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I first discovered Airbnb in 2013, back when they still had their blue logo (man, time flies!), and boy, have I used the heck out of it ever since. It’s helped me to find affordable vacation homes without sacrificing the quality of my stay.
Today, Airbnb has exploded into one of the world’s major community-driven accommodation hubs. So I find it hard to believe when I meet people who have never heard of or tried the site! With this amazing site, I’ve managed to rent huge apartments with amazing views in the best locations around the world, all for the fraction of the price of a hotel room. It’s been a godsend when I travel with my family and need multiple rooms, and still have the luxury of cooking facilities and a common room to hang together, or when I’m traveling with my boyfriend and don’t want to slum it in hostels but still want to stick to a budget!
To date, I’ve booked over 30 Airbnb’s around the globe, so I’d like to think I know the ins and outs of using the site, including how to get the best prices, and how to ensure you never get scammed! If you already have an account, skip right on down to my list of tips and tricks to ensure you get the best experience on Airbnb.
What is Airbnb, really?
Airbnb started out with the two founders buying an airbed, and offering it as a place to sleep and breakfast in the morning on their website called “Airbed and Breakfast”. Ha! Now you know the origin of the name, and what it stands for. So the essence of Airbnb today is just that. It’s an online marketplace where people who have spare rooms or homes rent them out to people who are in need of a place to stay. So, depending on your needs, you could rent just a room, or an entire villa all to yourself. Now, Airbnb even offers Experiences on top of just accommodation, where you can spend the day with locals doing cooking classes to salsa classes to day bike tours and more!
Is it safe?
Yes! Airbnb places many measures to ensure their platform maintains high levels of security, and has many policies in place that can offer you protection including refunds in the event that things go awry. Airbnb also operates on a review system, so guests can review hosts and vice versa. So, as long as you only choose highly-rated hosts, you won’t have to worry! I go into more detail about this later on.
Why I love Airbnb
1. It’s value for money!
So I wouldn’t blatantly say that Airbnb is cheap. But if you compare the price of what you’re getting for a hotel room, and what you get on Airbnb, you’d definitely see the savings there. For example, say a hotel room is $200 for 2 people. For that price, you could get a nice little apartment with two bedrooms, cooking facilities, a living room and perhaps even a balcony! So for $200, you could likely fit 4 people in the 2-bedrooms, instead of booking 2 hotel rooms which would amount to $400!
2. You get to live like a local
When you go to a foreign land, you’d want to immerse yourself in the local culture, which includes living like one! Forget staying in a 30-floor commercial hotel in the city centre. Maybe tuck yourself away in a quiet neighbourhood or even a cabin on a farm where it’s just nature and you. In Granada, we lived in a traditional cave-like house with the traditional inner courtyard. Beats a typical 4-walled hotel room anytime!
3. The space!
Especially if you’re doing a longer trip, you’d want to come home to a nice place where you can relax, and not just be holed in a tiny room. I love that you have the option of booking an entire home where you have space to lounge around in the living room or even a patio outside.
4. You get to cook
Another way you can save money is to cook your own meals, instead of eating out every meal cause we all know that adds up! Most apartments offer cooking facilities, shared or private. Some hosts will even provide basic cooking ingredients like oil, salt, and pepper. Some go the extra mile and offer free coffee capsules and a coffee machine for your morning coffee! Talk about hospitality!
5. You get to meet locals
Whether you’re staying with your host or staying on your own, you’ll still get the opportunity to meet your host who can give you the best insider local tips. And they won’t push restaurants or attractions that some hotels take a commission for by recommending them to you. These are legit!
6. Your four-legged friends get to enjoy it too! (sometimes)
Why should man’s best friend miss out on all the fun? Some listings are pet-friendly so you don’t have to leave your furry friend at home! You’ll hardly find hotels allowing pets so this is a great perk of Airbnb.
Okay, I’m sold. How do I get started?
Yay! Okay, first things first.
1. Sign up for a profile!
Sign up for a profile using this link and get a $35 Airbnb coupon for your first booking!
2. Get verified
Once you’ve signed up for a profile, you’ll need to go through a few verification steps so that hosts know that you’re a legit person looking for accommodation and not up to anything fishy! They’re just as skeptical of us as we are of them! Just link your profile to Facebook and upload a nice, friendly photo of yourself. You’ll also need to verify your email address and phone number. You may also be asked for your government ID – see, I told you Airbnb were serious about making their platform super secure!
3. Start your search!
Once you’re verified, this is where the fun begins. I’ve always enjoyed Airbnb-hunting cause the homes available are always so beautiful and nicely decorated! There are so many filters you can use to narrow down your search or keep them wide open to get the most results possible.
Airbnb is pretty user-friendly and intuitive. This is how I usually filter my properties.
