We have used Airbnb’s all over the world and at home in the U.K.
Using Airbnb is one of the major reasons we can afford to travel as a family of five and using Airbnb’s made our family gap year dream become a reality. Sharing bedrooms and the ability to self cater drastically reduces our travel costs.
Yet for many people, staying in a privately owned, non branded accommodation is a leap of faith outside their comfort zone – especially for those questioning is Airbnb safe.
I have compiled these Airbnb tips – based on our personal experiences – to help you learn how to use Airbnb successfully.
Please note – these tips are based on staying in an ‘entire place’ not shared accommodation. As we use Airbnb with kids, we only book at ‘entire places.’
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Airbnb tips for first time users
Set a budget for your Airbnb booking
Decide what your accommodation budget is. Be realistic and be prepared to adjust your budget if necessary, particularly if you are travelling in peak season or to a city location.
Enter your travel dates, number of guests and set your budget on the sliding price scale. Airbnb prices – like any prices in the travel sector – increase around peak travel times and events.
Use the search filter
What do you need and want from your holiday accommodation? Do you want a pool to relax by or merely a base to sleep in from which to explore?
Think about the type of holiday you want and select your ‘must haves’ on the search filter. You can filter for pool, WiFi, pets/no pets, near beach etc. This will match your accommodation accordingly. There is no point paying for facilities you are not going to use and will help to keep you Airbnb prices low.
Research what you can get for your budget in your chosen destination. Don’t be swayed by luxurious pads, you are staying in an Airbnb to keep costs down!
Choosing a locality
You will not receive the exact address of the Airbnb property until after you have booked the it but the search engine will give you a general location for the property. Research this location carefully before booking.
But don’t assume staying further away from attractions will always work out cheaper. Factor in your travelling costs to and from attractions. For example, staying in a London suburb will be cheaper than staying in the heart of Westminster but a one day, uncapped public transport travel card will set you back £19.10 per adult.
Plus, if you only have a couple of days in your destination, of what value is the time spent travelling to and from the places you want to visit?
If you are going to stay further out, make sure you are within close walking distance to public transport to avoid the need for costly car hire.
If you are considering staying ‘within walking distance’, use a basic maps website or the excellent Rome2Rio to work out how long the walk will take. One persons ‘near to town’ is not the same as another!
When we stayed in Washington D.C we chose to stay in the cheaper location of Chantilly. We then spent 1 ½ hours on a public bus travelling into Washington D.C!
Research your chosen location
Research potential locations before making your Airbnb booking. Use other travel websites such as a hotel search engine like Booking.com or Hotels.com.
Are there good quality hotels in the area? If a hotel is prepared to invest in an area, you know it is going to be a nice location. Read the hotel’s reviews as reviewers often comment on the local area.
Look at your location on Google Maps – is the local area full of bars and nightclubs? Next to a motorway?
We have been caught out by both!!!!!
Check the Airbnb cleaning fee
All Airbnbs rentals add an administration fee plus a cleaning fee. The cleaning fee should be in proportion to the size of the property and its price.
Some Airbnb cleaning fees are extortionate; check you are happy to pay the listed fee.
What to look for when making an Airbnb booking
Read the listings carefully
Most people choose to stay in an Airbnb so that they can self cater.
What are the kitchen facilities like? Are they shared or private? Does ‘oven’ mean a full oven, a microwave or a single wonky hot plate?
Do you need a bedroom per person? The more space you have, the more money it will cost.
If you decide not to rent accommodation with a bedroom per person, I would recommend ensuring bed space per person. (by bed space I mean everyone gets to sleep in a bed even if it is shared). Sleeping on a sofa bed or a pull out bed can affect your nights sleep and subsequently your enjoyment of the following day.
Is there a garden? Patio? Is it enclosed and private?
Does the owner live on site or nearby? Would you feel happy with the owner living above or below your property?
We have found it is commonplace in Europe for the owner to live either upstairs or downstairs in their own self contained flat. Check before booking if this is an issue for you.
Examine the photos
Is there a photo of every room or has the owner put all their effort into one room for the sake of a good photo?
