How to Airbnb

By | October 12th, 2015

I’ve recently noticed that despite its growing popularity, a surprising number of people still either haven’t heard of Airbnb, aren’t totally sure what it is, are afraid of it, or have never used it.

If you fall into one of those categories, this guide’s for you.

Here are the top things you should consider before booking with Airbnb and deciding whether it makes sense for you, as well as some little known facts that might surprise you.

What are your travel plans?

Where are you traveling to? For how long? For what purpose? These are the first questions to consider when deciding whether Airbnb makes sense for your trip. In some cases, Airbnb can offer far cheaper alternatives than local hotels. In others, you’ll end up paying about the same amount or even more.

I like to use Hipmunk for my initial lodging search, since it aggregates hotels together with Airbnb options in one search platform for easy comparison.

Consider, too, the transportation options available in your chosen destination. For example, if you’re a beach bum, an Airbnb beachside house in Newport Beach can make a lot of sense, both from a financial and proximal perspective. However, if you’re more into the social scene and shopping, it might make sense to stay in a hotel closer to the action since you’ll be spending enough money on transportation to make up for the price difference, and you may not care to spend your entire trip lounging in the sand.

Are you traveling for pleasure or necessity? You’ll probably make a different choice if you’re vacationing versus visiting a family member in a hospital in another city (a real-life example during which I chose a bare-bones Airbnb at one-third of the cost of nearby hotels).

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What kind of accommodations do you need and/or expect?

Personally, I almost always put the “Do not disturb” sign on my hotel door when I travel. I don’t typically feel the need for housekeeping to come and tidy up the room every single day and prefer to return to the room as I left it, whereas some people love the idea of coming back to a freshly made bed and new towels.

If you’re like me, an Airbnb is a private oasis that means less unwanted interaction with other guests and more freedom to explore like a local. If you love the feeling of being waited on by hotel staff, Airbnb will feel like a huge step down from maid service and a concierge at your disposal.

That said, some Airbnb hosts do go out of their way to provide you with concierge-like services. I stayed at an apartment in Boston where the host left a laminated information sheet filled with recommendations on where to eat, what to do, how to get around, etc. When my boyfriend stayed in Manaus, Brazil, during the World Cup, he had a host who took food orders and acted as a chauffeur.

Of course, the type of trip and specific destination can also change your preferences. I like to decide whether a hotel or Airbnb better suits my needs for each individual trip.

Did you do your research?

The first thing you should do is filter your search results based on the type of rental you’re looking for: entire home, private room, or shared room.

In case that’s unclear, the “entire home” option will get you exactly that — an entire home or apartment to yourself. This is the only type of Airbnb I have stayed in. “Private room” will get you a private room in a shared home. For example, your own room in a larger apartment. A roommate situation, if you will. I’ve considered this option before, but never pulled the trigger.

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A “shared room” is a lot like couchsurfing. You’re sharing space with the host. I suppose I could see this option as attractive for an adventurous, free spirited traveler (likely of the millennial generation). But my guess is most of us wouldn’t find this appealing.

Once you’ve filtered by type to ensure you’re only looking at properties you’re willing to stay in, you should read the reviews. Yes, there have been rumors that Airbnb reviews are biased towards the positive, but the site has made adjustments to combat this, and there’s still a great deal you can learn from reviews. I find them particularly helpful to uncover small details that carry varying levels of importance from one guest to another (e.g. unique features about the home, proximity to public transportation, noise levels, whether or not pets have lived there, etc.), and especially love when a review includes photos taken by guests, rather than the host.

Once you’ve selected a property, talk to the host. See how they communicate. Get a feel for them. Do you feel uneasy or as if you shouldn’t trust them? Trust that instinct. Ninety percent of the time, you’ll find your host to be a pleasant new acquaintance. I’m convinced that many of the people who ended up in the Airbnb horror stories that you sometimes see in the news did not do their due diligence beforehand.

Payment is very important to consider, too. If anyone ever asks you to send them money directly, rather than through Airbnb, or share other personal information beyond your name and phone number — abandon the transaction immediately. Someone is trying to scam you.

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Surprising facts

Perhaps my favorite part of Airbnb is the unique properties you can find, and experiences that you would never otherwise have the chance to enjoy.

For example, did you know you could rent a castle on Airbnb? Seriously. Check out this castle in Italy. For those feeling creative, you can rent a castle for your destination nuptials for far cheaper than many traditional wedding venues cost.

Not feeling a castle? How about this lighthouse in Massachusetts, or even a pyramid-esque cottage in Iceland? The possibilities are limitless to explore the architecture the world has to offer.

The bottom line

Don’t disregard Airbnb outright. Yes, as with any travel accommodation, there are stories of unsatisfied customers and surprises. But I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with Airbnb rentals, as have many of my colleagues, friends and family. Airbnb provides a unique, adventurous and often cost-saving way to explore and travel that should be on your list for consideration.

Just remember, as with any travel booking, do your homework, be smart, read the fine print and don’t make hasty decisions.

Have you stayed at Airbnb properties before? How did it go? If you haven’t, would you consider it? Why or why not? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.

  • bodega3

    Make sure your accommodation is permitted, too. A neighbor just got shut down as they didn’t register with the county for permission and another neighbor turned them in.

  • Travelnut

    My last trip, I needed to stay in the Catskills near the Bethel Center for the Arts. There are not that many hotels in the area to begin with, and as I started searching I saw hotels and B&Bs fill up almost before my eyes – I would decide on one that sounded decent enough, then go to book it and poof! no more capacity. I was getting really nervous. As a last resort, I looked at Airbnb for the first time. I found the cutest little cabin on a lake, and much more convenient to the concert site than any of the hotels had been. I never got to meet the owners in person, but I did meet their caretaker when I was leaving. They emailed me very extensive lists of restaurants and things to do in the area. All in all, a very good and unique experience, and now I’m not so leery of using it again. The only negative was that the first place I chose, the owner rejected me saying he already had renters for those dates, even though it was still showing available on the website. But he was kind of rude in our communications, so it’s just as well the second place had really nice owners.

    I am surprised that you say to talk to the hosts directly. I thought you were only supposed to message each other via the website. The owners did text me once, but made it clear we weren’t supposed to carry on communications outside Airbnb. Which makes sense.

  • JenniferFinger

    Later this week, I’m going on my first Airbnb experience.

  • purplekat99

    I used it last summer when I was traveling with my dog in Oregon. I found a to-good-to-be-true price, but saw all the positive comments so far and came to the conclusion that it was a new listing and took a gamble. Paid off really well! I would return, even with the jacked up price.

  • Regina Litman

    Please see my earlier comment below and supply this article’s promised but not delivered answer: I’m one of those who is not sure what Airbnb is, so please tell me what it is, as the opening paragraph promised would be done in this article. Thanks in advance.

  • John Grier

    checked out Airbnb options for Manhattan NYC for a week in early Jan & Holiday Inn Expresses(quite a few of them) cheaper & include a basic breakfast.

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