4. Narrow down your choices
Once you’ve found a few homes that fit your needs and budget, you can narrow them down and put them on your Wishlist to compare and save for later viewing. Just click on the heart on the top right corner of the listing, and it’ll turn red, meaning it’s on your list now! The hardest part then comes when you have to pick just one out of all the pretty homes you’ve found!
5. Get in touch with your selected hosts
Once you’ve narrowed down to a few homes, reach out to the hosts by selecting on the “Contact Host” button under their description.
I usually like to contact a few to cast a wider net, just in case some homes are unavailable or not suitable for my stay. First, introduce yourself and tell the host why you’re visiting their city. Try to sound warm and friendly to increase your chances of them accepting your booking. This is also your chance to clarify any questions you have. I usually ask:
- How far it is from the closest public transportation
- Which floor it’s on and if there’s an elevator (essential if you’re carrying heavy luggage! Especially in Europe!)
- Check-in and check-out times and how flexible they are
- Any other questions or concerns you have that aren’t mention in the listing
6. Book it!
Once you’ve found “The One”, go ahead and request a booking! Some hosts have enabled Instant Book, which allows you to book the property right away without their prior approval. If you are in a hurry or are making a last minute booking, this may be useful as sometimes hosts that don’t provide this option may take up to 24 hours to respond to your booking.
To see only listings that offer Instant Book, check this filter like in the screenshot below.
Or you can check a host’s response rate and time if you scroll down the listing.
But do take note of time differences!
Once you choose to request a booking, you’ll have to enter your payment details, but Airbnb will not take the payment until the host confirms your booking. In the case of Instant Bookings, you’ll get charged right away.
7. Once your booking is approved, pack your bags!
You’ll receive an e-mail from Airbnb with your booking details including the address and contact number of your host. Some hosts will provide you information immediately on how to check-in, and some others will contact you closer to your date to make arrangements. If ever in doubt, just contact your friendly host for more information.
How to make the best out of Airbnb (and never get scammed)
As great as Airbnb is and can be, the internet is still free reign to all sorts of people out there, including some sneaky, sketchy ones who will try to cheat and deceive you. But with these following tips, it’s easy to sieve out the bad ones and avoid ever getting scammed!
1. Reviews, reviews, reviews!
I never, ever book properties unless they have been reviewed at least a few times, and have at least a 4-star rating. It’s as if my eye has been trained to filter out any hosts without ratings, and it’s easy for you to do so too! Take the following listings for example.
I always follow these rules, and they have never gone wrong. I know it’s a little unfair to the new hosts who are legitimately putting up their properties for rent, but… it’s just a risk to take! Sometimes, a listing may have no reviews, but that host may be highly rated who has had other highly-rated listings. Go check out their profile and ensure that their other listings are legit.
Also, read through the reviews and you’ll find they are the best source of honest information about a particular listing. Sometimes hosts may try to fluff up their listing, but guests will always tell the truth.
2. Look out for Superhosts
It’s really easy to spot Superhosts, as it’ll be stated next to their rating. And when you click on their profile, you’ll see a very clear indication that they are a Superhost, and they also get a neat little badge next to their profile photo!
You can be confident when booking with Superhosts as they have had high ratings in the past and a good track record.
3. Read the small print
Sometimes you can get all caught up in looking at the beautiful decor of the apartment that you might forget reading the finer details of the listing!
Make sure you check the following:
- Check-in and check-out times.
Some hosts are quite flexible with check-in and check-out times. But some may be quite strict. Communicate your arrival and departure times with them to see if they are a good fit. It sucks having to lug your bags around town and miss out on seeing the sights in a city because you couldn’t coordinate with your host!
Different listings will have different cancellation policies, ranging from Flexible to Super Strict. This is especially helpful in case of last minute changes, so it’s good to know your options in the event.
- Total number of beds and bedrooms available
Sometimes a listing that states a maximum occupancy of 4 may have only 1 bedroom, with 2 beds, and if sharing beds is not okay for you, you might want to check this. Lots of listings also list a sofa bed as a separate bed, and a living room as a separate room. So if you’d like the privacy of your own room instead of sleeping in a common room, check this with your host before booking. There are lots of details that can get lost in translation, so don’t hesitate to send a message to the host.
4. Save money and look elsewhere
I know this is a little counterintuitive since I’ve been speaking of all the positives of Airbnb, but real talk, sometimes I just kinda hate paying the Airbnb service fee. So I’ll let you in on a secret trick that I usually do when I find a listing I like on Airbnb.