Little details in photographs can tell you a lot about the property. For example, lights switched on on a sunny day = dark property. Rumpled bed = couldn’t be bothered to tidy up even for the advertising photos. Little extras like a set table with a vase of flowers suggests the owner knows what guests want and puts a little extra effort into securing a guest.
Check other accommodation listings before booking.
Check other home rental sites such as Trip Advisor, Home and Away and Owners Direct to see if your property is listed there. It is usually easy to tell as the same photos are used on multiple sites.
Is your chosen property listed? What do the reviews say?
Is the accommodation the same price for the same dates?
If you notice that the property is listed by a company or property management company, contact the company direct for their rates. They will often be cheaper than those advertised on a third party web site.
Reading and understanding Airbnb reviews are essential in Airbnb land.
We usually stay at properties that have multiple reviews and prefer properties with superhost status. Plus, as we stay in Airbnb with kids, we always look for reviews from other families.
Language means everything in Airbnb, both in listings and reviews. Read between the lines.
For example, ‘cosy’ means small, ‘interesting’ means quirky (or more often, downright weird) and ‘would benefit from a clean’ means filthy.
And ‘lively neighbourhood’ always means noisy!!!!
But be aware of reviews from people that expect the impossible from their stay.
We stayed in an idyllic beach front chalet where one reviewer said it was ‘awful, far too noisy to sleep at night.’ She meant the waves crashing onto the beach. If you don’t like sound at night, why choose to stay in a beach front chalet???
Establish communication with your Airbnb host
Message the Airbnb host before booking with any questions you may have regarding the accommodation and facilities on offer.
If the property should then fail to live up to your expectation you have an email to prove why.
Plus, a quick to respond and helpful host is more likely to be a quick to respond and helpful host should something go wrong during your holiday.
It also indicates they care about their clients experience which, in turn, means they care about their property. We prefer to establish communication with the owner rather than use the ‘Instant Booking’ option.
But – always communicate via the Airbnb message service, never directly. Protect your privacy and personal information.
Never agree a stay for cash ‘off the books.’ If anything should go wrong, Airbnb will not cover you.
Check out your Airbnb host
Check the owners personal Airbnb account – has it been verified?
Many owners own or manage multiple properties. Check out the reviews of these other properties to gauge what sort of host you are booking with.
Have realistic expectations
Airbnbs are not hotels and the host is not a hotelier available 24/7. An Airbnb is generally someone’s home (or investment property) rented out to make extra income or sometimes the only income.
Expect some personal items around the place, worn crockery, linen and furniture.
I have seen people posting on forums complaining how there were no breakfast foods left each day or how the washing machine drum ‘smelt funny’. Both reviewers were chasing refunds. If you want hotel style accommodation, stay in a hotel.
However, there should be a minimum expectation of clean linen on the beds, clean towels (if you choose to use them) and clean facilities.
Appliances should work and windows and doors should be safe, able to close and lock securely. Owners should allocate some shelf, drawer or wardrobe space for your belongings.
The property should accurately reflect both the listing information and the photographs.
We usually arrive at an Airbnb expecting to do some cleaning; it is a pleasant surprise when we do not have to!
Consider asking for a discount.
Many Airbnb’s offer a discount for a stay of one week or more. If a discount is not advertised for a longer stay, politely ask about it.
Depending on the discount, it may work out cheaper to book for the week even if you do not stay for the week.
We stayed in a fantastic Airbnb in Calheta, Madeira which offered a large discount for staying for seven nights. We only wanted to stay for six days. We booked for seven days, left after six days and it was cheaper than if we had booked for the six days. I even checked this was acceptable with the owner!
Airbnb’s also permit stays of one month or more. Always ask for a discount for a long term stay even if a discount is not advertised. The Airbnb host saves money in multiple booking and cleaning fees so is usually prepared to accept a discounted stay.
Consider asking for a discount in low season or if you are the first person to stay at the accommodation. The owner may accept the discount in order to generate a review.
