Traveling Tips

How to Choose the Best Airbnb

Part of the excitement when going on vacation is putting the itinerary together of things to see, do and explore at your chosen destination. Part of the planning is also figuring out a very convenient and central place to stay all while looking for ways to save money.

Over the years we have tried out various vacation rental options to figure out which one provides the most value for the money and that also adds enjoyment to our overall trip. We’ve rented a private room in someone’s apartment, as well as an entire home, too. We came to realize that we enjoy renting an entire home because it provides a lot of flexibility and more privacy for just a little bit more money.

There are several companies that offer these services such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO. Each one offers places to stay with different rates and amenities. All offer places that are fit for the adventure-seeker on a budget or anyone looking for a more authentic getaway experience at any cost.

Millennials have come to use the term Airbnb as a universal word for alternative accommodations or vacation rental. For the sake of keeping things simple, I will do the same throughout this blog. Booking an Airbnb requires research and planning. You need to know exactly what you are looking for in a rental and simply start diving into one of the vacation rental websites. Read my recommendations below for things to consider when booking an Airbnb that I have learned throughout the years.

Search Filters

To ensure you are not disappointed when renting an Airbnb, make sure to search for a property that has exactly what you need and want in a rental home.

After you select your location, use these helpful filters to streamline your search on Airbnb:

Dates:

If your dates are flexible, you can leave out that field. Note that if you do filter by dates, only the listings that are available on those dates will show up.

Guests:

Select the number of adults, children, and infants in your group. Guests are determined by bed space.

    • Property listings will typically tell you the number of beds the property has on location but it doesn’t always tell you exactly the size of beds that are there.
    • Go to the pictures on the website and look at the beds offered. If you don’t see what you are looking for, get clarification from the host of the property.

Home Type:

This is the most important section to filter through if you’re looking to have a whole house or apartment to yourself. If so, make sure you choose accordingly. Other options are a private room and a shared room.

Price:

You can set your price range and Airbnb will give you the average nightly price for your location.

    • The price may not always be exactly as advertised on the original search. Be aware that on some days the rate may be higher than advertised. Once you have selected the dates it should be able to tell you what the base nightly rate is per day.
    • Look for a service fee (between 6-12% of base fare), cleaning fee, and sometimes occupancy tax fee. Sometimes a price is determined on the number of guests, not per night.
    • It’s always good to message the property host to clarify additional fees.

More Filters:

This includes everything from neighborhood filters to the number of beds, bedrooms, or bathrooms.

Location:

Once you have determine the city of your choice, you can filter even further down to the area by going to the “show map” feature. It will plot all the properties on a map for you to look at.

    • This will help you locate the neighborhood in which the property is located and you can do further research about that neighborhood on the internet.
    • You will not get the EXACT address until you finalize your booking, but you can always communicate with the property host to get additional information about the neighborhood. Look at other local shops and restaurants nearby. Check out their ratings to see if it fits your expectations.
    • Also, read the reviews of the property to see if any comments are made about the neighborhood.

Legality:

Some cities require hosts to register, get a permit, or obtain a license before you list a property or accept guests. While this issue is the responsibility of the host, you can search by your location in the “Responsible hosting in the United States.”

  • As always, read reviews or message your host for more verification if needed.

Research More

Once you have narrowed down to a couple of properties, here are the next steps:

  • Read the reviews. Make sure that the property has had many reviews. If I’m paying, I want to know that other people have had pleasant interactions with the host, whether the place is as advertised in the photos, and any other issues that other travelers might have experienced.
  • Make sure the host is verified. Verify that the host is real. The system isn’t perfect, but it will add another layer of verification and security to your booking.  
  • Look at the photographs. Look for things such as comfortable furniture, cleanliness, beds, a kitchen table, etc. Don’t assume anything!
  • Read the host’s reviews of guests. This is insight into how well the host speaks your language (if you’re traveling abroad). This can also help you determine if they seem reasonable and level-headed. You will be rated as a guest as well, so look at the comments they make about guests and it will tell you whether or not you want to stay on their property.

Additional Questions to Ask Your Host

What floor are you on? Is there an elevator?

Most European places we have booked did not have elevators, so be prepared to carry your luggage up several flights of stairs. Be aware that in other countries they do not number floors the same as the U.S.

How quiet is the apartment? Is there any construction going on?

On a recent trip to Portugal, we booked an apartment at a busy train station intersection which meant constant people and noisy traffic.

Does the apartment/home have central air-conditioning or heating?

When we traveled in Portugal the temperature was very warm and the apartment only had a floor fan. It was always very stuffy and warm in the apartment.

How many sets of keys will I get?

This is important if you have multiple travelers. Coordinating keys can be tricky!

Is the Wi-Fi reliable?

Just because the listing says there’s Wi-Fi doesn’t mean it’s up all the time, as I found out all too well. But if you have in writing that the Wi-Fi is reliable, you’ll have some recourse if it isn’t and be able to work out issues with the host.

What basic necessities do you provide, such as toilet paper, paper towels, detergent, etc.? What will I need to purchase myself?

At our apartment in Florence, the host provided us with quality toiletries that you typically find in a very nice hotel, but once they were gone we had the responsibility of replenishing them. If you plan to do some cooking make sure they have all that is needed in the kitchen to cook a simple meal. Once settled in the apartment, our first stop is the supermarket to get few items for breakfast, as well as fruits and snacks. For simplicity, we buy paper plates so that we don’t have to wash dishes as some apartments don’t have a dishwasher.

**Note: A fully stocked kitchen does mean the same as it does in the U.S. (ask for clarification)

Will towels and linens be provided?

Be sure these items are provided because you definitely don’t want to pack them in your suitcase.

Are there any additional fees I should know about?

Ask the question… Know before your go!

How far is the apartment from public transportation?

If you are like us and always use public transportation when traveling, you will need to know the answer to this important question. Otherwise you will be spending a lot of time walking for nothing!

Is the neighborhood safe to walk in at night alone?

If you are female traveling alone, I think it is important to let the host know and find out their recommendations near the area where the apartment/home is located.

Is there access to a washer/dryer for clothes?

We typically travel for long periods of time and like to take a small amount of clothing with us which requires us to launder our clothes at some point. Sometimes apartments have access to a washer and dryer or your host can suggest a nearby location to take your clothes to get laundered.

 

Request Suggestions from Your Host

Sometimes the host will recommend places to seeor dine by leaving you a binder on the table with suggestions or they might even email you a list. Here are some questions to ask your host if nothing is provided to you:

  • Where are your favorite local coffee shops? We like to go where the locals go, so asking your host this question will reduce time searching for a good start to your day!
  • Where’s your favorite shopping spot? Get your host’s recommendations for worthwhile shopping havens away from the over-commercialized, standard mall fare.
  • What’s your favorite Sunday hangout? From a picnic in the park to tanning on the beach, there’s sure to be a better way to spend your Sunday than jostling with other tourists at an “attraction”.
  • Where’s the best local market? Local markets are our favorite part of travel, so having them mapped out before we arrive reduces our time in determining where to go and if we should make the effort.
  • Where’s the best restaurant or bar for a fancy meal in town? The host, being a local, should be able to recommend a few restaurants for an exceptional dining experience.

Rules of the Host

Check-in and Check-out procedures:

Always read the “more about the space” section. Here you will get clarification if the host lives near or on the property, how you will need to check-in to the property, and any other specific instructions of the property.

Review the house rules:

These are typically listed by the host, such as: no smoking, no parties, quiet hours, etc.  Please be upfront with the host as to what your plans are while you stay at the property.

No parties:

We stayed at a home that listed no parties. We shared with them that we would like to have a large gathering at the house for a graduation celebration and the host agreed to allow us to have the party.

Read “You Must Acknowledge”:

This section allows hosts to mention anything that might not be up to expectations such as a potential for noise. Some hosts may list a security deposit charge here for damages. Be advised that when you book that you’re acknowledging and agreeing to these terms.

Cancellation Policy

  • Hosts determine their own cancellation policy. The cancellation policy will be clearly stated in the listing, so make sure you note the terms before you book and know that, if any, part of the price is refundable for changes or cancellations. In some cases, a host may grant you a refund outside of the cancellation policy if you reach out to them.
  • Everyone has their own specific travel needs. You might need a particularly quiet sleeping environment, a handicapped-accessible unit, or even just reliable Wi-Fi. If you’re considering Airbnb for your next trip, you’ll want to do your research before you make a booking, particularly if the listing has a strict cancellation policy.

I love Airbnb stays because they place you in local neighborhoods where you truly get the feel of the people and their lifestyle wherever you travel. Sometimes we have befriended the property manager or host and continue to have a relationship for future stays. The experiences we have had living like a local have enriched us beyond just being on vacation.

One nice factor about staying in Airbnb is that none of them are the same. As we traveled throughout Italy, we went from a tiny apartment on the coast to an uptown eclectic style apartment in Florence to an older couple’s extra apartment in Rome. We once rented a room in San Francisco from a young man who had this unbelievable apartment in the center of the city and he was an amazing host, too.

When we traveled to Colorado Springs for my son’s college graduation, we rented a very large house with several amenities such as a ping pong table and barbeque equipment as we had several family members all staying in the house together.

Now that we’ve done this AirBnB thing for quite a few of our vacations, we have developed a “check list” of things to look for and a list of questions for the host to ensure a very enjoyable time away.

I recommend you staying with an Airbnb next time you travel. Getting to know the life of the locals will spice up your vacation and will most definitely enrich you beyond measure.  

Happy Travels!

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