Years and years ago, when I first heard of Airbnb, back when it was a new concept, I’ll admit I was slightly suspicious.
Paying to stay in either stranger’s homes or a flat they were renting out?
How did Airbnb know these were good people and their homes were in acceptable condition? What if something happened and the host was unreachable?
But, more than anything else, I was intrigued. A brilliant idea for anyone with a spare bedroom or rented property.
When planning a 2014 trip, I searched listings out of curiosity to see what was available in London, Paris and Amsterdam. I was shocked- I could stay in private rooms or studios centrally located for a fraction of the cost? Solo travel win!
Back then, if rooms looked clean and the hosts had a few good reviews, I was up for giving it a shot.
Staying in Airbnb’s so frequently, I’ve received many questions about whether Airbnb is “safe” in other parts of the world- Europe, Aisa, Africa, and if staying in private rooms is safe for solo female travellers.
Of the dozens of Airbnbs I’ve stayed in, I’ve only had a handful of issues, two of which were serious- one in the States and one in Europe. Both times I’ve experienced legitimate problems, Airbnb was quick to help.
Last autumn, when a host in Lisbon refused to help with a tough situation we were experiencing (bathroom flooded, not our fault), Airbnb re-booked us in a new flat within two hours and covered the difference.
And, recently, when a would-be host in the Philippines became unnecessarily aggressive in our ‘getting ready to check in’ message exchange, Airbnb responded to my flag the same afternoon, refunding my trip in full.
There are times I consider staying in a hostel or hotel- when I’m craving community or score a great deal. Or, if my travel times are totally bonkers and I’m concerned about luggage storage.
90% of the time though, you’ll find me in an Airbnb. Mostly, I book studios or private rooms that usually also offer a private bathroom. Occasionally, I’ll score a good deal for a one bedroom flat.
Nowadays, I’m more selective with the places I stay- because Airbnb has matured as a platform and because I often have a set of criteria I need to consider.
If you’re an Airbnb novice, meaning you haven’t stayed in many or never booked a stay in one, these are my top five tips for selecting an Airbnb that’ll be perfect for your trip.
- When searching, start with location: You can’t see an Airbnb’s address until you’re confirmed and getting ready to check-in, but you can see the neighborhood. If you start your search by typing in a city like, ‘Austin, Texas’, Airbnb will cast a wide net in its search to show you the top properties across Austin. Have a specific area you’d like to stay near? Use the map function to narrow your search off the bat.
- When searching, check the amenities you need (wifi, air conditioning, washer, etc.): Don’t wait to do this until you’re reading each listing in full, it’s easier to miss things that way. Yes, you should always double check, but check things you consider to be necessary before you get too far into your search.
- Read guest reviews carefully: Most people are honest- if overly critical. By reading guest reviews, I have a better sense of just how bad the street noise is, whether the wifi cuts out, and whether the host is responsive if a problem arises- all things you just can’t glean from a listing alone.
- Ask the host questions: Need reassurance before booking? Contact the host using the messaging feature. I do this almost every time I book an Airbnb, especially if I need to teach and require the host to run a speedtest. You’re not bothering the host, you’re potential income.If you have a question about grocery stores or cafes in the area, or need to be reassured (as I often do) that the wifi is indeed strong enough, message first. Arriving early or have a late night departure? Ask about luggage storage so you know whether that’s possible. Don’t wait until after you’ve confirmed a booking to ask questions important to your stay- it can be difficult to get a full refund this way, pending the host’s cancellation policy. Generally, I’m a big fan of messaging hosts before I book to also test how responsive they are- I’ve found it to be a good indicator for the stay itself.
- Take your time reviewing the listing and vet the host: I only stay in Airbnbs with multiple, good looking photos and enough listing reviews to put me at ease. If I’m on the fence, I also look at the host reviews. Many hosts list multiple properties, so looking at reviews for some of their other places is helpful in getting a feel for what they’re really like, and especially useful if you’re considering a newer listing.Want to ensure you get the best of the best host wise? Filter your search by Superhost. These are hosts who have tons of Airbnb experience.Another great filter option: Airbnb+, which indicates hotel grade listings that are directly verified by Airbnb.
- Bonus tip for private rooms: If booking a private room in someone’s house, I always send a message ahead of booking to clarify a few things- Namely, if they live there or if they rent out the apartment to other travellers. I’ve been in situations that were one step above a hostel with 8-10 people staying in the house at the same time I was. Whether the private bathroom is ensuite or located elsewhere. Once, a private bathroom checked in the listing was up two flights of stairs and down a hallway from my room- not exactly convenient. If the room has a lock on the door. Who else lives in the apartment (pets, kids). And finally, what access to facilities is like (some hosts don’t let you use their kitchen or living room).
Finally, keep in mind, as with hotels, you get what you pay for on Airbnb. I’ve stayed in some beautiful Airbnbs and others that were budget in every sense of the word.
Like hotels, things rarely look as great as they do photos. And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Think: A beautiful flat at a great price, but much further from city centre than may be ideal.
I don’t complain unless there’s a significant issue (wifi isn’t working, pest infestation, flooded bathroom, safety concern, etc.). Nothing will ever be perfect, and truthfully, I’ve stayed in some pretty questionable motels/hotels over the years.
All in all, I consider Airbnb to be a solution for affordable, great value short or long term home rentals around the world. It’s a wonderful way to see how locals live, get tips from those who live in the city you’re visiting, and has enable me to travel solo far more often than I’d be able to do otherwise.
If it’s your first stay in an Airbnb, and you found this post helpful, please consider using my referral code. You get money off your stay, and I get credit for a future booking. Win, win.
Pictures used in this post are from an Airbnb host resource.
Do you ever stay in Airbnbs when you travel?