Ask respectfully with good reason and you will get a polite and hopefully a positive response.
Check the legal rules regarding Airbnb in your chosen destination.
Airbnb is loved and loathed in equal measure.
In some locations such as Costa Rica, Airbnb has provided a valuable income to local people and helps to spread the tourist dollar. Staying in an Airbnb encourages travellers to mix with local people creating human connections and a greater understanding of language and culture.
In other locations, unscrupulous landlords have snapped up low cost property to rent out as high income Airbnb rentals, thereby pricing out local people. Also, some local authorities dislike low budget, quick turnaround tourists in unmonitored, potentially unsafe accommodation.
The result of this has been a crackdown on short term holiday rentals and specific Airbnb rentals.
Berlin, Paris and Reykjavik amongst others, have introduced legislation designed to curb Airbnb. For example, a host can only rent for a specific number of days a year, party sizes are restricted etc. This may result in an increase in Airbnb prices in these locations.
In New York, you can rent a room via Airbnb but not an entire place. Stays of under 30 days in private homes are banned and even advertising such a stay is banned. If you rent a property in a location where Airbnb is banned, you risk the property being discovered and your Airbnb booking cancelled.
Check the cancellation policy
Airbnb has three levels of cancellation policy – flexible, moderate and strict. Make sure you are comfortable with the cancellation level of your policy.
With children, we prefer to book properties with the flexible cancellation policy.
Tips for your first stay in an Airbnb
Before you arrive
Know the exact address of your accommodation and have it easily accessible on arrival.
Use Google Translate to translate it into local dialect if necessary. Print off directions, maps and public transport information in advance of your arrival. Most people rely on WiFi for this but we always print or screenshot the information we need.
Know the mobile phone number and landline number of the property owner. Ask for it in advance if it is not offered to you.
If you are meeting the owner to get access to the property, keep in contact during your journey. Let the owner know you are on your way or if you are going to be late. They have a life too!
If you are arriving late at night I would advise trying the given phone numbers in advance to check you have the correct number.
We arrived late, around midnight, into a rural Argentinian town to find the owner had given up on us and gone home. The phone number we had been given didn’t work. It was horrible, standing in a dark residential area, with no hotels nearby, with three children. We eventually flagged down a passing police car and used Google Translate to ask the police to contact the owner to which they kindly obliged.
When you arrive
Check for any damage
Check over the whole property immediately, even if it is late at night.
Alert the owner immediately if anything is broken, damaged or marked and take photos as evidence. This way, the owner cannot accuse you of causing the damage.
If the property is unacceptably clean, tell the Airbnb host. Many owners use cleaning companies and may not know the property is inadequately cleaned. Allow the owner the chance to rectify any issues.
If you have serious concerns, contact Airbnb support immediately. Airbnb withholds payment to the host for the first 24 hours of your stay so you have time to salvage the situation and remedy any problems.
Conduct a quick safety check
Do a quick safety check as soon as you arrive and before going to bed. Is your Airbnb safe? If you are staying in an Airbnb with kids, a safety sweep is essential.
Is there any exposed wires, loose plugs, extending nails? Are plugs sockets overloaded? Are the windows safe, and do they shut securely? Beware of windows which open outwards at the bottom enabling a small child to topple out.
Are there working smoke alarms? Do the front and back door shut and lock securely? Is there a chain to use on the door? How would you get out in the event of a fire?
Are any glass doors made from safety glass or could a stumble against it result in you smashing through the door?
Check the balcony. How big are the gaps? Is the railing secure? Are there any footholds for small children to climb?
See the danger before it becomes a danger.
This safety check may sound time consuming and paranoid (!) but over time, a ‘security sweep’ will become second nature and take minutes to complete.
Move fragile items
Minimize risk of damage by moving fragile items such as glassware, precariously balanced TV’s, precious paintings etc.
On a recent stay in Madeira, the Airbnb owner collected pottery and had decided to display it on each step of the staircase. In another Airbnb in Argentina, the owners eclectic and ‘interesting’ self painted canvases were lined on the floor against the wall waiting for a small foot through smash through them.
