We’ve recently got into our Airbnb stride, and it’s made me reflect on what’s gone well so far. In the Airbnb bookings we’ve made to date, there’s been one little hiccup, which was entirely our own doing. So here’s my advice on creating the best Airbnb experience you can.
1. Be clear what you want
It’s amazing how often I seem to write these words or something similar when talking about travel hacks. If you want to be close to the main sights, don’t book in the sticks. If you’re on a road trip, don’t book somewhere without parking. So start out with a list of the non-negotiables, plus an extra list of the things you’d like if possible. For example, during our Tennessee and Mississippi trip last October, we needed at least one of our Airbnb stays to have a washer, thus avoiding us having to pack two weeks worth of clothing (and indeed drag home two weeks smelly laundry).
Our non-negotiable list is a self-contained place, wifi, and some kind of cooking facilities, even if that’s a microwave and fridge. Our wish list is walkable to a store for supplies, simple decor and with a sense of local community.
2. Know Thyself, and book accordingly
I’m a bit of a clean freak. While I like the look of characterful places with lots of soft furnishings and knick-knacks, I actually prefer places where the cleanliness is obvious. So I look for Airbnbs with clear modern lines. I’m also not great at being “on” socially all the time. So a separate house, apartment or studio works better for me. I’m really happy to chat with a host, or meet for a drink. But I don’t want to head back to the Airbnb each night and make conversation; my head’s too full of what I’ve seen that day. So shared space would make me antsy and I book self-contained.
3. Don’t forget the basics
When you’re searching, be specific. Pin down your location and the type of accommodation you need. Don’t forget to set your budget range to avoid temptation, and, in popular destinations, to avoid an overwhelming number of choices. You can also apply filters for particular features such as wifi and a full kitchen.
Handle everything through Airbnb’s messages and payment systems. On which note, don’t forget to check your messages when you’ve put in a request to the host; it helps them see you are reliable too.
4. Be sociable and pleasant
Unless you are dealing with an automated booking, the host will want to engage to know that you’ll be a good guest. So make sure your Airbnb profile is completed with some charm and grace, and be friendly and forthcoming in your communication with the host. They will often be able to help you if you are visiting for a specific purpose or to reach particular destinations.
You’ll find plenty of clues about the host in the listing. You may see that they are chatty and sociable, or that they live far away, and manage the property through a local contact. Look too at how they respond to any issues in the reviews. Problems during a stay that are solved quickly and courteously by the host give me a good sense that we too would be treated fairly and well by that host.
We’ve had a whole range of host interactions in our Airbnb experiences. Bear in mind we’ve only ever booked a self-contained space, albeit often on the property where the host lives, so there’s been no automatic interaction every day. One host we met via messages only, another welcomed us in, and wished us safely homeward at the end of our stay, and we spent an evening out with another. There are plenty of options for how engaged they – and you – will want to be.
5. Be Realistic about the Experience
This is not a hotel. There will not be a 24 hour concierge, nor someone making your bed in the morning. The benefit of living like a local is that you do live like a local. Be respectful of the space and its neighbours.
Don’t forget that with most things in life, you will get what you pay for. Stunning apartments with great views in popular locations don’t come cheap. If you are prepared to be more off the beaten track, you can find some affordable and often spectacular options. It’s about knowing where your compromise falls. For me, I’d take better quality accommodation further away from where I wanted to be. But that’s changed for me over time, and it’s something you need to think through before you book.
6. Read The Reviews
Can I just say that again? Read. The Reviews.
And when you do, bear in mind that most people’s default setting is to veer towards being nice, and will give a host the benefit of the doubt. I’m not suggesting that reviews full of vitriol are a good thing, and Airbnb’s principle of not revealing reviews until both host and guest have spoken is commendable. But remember that most guests will have formed a good – albeit minimal – relationship with the host and don’t want to be overly critical. It’s a whole different mindset to Trip Advisor, for example.
So read carefully. Look at what people have said, and don’t dismiss any small clues in their reviews about things that might affect you. Be alert to what previous guests are highlighting, and consider if it matters to you.
7. Read the reviews – and believe them
We chose an Airbnb in an up and coming area. It was pretty cut off from most of the local attractions, and that was fine. We had the Uber app (and Lyft as a backup) ready installed and waiting. We didn’t pay enough attention to one little comment that appeared in a few of the reviews. In fairness, there weren’t a lot of reviews, as the place had not long been listed.
In some of the reviews, guests had commented about the noise from trains. We read this, digested it, and unwisely dismissed it. Part of this was a cultural misstep. We live in the UK, where trains normally run in waking hours, and often through cuttings or with trees planted to manage the noise. Let me tell you at this point that reports of the death of the American railroad are somewhat exaggerated. The sound of freight trains, each taking approximately three minutes to pass at a distance of two hundred meters, went on throughout the night. Accompanied by whistles, hooting and clattering. And sometimes at seemingly sadistic intervals, devised to lull you back to sleep, then awake you abruptly again.
Our fail. We read the reviews, ignored them, and didn’t think about the difference between three carriages of electric trains by daylight at home versus freight trains for much of the night. We’re a bit wiser now.
Think about how much this might affect you too. I was pretty much ok with disturbed sleep, save for the need of an occasional disco nap. But it really affected my husband, and it would be a deal breaker for future Airbnb bookings.
8. Check Out the Photos
These can vary tremendously in quality. I didn’t realise until recently that some are taken by Airbnb accredited photographers. This gives another layer of objectivity, but as I understand it, the service is not available in all areas. So call it a bonus if it’s there, not a negative if it’s not.
Have a careful look at the pictures. What’s the lighting like in the building? Is there space for your stuff? What does the outside view tell you about the area? Don’t forget that if you are an Airbnb host, this is your opportunity to show off your place. If those best pictures don’t look great, then maybe scroll on by.
9. Be a good guest
Be respectful and courteous. Show up when you say you will, and don’t leave late. Treat the place and its neighbours with consideration. To most of us, these are unnecessary reminders. But it’s good to remember that we as guests are being reviewed too. Our own reputation will affect our future Airbnb bookings, and how willing people are to host us.
10. If it all goes pear shaped
I know there are some troubling experiences reported by the occasional Airbnb guest. And host, for that matter. But don’t let it put you off. Life itself has plenty of difficult moments, and by and large we tend to manage as best we can.
Make sure you arrive with a charged and sim-ready phone, so you can contact someone if needed. If there’s a big problem, contact Airbnb customer service immediately. For smaller problems, give the host a chance to resolve them.
And try to resolve the small things that seem big things. We arrived in the evening at one city apartment. There was a massive door to the lobby, and I couldn’t get in to access the key safe to the apartment. It turned out that I was just being feeble, and my husband managed to get us in with ease. Similarly, we’ve had some issues with coded entries before. Just take a deep breath, summon your travel mojo, and try again.
11 After your stay
I’m assuming that like the good guest you are, you’ve left the place tidy as per your host’s instructions, and you’ve departed in good time. Don’t forget to write your review. Neither you nor the host can see the other person’s review until you have both commented, or else the time frame for reviews has expired. That’s great, as it avoids any possibility of retaliatory comments.
When you think about your review, remember that you’re assessing the place against what it offered, and its pricing. You wouldn’t get a Manhattan penthouse for $60 a night, so it’s best to be real. Was the listing honest, and the price fair? Was the host helpful?
Please do review. And please be fair. One place we stayed in had a boiler failure during an earlier stay. It was dealt with quickly by the host, and the guest hadn’t mentioned it at all. That’s good reviewing, as the circumstances were clearly outside the host’s control and quickly addressed. But if you have a worrying stay, do say. If you are factual and objective, you’ll be doing the whole Airbnb community a favour.