In 2016, we stayed at over 25 different Airbnb apartments.
From a remote cottage in a national park in Greece, to a RV in Austin, Texas, we’ve utilized Airbnb to stay in fun and funky accommodations during our various road trips and adventures this past year. We’ve become fans of the tool because through Airbnb we are able to be more connected to the community, shopping at neighborhood markets and meeting local homeowners, while saving a ton of money versus comparable hotel rooms.
Over the past months, we’ve received a deluge of questions from friends and family who’ve never used Airbnb wanting some insider tips, or possibly reassurance, before trying it themselves. Given our incredible track record (we’ve never had a major negative issue throughout all of our Airbnb use), we realized we must be doing something right.
So here are our best 7 Airbnb tips for first time users, those people who might need a little hand holding before making their first booking.
The most basic aspect of searching for an apartment is to know exactly what you are looking for. You can search for ‘Entire Home’, ‘Private Room’, and ‘Shared Room’. We tend to rent the entire space, but if you are on a tight budget, the ‘Private Room’ and ‘Shared Room’ options are a great way to save money, especially in major cities.
You can also apply filters to your search, narrowing down the list of options that will show in your search. During our Balkan road trip, we filtered our search to include free parking on premise, wifi, a full kitchen, and a clothes washer, since we had to do our laundry once a week, had a rental car, and wanted to cook meals at home. The tailored search results were always exactly what we were looking for.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: If you are looking at foreign properties, you can filter by host language (i.e. speaks English). However, the messaging system within Airbnb’s website and mobile app are equipped with Google Translate, so messaging in two different languages is still clear and simple.
We pay very close attention to the photos of a property. We always want to minimize the risk of being disappointed by a property once we show up. Even when a listing meets our budget, is in the right area, and has solid reviews, if the homeowner provides two blurry photos, that is a red flag for us.
The photos of the apartments should be clear and provide a overview of the layout. A listing with photos from multiple angles of the living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom clearly have nothing to hide.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: A property that leaves out photos of one room (say, the bathroom) gets an automatic pass from us as well. We like to know exactly what we’re getting, good and bad.
Research the Location
Especially when visiting a city or town for the first time, the location of your accommodation is vital. Airbnb will show the approximate location of the listing, within a 2-3 block radius. You can also filter to search for certain neighborhoods if you know where you want to be situated in a city.
To feel more comfortable with location, we use the approximate address and do a search on any basic map website for how long it will take to walk or drive to the things we want to see. If you are a first time visitor, getting a sense of distance is hard to gauge by simply looking at a map.
We’ve see great apartments that were listed as “close to city center” but once we searched on Google Maps, found that the walk would be 20-25 minutes with little in the way of amenities nearby. That doesn’t seem too far, if you have to walk that far every time you leave your house, it can be tiring.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: We tend to cook breakfast and dinner to reduce our spending, so we also look for the basic things like a nearby market or farmers market. In a city setting where parking may be complicated, finding a grocery store within an easy walking distance can be advantageous, even if you have a car.
Look Over Description, Amenities and Rules
Each property will have a detailed listing of what is included in the apartment, a brief description, the location, and the user reviews. Take a look at the description provided by the owner. The more detailed the description, maybe even with recommendations for things to do or see in the neighborhood, is always a good sign that the owner is attentive.
Then take a look at what the apartment includes. If you are a coffee addict (like us), you can see if an apartment has a coffee maker. You don’t want to discover on the first morning in your Airbnb that you will need to go out to get a cup of joe. In a stay in Croatia, we overlooked that there was an additional €5 fee for bed sheets (a strange additional cost if you ask us), though it was clearly noted in the description. We learned our lesson.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: Make sure to take note of the cancellation policy, located on the listing page of a property. Airbnb has 5 levels of cancellation policies, from 24 hours prior to check in (very flexible) to 30 days prior (very strict). It’s good to know how much of a refund to expect just in case you have a last minute change of plans.
Read the Reviews…Really!
The user reviews are almost always the most important aspect in our decision making process when selecting a rental. We rely heavily on what other people have to say about their stay. We know that the rental owner will be glowing in their description of their property. We go to the reviews to understand any downsides of a particular apartment, no matter how small.
Have multiple people mentioned that the place has poor water pressure? Or is difficult to find? Or requires more effort than expected to get to city center?
While we don’t have a specific rule for how many reviews we want to see for a rental, we don’t typically gamble with a recently listed space or one with just a few reviews. When an apartment has dozens of glowing reviews, well, you know you’re likely in good hands.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: We always keep an eye out for things that matter to us. Since we were actively working on our blog during our two-month road trip last fall, decent wifi was critical. We would scroll through the reviews, reading each one to see if anyone had noted something positive or negative about the wifi speed.
Communicate with the Owner
If you have a question, or want clarification about what amenities the apartment has, then you can contact the owner directly through Airbnb’s website prior to booking. We’ve found that how clearly and quickly the owner communicates is a good indication of how organized the host is. If your message goes without a response for multiple days, that is not a good sign. Most of our favorite hosts respond within 24 hours, some even within an hour.
When you do proceed to booking, make sure to write to the owner, introducing yourself and explain why you are visiting a particular area and what you are planning to do. Being open and friendly with a host is always makes yourself look good and makes the host feel more assured that you will be a good guest.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: Most Airbnb hosts have set check in times, similar to hotels, though they tend to be a little more firm about the arrival time. However, if you need to check in early, it is worth contacting the owner prior to booking and asking if you can check in early. Often, if no one is staying the previous evening, an early check in may be arranged.
Be a Good Guest
When you check in and meet the host, make sure you know and understand the house rules. Also make sure you understand how to leave the property when you depart. Should you just leave the keys in the apartment, or do you need to arrange a departure time with the host? Do you need take the garbage out, or leave it for the host to dispose of?
It almost goes without saying but be a good guest and leave the apartment or room in good condition. Wash all the dishes and do a general tidying up. While you might get away with trashing a hotel room, the review system at Airbnb works both ways, so not only can guests review the host, but hosts can rate the guests. If you leave the property a mess and disregard the house rules, you may get a bad mark from the host, something that potential future hosts can see if you try to book.
After even one bad review, it may prove difficult to be accepted as a guest in the future, so just be smart and be a good guest.
PRO AIRBNB TIPS: If there is a major issue with a room, apartment, or house, like misrepresentative photos, an incorrect location, or major cleanliness issues, contact Airbnb customer service immediately. Airbnb withholds the payment to the host until 24 hours after you check in. So if you address the issue within the first 24 hours, a refund will be much easier to process.
We hope that with our tips any of you who may be on the fence about Airbnb to take the leap and try it (we’re looking at you, mom and dad!).
Our experiences have been positive across the board. When’s the last time you stayed in 25 hotel rooms with favorable experiences each and every time? We love the value of the service, and we often come away thinking smugly to ourselves that we just snagged a beautifully appointed space, belonging to a friendly host, often in the coolest neighborhood of a city.
Stick to our Airbnb tips, and get even more out of your next travel experience!
Want a $31 travel credit for your first stay at an Airbnb? Follow this link to book your Airbnb! And if you want even more information, including perhaps listing your own place on Airbnb, then check out this guide!