Adjust your expectations
As already mentioned, an Airbnb is not a hotel. The property may be dated, frayed around the edges and look different with the normal eye as opposed to a camera with a long lens and filter!
Or you may get lucky and end up in an IKEA show home!
During your Airbnb stay
Be a considerate guest
Treat the property as you would like someone to treat your own home. Be respectful of plants, furniture and belongings and neighbours.
Clean as you go to prevent a last minute cleaning frenzy. Note to self – must do this! The property does not have to be spotless – you are paying an Airbnb cleaning fee – but leave it tidy. Don’t forget the host can leave a review on Airbnb about you.
Alert the owner to any breakages. Most owners accept broken glasses or cups but like to know about it so they can replace them.
Consider leaving used books or tourist pamphlets behind for the next guest to benefit from.
After your Airbnb stay
Leave a review and be honest.
If the rental was fantastic, take the time to leave a glowing review and include why it was so good. Specific details will help the travellers who follow.
Good reviews encourage all Airbnb owners to improve their services and facilities.
But if the property was poor, diplomatically say so. Suggest improvements rather than outright criticisms as this gives the owner a chance to respond under your review to say the situation has been rectified.
Remember, renting out their home is contributing to someone’s livelihood so be fair. If you have a small issue that is easily rectified message the owner privately rather than creating a negative impression in the open reviews.
I messaged an Airbnb owner in New Zealand about the carefully cut logs he had kindly left for the word burner. I suggested that in future, he needed to ensure the logs actually fitted into the wood burner!
Practical tips for first time Airbnb users
Pack your own towels, rather than use your Airbnb towels. We always bring our own quick drying travel towels.
Bring anti bacterial wipes. It is better safe than sorry to clean door handles, cupboard handles, taps etc with anti bac wipes rather than you or your children contract a sickness bug that can ruin your holiday.
In one Airbnb in Chile, the cutlery and crockery was so dirty I boiled washed everything before we used it.
Bring lanyard cards for your kids. Print the address, owners phone number and your mobile phone number for your kids (and forgetful other half) to carry inside the lanyard.
Translate with google translate if necessary. You can read more tips for travelling safely with kids here.
Carry a travel carbon monoxide monitor. Airbnbs are unregulated accommodation and are not required to fit alarms. Most properties have smoke alarms (which will be advertised in their listing) but very few properties have carbon monoxide monitors.
Bring at least one toilet roll with you. No one wants to arrive to find there is no toilet paper.
And this is a new safety check for us – check the channels the television has been set to. In one Airbnb in Croatia, the channels were for over 18’s viewing only!!!
We use most of these tips whether we are staying in an Airbnb or a hotel.
Don’t let all the do’s and don’ts and practical considerations put you off staying in an Airbnb.
Travel is only possible for our family of five because of affordable Airbnb rentals and the competition the company has generated in the travel market.
Using an Airbnb can enhance your travel experience. Shopping in a local supermarket, bakery or market is a cultural experience that you do not get in a hotel or all inclusive resort.
Staying in local neighbourhoods and visiting local cafes, churches and playgrounds always adds to our travel memories.
If you stay at a locally owned property you are spreading the tourist dollar. (You can usually work out if the Airbnb is locally owned or owned by a property company from the personal listings and contact details).
We have rented homes much further out of town than advertised, with dirty fridges, full closets and inadequate heating in areas where we made sure we were home before dark! Despite this, we have never felt unsafe, scammed and have never left an Airbnb early (we have left hotels early)!
But we have also met some wonderful Airbnb hosts who have enhanced our travel experience either by sharing their local knowledge, their culture or through their kindness.
We have had hosts pay for taxis, take us food shopping, drive us to the bus or train station, bring us gifts at Easter or a birthday cake for our child.
Hosts have translated for us, helped to make travel arrangements and arranged doctors visits when we were sick.
We have stayed in picturesque old towns, vibrant city centres and rural properties abundant in wildlife.
Do your research, choose carefully and staying in an Airbnb can be an enriching and rewarding travel experience.