Part of the excitement when going on vacation is putting together an itinerary of sightseeing, activities to do, and tours to explore at a chosen destination. In the planning process is also figuring a very convenient and central accommodation for the best deal.
Over the years, we have tried various vacation rental options to see which one provides the most value for the money and adds enjoyment to our overall trip. We’ve rented a private room in someone’s apartment as well as an entire home. We came to realize that we enjoy renting an entire home/apartment because it provides a lot of amenities and more privacy for just a little bit more money.
Several companies offer these services, such as Airbnb, VRBO, CouchSurfing, HomeAway, etc. Each one provides places to stay with varied rates and amenities. At any of the sites, you will find places that are fit for the adventure-seeker, budget traveler, or a more luxurious 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, planning, and knowing exactly what you want in a rental. Then dive into one of the vacation rental websites. Here are my recommendations below for things to consider and look-out for when booking an Airbnb.
Airbnb Search Filter
To ensure you are not disappointed when renting an Airbnb, make sure to search for precisely what you want in your vacation rental.
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 only listings available on those dates will show up if you do filter by dates.
- 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, bed sizes, and the number of people it sleeps.
- 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 directly from the host.
- Home Type: This is the most critical section to filter if you’re looking to have a whole house or apartment to yourself. If so, make sure you filter 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 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 tell you what the nightly base rate is per day.
- Look for service fee (between 6-12% of the base fare), cleaning fee, and sometimes occupancy tax fee. Sometimes a price is determined on the number of the guest, not per night.
- It is strongly advisable to message the property host to clarify additional fees.
- More Filters: This includes everything from the neighborhood, swimming pool, garage, bathrooms, and extra rooms in the home.
- Location: Once you have determined the city of your choice, you can filter even further down to the area by going to the “show map” feature, and it will plot all the properties on a map.
- 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, restaurants nearby and 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 host’s responsibility, 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.
Location of Accomodation
Type of Accomodation
Once you have narrowed down 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 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 furnisher (couches), cleanliness, beds, kitchen table, etc. Don’t assume anything!
- Read the host’s reviews of guests. Insight into how well the host speaks your language (if you’re traveling abroad), as well as whether or not 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 at their property
Additional Questions to Ask Host
- What floor is your accommodation 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.
- 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 traffic noise.
- Does the apartment/home have central air-conditioning or heating? When we traveled to Portugal, the temperature was hot, 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 need to work out issues with the host.
- What 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 you typically find in a hotel, but once gone, we had the responsibility of replenishing them. If you plan to do some cooking, make sure they have all needed to cook a simple meal. Once settled in the apartment, our first stop is the supermarket to get few items for breakfast, 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 fully stocked kitchen cannot 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 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 vital 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 a female traveling alone, I think it is essential to let the host know and learn their recommendation of the area where the apartment/home is located.
- Access to a washer/dryer for clothes? We typically travel for long periods 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/dryer machine or suggest a nearby location to take your clothes to get laundered.
Request suggestions from Host
Sometimes, the host will recommend places to see, dine or local coffee shops by leaving you a binder on the table with tips or 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 an excellent 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? 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 determining where to go and if we should make an effort.
- Where’s the best restaurant/bar for a fancy meal in town? The host, being a local, should be able to recommend few restaurants for an exceptional dining experience.
Rules of the Host
- Check-in and Check-out procedures: Always “read more about the space” section. Here you will clarify if the host lives near or on the property, how you will need to check-in to the property, and any other specific property instructions.
- Review the house rules 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,” which allows hosts to mention anything that might not be up to expectations, such as noise potential. Some hosts may list a security deposit charge here for damages. Be advised that when you book, you’re acknowledging and agreeing to these terms.
- Hosts determine their cancellation policy. The cancellation policy will be clearly stated in the listing, so make sure you note the terms before you book and know what, 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 tranquil sleeping environment, a handicapped-accessible unit, or even just reliable Wi-Fi. If you’re considering Airbnb for your next trip, and since those specifications aren’t always specifically called out on listings, you’ll want to do your research before making a booking, particularly if the listing has a strict cancellation policy.
I love Airbnb stays because they usually place you in local neighborhoods where you truly get the feel of the people and their lifestyle. Sometimes we have befriended the property manager or host and continue to have a lasting friendship. The experiences we have had living like a local enriched our vacation.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.
Inshallah (God Willing)!