7 Airbnb tips for first time users: A stone home in a remote park in Greece

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.

Side Note: Interested in a $31 travel credit for your first stay at an Airbnb? Follow this link to book your Airbnb!

7 AirBnB Tips for First Time Users

7 Airbnb tips for first time users: the search results screen from Airbnb

Search Specifically

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.

Review Photos

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 some Airbnb tips for hosts or an Airbnb hosting checklist, then check out this guide!

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  • January 8, 2017

    Great tips! I used Airbnb loads over the summer on a road trip up the west coast of the USA / Canada, and we had a great experience. We tended to look for hosts with the little medal symbol, and that seemed to be a good marker to set us on the right track. All our hosts were lovely and the properties were great. I’ve just got my parents into using it (after hearing so much about it from me) and I think they’re getting a little bit addicted!
    Katie @ the tea break project recently posted…Naked Travel: feeling comfortable in my own bodyMy Profile

    • January 9, 2017
      Julie

      Another thing we didn’t mention in the post is that apartment/house rentals work so well for large family gatherings. We have always rented instead of hotels anytime there are more than 4 of us together in one place!

  • January 8, 2017

    Great post and I second all your tips for newbies looking to try it out. I think we have stayed in about 30 over the past couple of years and we haven’t (touch wood) had any bad experiences. Some places have been so great I’ve said I want to move in! And they are fantastic for saving money and privacy, especially if you’re traveling with kids like we do.
    We’re definitely big fans of Airbnb and I see us using it for years and years to come.

    • January 9, 2017
      Julie

      Haha – there are about 5 AirBnBs that we stayed in, in 2016, that I would DEFINITELY move into! You know you’re hooked when you’re laying in bed in a place and browsing the real estate listings!

  • January 11, 2017
    Sylvie

    I’ve yet to try Airbnb, so I think that this is a very useful post with great tips.

    P.S. I like a lot this web-design. 🙂

  • January 14, 2017

    We LOVE AirBnB and have had mostly positive experiences. I can agree with a lot of what you shared, as our not-so-great experiences have been when there was a lack of reviews or sub-par reviews that we decided to ignore and simply hope that it was better than everyone said. Lessons learned and we’ll continue to use this platform to book our travels around the world. 🙂
    Toccara recently posted…Top 16 Travel Experiences of 2016My Profile

    • January 15, 2017

      I always say trust your gut…if you’re not sure, look for another place. It’s worked well for us so far!

  • January 14, 2017

    I am a huge fan of Airbnb! You have stayed in some exceptionally charming places.

    We use Airbnb frequently for our accommodation especially when staying somewhere for an extended period of time. We like having our own kitchen to cook some meals at home. Also, if you’re booking a place for 30 days or more, most hosts provide deep discounts. We’re currently at a month long rental in Quito, Ecuador.

    Completely agree with reading the reviews! The only time Airbnb didn’t work out well for us was when we took a gamble on a place with no reviews.

    • January 15, 2017

      A month in Quito..I’m jealous! That’s true that the longer stays are such a huge perk to Airbnb as well.

  • January 15, 2017

    Great tips! I love booking with Airbnb. I spent 10 years of my life working in and running hotels and serviced apartments, and I LOVE how Airbnb has really shaken up the whole accommodation industry. Travel is more affordable then ever. The ratings system that allows hosts to rate guests as well, is something I think really helps keep things honest. Excellent post!
    Ali May recently posted…5 Reasons to Take the Family to the Ballarat Beer FestivalMy Profile

    • January 15, 2017

      I think Airbnb has worked out a lot of the kinks and has become safer and more reliable. There are still some horror stories, but both hosts and guests are better protected now than ever on the site.

  • January 15, 2017

    We’ve used Air BnB many times. We’ve had the odd stays (like a converted shop with big glass windows and a bright street lamp out the front) and also some lovely stays. Your tips are great.

