private or shared in these situations should be noted. You may also get some listings that are more unusual accommodation options. I rented a house boat once. (In boat speak, it was technically a yacht, but since it only had two bedrooms and no endless fountain of champagne, I’m hesitant to call it that.) I’ve seen treehouses listed. Cabins. Airstream motor homes. Obviously unusual accommodations can be a great addition to a trip, but not if they are a surprise. Review the description and the photos to be sure that you are clear on what you’re getting.
My own personal opinion on the type of accommodation depends on the situation. My preference is always to book the entire house or apartment. This is especially true in the United States. Call me paranoid (or unpatriotic), but I have never booked a shared room in the US and I don’t plan to. For some reason this feels unsafe to me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t prefer the shared space style in any country, but will admit that we stayed in shared apartments in Europe. (I did this with Alex and would probably not do it if I was traveling with another woman.)
Logically, I know that a B&B is basically sleeping in a room in someone’s house, but that feels more like an established business whereas I worry that anyone can put their listing up on AirBnB. We didn’t have any problems with the private rooms in Europe except that it does mean a heightened level of interaction with your hosts. Call me antisocial, but sometimes I just want to be able to come back from a long day of traveling and not have an extended conversation (with some translation issues) about every step we took the entire day.
However, on the other hand, the benefit of staying in someone’s home is that they are usually armed with recommendations, information, and anything else you could need for a great time in whatever place you are visiting. While I’m sure I seem paranoid (and maybe a little grumpy), we have stayed in almost twenty AirBnB listings and have never had any issues. Even though everyone has been kind, and helpful, sometimes my introverted side rears its ugly head and wants to retreat by the end of the day.
There are two things I always double check before booking – bathroom status and number of beds. The bathroom question is usually pretty straightforward. I just like to know whether or not it is shared so I can mentally prepare myself. The bed question may take a little more thought. A listing will say how many people it can accommodate, but check what that will actually look like. Sometimes it means a sofa bed. A pull out cot. Some other unusual option. I’m not saying that any of these options are bad, but you want to be clear on the sleeping arrangements before booking. The fastest way to ruin a group trip is to have a passive aggressive conversation about who has to sleep on the lumpy futon that no one realized was the second bed option. (The number of beds should be listed at the top and then the details of each one should be listed about halfway down the page under ‘Sleeping Arrangements’.)
Read the Reviews
Even with all the filtering and clicking I do, my decision is actually made once I start reading reviews. More than what I’m actually reading, this is more about a gut feeling. I could read ten great reviews, but if I read one negative one that doesn’t feel right, I’ll move on. I look for patterns, similar complaints. Of course there will always be people complaining about nothing, but those seem to be fairly rare. If there’s any issue with a host responding to an issue, I won’t book. Any serious issue with cleanliness, I also won’t book. Or, if I can’t find a booking that I really like, I also won’t book. There have been times that I’ve passed on a Airbnb and gone with a hotel instead. This is your trip and, while accommodations may not be the most important thing to you, a bad stay can cause a lot of unnecessary stress.
Confidence in Airbnb
If you’ve made it all the way through this, you no doubt think I’m an overly prepared yet also distrusting travel buddy from organized hell. (Maybe I am that – you’ll have to ask some of my friends…) Yet, my frequency booking with AirBnB has only increased over time. We’ve found some great accommodations and met some nice people. We’ve even booked a tour through AirBnB Experiences (another sector of the website where people can list services – mostly classes and tours) and been very happy with that. Our worst experience had more to do with the weather than the actual host and was still manageable.
My only caution is about doing your research. AirBnB has become an incentive for gentrification and rising property costs in certain places. I wish I had a perfect system for always booking with local hosts trying to make an honest living, but I don’t. Personally, I’ll read the little blurb about the hosts at the bottom of the listing. If they list themselves as living in a city other than the city I’m considering, I usually won’t book. If they seem to own a lot of properties (that aren’t logically connected or part of one unified business), I tend to pass. This is an ever changing system, but I do my best to support locals and encourage you to do the same.
Airbnb can be a great way for people to meet and support locals. It can also be a complicated mess that has the potential of a horror story. (Just to repeat, we’ve never had any issues when using the service, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.) Make sure to filter thoroughly, read the reviews, and trust your instincts both while booking and during your time traveling. You’ve got this!
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Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..