It’s no secret that we LOVE to use Airbnb when we travel. In fact, I recommend Airbnb so frequently, you’d swear they were paying me for all of the advertisement (I sure wish)!
But it’s true, I really do love it!
When we made our first ever trip to Palo Alto, we spent our first two nights with Evelyn in a hotel. I barely slept either night, and not just because we had a hungry 1 month old with us. All I could think about was our neighbors next door waking with her every cry. The crib she slept in barely fit in the corner of the room and our bottles needing washing were strewn across the bathroom counter. In short, it was not the most pleasant of experiences.
Fast forward to New York City, 4 months later. The apartment we rent comes with a pack and play, and we set it up in the bedroom behind closed doors. Our bottle washing takes place in the kitchen (as it should!) and we stock a few extra snacks and drinks in the fridge. We have an entire closet to unload our suitcases into. And although there are a couple other apartments on our floor, we never hear our neighbors.
The real kicker? That tiny Silicon Valley hotel room cost the same per night as the 1 bedroom apartment in the center of Manhattan.
It seems to be a no brainer for us that we stick to Airbnb almost exclusively these days. Sure there are some exceptions where a hotel can be a worthy luxury: a nice resort or a boutique hotel in a foreign city. But by and large, Airbnb is the way to go for us.
I’ve had a few people ask me about this Airbnb concept and how to get started. It’s actually quite easy, so I thought I’d put together a quick guide to booking the perfect Airbnb stay!
How it works
Airbnb hosts list their personal space for rent: whether that be a room in their home, a camper in the backyard, or (more commonly) an entire apartment or house. When you first start searching on Airbnb’s website, you’ll notice you can filter your search by quite a few options. Start with the basics like your travel dates and budget, and then get more precise with filtering by your desired amenities (like a private apartment, wi-fi, washer/dryer, etc.). I tend to keep my search broad to start, and then narrow it down by amenities once I know there’s a good supply of options in the area I want.
Once you’ve found a property you want to go with, you’ll send a request to the host to rent it for your desired dates. Don’t request a property unless you’re 100% serious – many hosts have strict cancellation policies that will cause you to forfeit a minimum 50% of the rental if you cancel.
Don’t take it personally if you are declined on the first shot. Some hosts prefer not to rent to guests who do not have at least one positive guest review, so if it’s your first time using Airbnb, you might need to try a couple different properties before you find the right match.
Airbnb will facilitate the payment between you and the host (which usually includes the nightly rate, a cleaning fee, and an Airbnb service fee). You’ll never have to actually exchange credit card information with the host (a big plus over other vacation rental sites like VRBO).
Once you’re booked, it’s time to get excited! The host will usually supply a “house manual” that includes information like where to pick up keys, directions to the place, and how to work certain things in the house. Really awesome hosts will even include their own local guide with area recommendations. This will be some of the most invaluable information in planning your trip!
About a week prior to your arrival, you should follow up with your host to confirm what time you’ll be arriving, if there are any specific instructions for key pick up (like a lock box code), and any other info you might need to know before you arrive.
Tips for Finding the Perfect Airbnb
As you can see, the process for booking an Airbnb is actually pretty easy, but with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming at first. Here are a few tips to help you in your search:
Do some research on different neighborhoods first. Before you jump into a rental agreement, make a list of sightseeing spots and restaurants you want to hit, and then see where they fall geographically within the city. Having a place that is within close walking distance of shops and eateries will make your experience all that much more fun as you explore the neighborhood on foot. Close public transportation connections to the rest of the city are also important (especially with kids), so you aren’t spending all of your time traveling.
I tend to look for “professional” hosts, meaning instead of someone renting their own apartment on the occasional weekend for extra cash, these hosts own properties strictly as vacation rentals. They’re a little pricier, but they’ll also be most likely to have a streamlined check-in process, extra hotel-like amenities (hair dryer, toiletries, etc.), and personally written local guide information; all the little things that make an Airbnb a true gem.
Look over the photos carefully. Are they professionally shot or do they look like they were taken on a camera phone and hastily uploaded? Are the counters clear of personal clutter? Are there close up shots of design details or local art? These things matter. They mean the host cares about creating a full unique experience for their guests. Professional hosts treat their Airbnb’s like a business. If the listing doesn’t look polished and clean (right down to the details in the property description), I would definitely be leery of renting from them.
As with almost anything, reviews tend to tell the real story. I won’t stay anywhere with less than 4 stars (unless I’m really low on options) and I like a property to have at least 5-10 positive reviews (ideally more). The great thing about the Airbnb community is that people are very honest and (generally) respectful in their comments and criticism. You can learn a lot about a place through your fellow travelers’ feedback, and professional Airbnb’s will usually have pages upon pages of happy customer reviews. Take the time to read them all so you know exactly what you can expect.
Even before you book, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Not sure if the apartment is child-friendly? Need to know how close the nearest subway station is? Want to make sure they’re ok with extra visitors in the evening? These are all perfectly acceptable questions to ask before booking so you and the host can make sure it is a good fit for everyone.
Don’t forget to check the host’s profile too. It will give you a chance to learn a little bit about them (do they have kids, where do they like to travel to, is this their home city?) and make the experience more personal.
Introduce yourself and let the host know why you chose their place. Remember that your host is probably just as nervous about renting their place to a stranger as you are in renting from one. Building a relationship right off the bat can help give you extra peace of mind and eliminate any surprises.
Take advantage of your host’s local knowledge and ask for recommendations (if not included in a guide book). But do remember that they are not your personal travel concierge. Limit your questions to their top one or two recommendations for a specific area.
And finally, be a respectful guest. Clean up after yourself, take good care of the apartment, and be mindful of noise. Communicate any issues that come up right away. Your host can’t help you unless they know what is going on, so as with anything, don’t wait until review time to tell them about a disappointment. A good host will quickly rectify any issues so you can enjoy the rest of your stay.
Ready to get started? Use this referral link to get a $35 travel credit when you book your first Airbnb stay!
If you’ve used Airbnb, where have you stayed? What did you love or not love about the experience?
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