    • January 15, 2017

      The funky apartments are sometimes the best ones on Airbnb!

  • January 16, 2017

    I’ve been an Airbnb host for about a year now, but have not used it in my own travels. I think that will change this year, especially when I see the hotel prices in Geneva and Zurich!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted…Year in Review: 2016My Profile

    • January 17, 2017

      Geneva and Zurich are soooo expensive, though incredibly beautiful! Perfect time for an Airbnb!

  • January 16, 2017

    We are huge Airbnb fans as well. Your tip about “really” reading the reviews is HUGE and can make a big difference between a great experience or not. Have you tried taking a room, or do you always book the entire space? Great tips for beginners!
    Rosemary recently posted…How to Eat Your Way in the Village of Love: A Taste of ThailandMy Profile

    • January 17, 2017

      We have always done the entire space. We don’t tend to book large places, but especially during our Balkan road trip, we had to do a fair amount of work along the way, it made sense to have our own space so we could work more easily.

  • January 16, 2017

    This is such a great guide! I’ve only used Airbnb a few times, but have always been pleasantly surprised. I don’t tend to consider it for solo travel, more as an option when I’m travelling with someone else.
    Global Brunch recently posted…Everything you need to know about visiting the Arctic during Polar NightMy Profile

  • January 16, 2017

    Fantastic tips! I love AirBnB and other sites like it for saving money and getting the feel of being a local. Your tip about looking carefully at the pics is a great one. Not only does that help avoid surprises, it’s just fun to do!

  • January 16, 2017

    Hi Drew,

    Loving these tips.

    We do more house sits these days but did 1 Air BnB recently. Before sitting though, all we pretty much did, save a few stays, was all ABNB. Rocks for finding super spots without scouring the web for hours.

    We are big on pictures. The more the better. Because then, you can imagine yourself in the place, and see if you have a match.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…10 Blogging Income Streams to ExploreMy Profile

  • January 17, 2017

    I have only used Airbnb 3 times so far, but certainly, I would have wanted to read your advice before. I think one of the main things you should keep in mind is to read the reviews, they are extremely helpful.
    Bella WW recently posted…The beauty of Coral Gables, Florida in 20 photosMy Profile

    • January 19, 2017

      Better safe than sorry is my motto when reading the reviews!

  • January 18, 2017

    I don’t like Airbnb for a number of reasons, but primarily safety concerns. I’ve yet to see an Airbnb with a safe in it and unfortunately you have no idea who has a key and could be accessing the place.

    I can see the appeal for long term travelers as hotels can become expensive, but I prefer hotels. I don’t want to cook and all that on holiday. I want the amenities offered by hotels.
    Jennifer recently posted…A Local’s Take on the Best Restaurants in BordeauxMy Profile

    • January 19, 2017

      That’s fair. We have never had any problems with hosts during our numerous stays, and even if we did, Airbnb is quick to respond to any problems. I do miss the amenities from time to time, but I do love waking up in the morning, making a pot of coffee, and cooking breakfast, without having to get out of my pajamas to hit the breakfast room!

  • January 20, 2017

    I’ve always enjoyed Air BNB. I feel like its more homey. My friends and I always choose to go for Air BNB on trips where we stay in one place for longer times.

    It’s kinda having your own home in a different country.

  • January 24, 2017

    Great post! I am still a little warey of Air BNB but some of the photos look great

    http://www.georginadoes.co.uk

    • January 24, 2017
      Julie

      Like with anything, you need to exercise a level of caution. Thankfully, we’ve never had any major issues and would recommend the service to just about anyone.

  • February 5, 2017

    Hand down to the creator of this AirBnb. This is very useful. Researching for location is easy peasy. Not to mention it all completed without overlooking at it. I think I have something to do for summer trip so I can book earlier.
    Elias Nystuen recently posted…App store stats Q3 2016My Profile

  • March 25, 2017

    These are some very useful tips for everyone, not only for first-time users, Drew!