Sometimes, you’ll find hosts that list their properties on multiple websites, including Booking.com (which doesn’t charge a service fee, yay!). So I’ll usually copy and paste the name of the Airbnb listing I found into Google and see what comes up in the search results. For example, if the Airbnb listing name is “Cozy, Comfortable Apartment in Melbourne City Centre”, I’ll type that into Google and see if that exact name pops up as a link on Booking.com, or any other booking site that doesn’t charge a service fee. It’s a hit and miss, but I can tell you I’ve saved probably hundreds to thousands using this method, as Airbnb charges 6-12% of your booking total! That’s $100 if your booking total is $1000!
But if That Perfect Listing is only available on Airbnb, fret not. The Airbnb fee is well worth it what with Airbnb’s protection policies anyway. And here’s $35 off your first listing to get you started!
5. Double-check and triple-check the location
Always check the neighborhood the listing is in. Oftentimes, you’ll find a steal that sounds too good to be true, and it often is. Cheaper listings are usually further away from the city, so depending on your needs, this may or may not be a good thing. Always do a quick Google search of the neighborhood you’re interested in to determine if it’s safe, especially if you’re traveling solo or with children.
Sometimes hosts will state a shorter distance from their listing to main attractions… just to make the listing sound better. And this may be true to a certain degree, but always check the locations yourself. Be wary of the difference between “10 minutes away from xyz” and “10 minutes walking distance from xyz” – just clarify this with the host. Another great thing to do is to check what other guests have said regarding the location – whether it’s a safe neighborhood, how quiet or noisy it is, and how easy the walk is to main attractions. Sometimes, a 10-minute walk may just be a total uphill climb with completely no vehicle access (a nightmare we faced in Granada with two 30kg pieces of luggage!).
Also, Airbnb doesn’t pin these listings to the exact locations very accurately so they may actually be a little further away from the pinned location on the map. I’ve even seen listings pinned in the middle of the ocean, which shows how inaccurate the pin location can be sometimes.
The best thing to do is to contact the host and ask for a building name, or landmark close to the building if the host doesn’t disclose the actual address.
6. Check for key necessities
Scan through the amenities list and ensure that they have all your required amenities. Some amenities that I always look out for are:
- Wireless internet
- Heating (in Winter)
- Air conditioning (in Summer)
You’ll be surprised that some listings don’t include some of these, so it would be best to be sure before you end up with no heating in the cold winter nights! Sometimes, you can also double check with the host if they don’t seem to have something you need. For instance, we found a lovely Airbnb in Lisbon that was the perfect size for the perfect price, in the perfect location, except that it didn’t have a TV listed in the amenities- which was a dealbreaker for my dad (he needs his daily morning news). So I contacted the host, and it turns out he did have a TV, but did not list it in the description. Score!
8. Make sure you’ve got the correct home type
Airbnb has properties for all sorts of budgets, which mean you can go as luxurious as you want, or as thrifty. With that, you have options as to how much privacy you want for a cost. There are essentially three types of properties: Shared room, private room, and entire apartment.
You’re basically renting a bed, and you will be sharing a room with other occupants. Sometimes you could be sharing with one other person, and sometimes you could be sharing with 12. So be sure to check the listing details properly.
This is where you get a room to yourself, and have shared amenities like cooking and washing facilities (if available). Sometimes, you’ll get a bathroom to yourself, and sometimes it’s a shared facility. Again, this will be listed in the description so take note of this. Sometimes you’ll be sharing the apartment with other guests, and sometimes you’ll be sharing it with the host themselves.
So you want full privacy. You’ll get the whole property to yourself without having to share with anyone else. But there’s a catch! I’ve heard of instances where people have booked entire apartments, and the host was actually living in a little cabin on the premises, which means you technically do get the whole apartment to yourself, but not with 100% privacy. So definitely check this in your listing, and again, I can’t stress this enough, read the reviews! Sometimes hosts will also have their pets living in the property so make sure you read the descriptions properly to make sure you’re completely comfortable with the living situation. For me, live-in dogs are a plus!!!
9. Be a decent human being
So lastly, now that you’ve found your perfect vacation home, don’t forget to be courteous and practice good manners. You are living in someone else’s home after all. Keep the place tidy and treat it as you would want others to treat your home. Also, good communication is key, especially when dealing with check-in and check-out times. You wouldn’t want your host waiting for you for hours if you are going to be late, so it doesn’t take much to drop a text! Hosts get to review you after your stay, so you’d definitely want to have a glowing review so that in future, other hosts will be more willing to accept your booking!
Phew! That was a long one. I hope you’ve gained some useful tips on how to best use Airbnb and are now armed with the skills to fight off any potential scammers! Don’t forget to claim your $35 Airbnb coupon following this link. Let me know if you have any better tips to pass along, or maybe if you’ve had some amazing experiences with Airbnb! Til then, don’t forget to share this with someone you know who’s still clueless about Airbnb, or thinks they know everything about it- then let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything!