Airbnb was started in San Francisco by two roommates who rented their loft space with three air mattresses to travelers. Today, Airbnb is a 25 billion dollar company. There are over 2 million listings on the site, where you can find everything from guest rooms to castles to stay in.
For the past couple of months, my husband and I have been planning a two-week trip for this summer with my parents. (More on that later, I promise!) To save money and get a bit more local flavor while we’re traveling, we’ve committed to staying in Airbnbs as much as possible along the way.
That means that I’ve looked at what feels like thousands of Airbnb listings over the past few months. They all start to run together after a while! So to keep everything clear in my head, here are 8 tips I’ve come to rely on for booking an incredible place to stay on Airbnb:
1. Choose the right property type
There are three types of listings on Airbnb: shared room, private room, and entire home/apartment. Usually, entire homes demand a higher price, whereas shared rooms are the most budget-friendly option. I personally prefer entire homes/apartments because I like privacy when I travel. Meeting the host is fine, but I’m not looking to engage in hour-long conversations while I travel (see introvert).
Entire homes can be anything from a secluded cabin to a tiny house in a backyard. Private rooms may also vary. My friends on Daniel Island rent out a master suite on the first floor of their house. The rest of their living space is off limits to guests. Some private rooms even have separate entrances.
2. Pay attention to the house rules
Bringing your pet with you? You will want to double check the property’s house rules before you reserve a date. I have asthma, and it’s a top priority for me to stay in a place that is strictly non-smoking. Some places also have quiet hours, may not be suitable for children, and have a strict no-event policy. All of these things may be included in the house rules section.
3. Read the reviews
Airbnb is unique in that it allows hosts to rate their guests. I believe this contributes to kinder, more forgiving reviews than you will find on other similar sites. For this reason, I do not book sites with less than 4-star reviews. (I trust people to tell the truth.)
The stars are broken down into 6 categories: accuracy, communication, cleanliness, location, check in, and value. My top priority is cleanliness. I do not book places with less than a 5 star review in that category. Prioritize what’s important to you: Is it clear communication on arrival? A convenient location close to everything? You may want to look for a 5-star rating in that category.
4. Check the availability
Many properties on Airbnb have a minimum of at least 2 nights (some only allow week-long bookings). This is one of the first things I look for so I don’t get my hopes up when it will not work with my travel plans. That being said, we modified our entire trip to California last summer to stay at this Japanese-inspired beach retreat, and it was well worth it. Once you have your definitive dates, it’s a good idea to search with those dates. The price per night usually goes up on weekends and during peak seasons.
5. Look at the photos
Whether they are professionally done or snapped with a cell phone, pictures do not lie. If you’re traveling with your family or a group of friends, check for photos of each bedroom, particularly the bed sizes, and make sure it works for your party.
I also look over the details of the bathroom(s) so there are no surprises! Sometimes what’s not photographed says a lot. You would be surprised how many properties do not include any photos of the bathroom.
6. Contact the host
Do you have a question that is left unanswered by the description? I would recommend contacting the host (there’s a button towards the bottom of the page) before booking. Most hosts respond within 24 hours of your message. This will set your mind at ease before you request to book. Also, if the host of a questionable property is rude when contacted, that might help make up your mind to try another listing.
7. Look at cancellation policy
Airbnb offers three main cancellation policies: flexible, moderate, and strict. Listings with a flexible policy will allow a full refund of accommodation fees, if the cancellation is made a full 24 hours prior to listing’s local check in time. A moderate cancellation policy means that you can receive a full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees. The strict cancellation policy only offers a 50% refund up until 1 week prior to arrival, except fees. I try to avoid the strict cancellation policy unless I absolutely love the place and cannot find anything better.
8. Verify the location
You will not know the address of the property until after you book. That’s why it is important to look at the location of the property on the map provided at the bottom of the page. Sometimes property owners include photographs of sites of interests. These sites may not be in viewing or walking distance, and they could be several miles away. Just because they have photos of a beach nearby doesn’t mean you’re staying on beachfront property.