Updated Feb 2021
I decided to compile these tips for Airbnb (based on our personal experiences) to help other families discover this affordable way of travel.
Yet for many people, staying in a privately owned, non branded Airbnb is a leap of faith outside their comfort zone.
So, if it is your first time using an Airbnb – or your 100th – use these tips for Airbnb to help you find your perfect property.
Please note – these Airbnb tips are based renting an ‘entire place’ NOT shared accommodation. As we stay in Airbnb’s with our kids, we only book at ‘entire places.’
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Tips for Airbnb – before booking
Set a budget for your Airbnb booking
Decide your accommodation budget before you start looking for an Airbnb.
This will narrow your search and stop you getting tempted by properties you cannot afford.
But be realistic and be prepared to adjust your budget if necessary, particularly if you are travelling in peak season or to a city location.
Bear in mind what may be low season at home may be peak season for your destination.
Use the search filter
Decide what you need from your holiday accommodation.
Do you want a spacious property with a pool to relax in or merely a base for sleeping from which to explore? There is no point paying for facilities you are not going to use.
Choose an Airbnb locality carefully
Searching for an Airbnb in somewhere like London will be a massive search so it is essential to narrow down your areas. Choosing the right locality can make the difference between a great stay or a bad one.
Decide which locality is best for you before using the Airbnb search engine. It will save so much time.
Remember that the the Airbnb search engine will only give you a general location for individual properties. You will not learn the full address of an Airbnb until after you have booked it.
So how do you do this research and what do you need to look for?
Research, research, research
Ask online travel groups or check out Trip Advisor reviews for tips for Airbnb locations. Do a quick Google search on your destination – this usually shows up news headlines which may alert you to potentially unsafe areas or recommended areas.
Search for destination reviews on other accommodation sites such as Booking.com or holiday let websites such as VRBO. Different travel styles leave different reviews which will hep to create a broader picture of what the area is really like.
One useful tip we learned is to check on Hotels.com to find out where the quality hotels are located. Good quality hotels invest in good areas – areas that are safe, well located and with good tourist infrastructure.
We do a Google Earth search or look at ‘Street View’ to research proposed Airbnb localities. We look where the busy/quieter areas are and find out which areas are near the beach or attractions we wish to visit.
After doing this research, we have the names of a few good locations to help us narrow our Airbnb search.
But don’t assume staying further away from attractions will work out cheaper overall.
Remember to factor in your travelling costs to and from attractions you wish to visit. For example, staying in an Airbnb in a London suburb will be cheaper than staying in the heart of Westminster. However, a one day, off peak travel card to travel in and out to the city centre will set you back around £14 per adult.
Plus, if you only have a couple of days in your destination, what value is the time you will spend travelling to and from the places you want to visit?
If you are visiting a city, it is essential choose an Airbnb within close walking distance to public transport. This avoids the need for costly car hire and stressful city driving.
Alternatively, if you plan to stay ‘within walking distance’ of places you wish to visit, always double check walking distances. We have found some Airbnb listings inaccurate plus one persons definition of ‘near to town’ is not the same as anothers! We use the excellent Rome2Rio website to work out walking distances.
When we visited Washington D.C we chose to stay in cheaper Chantilly. We spent 3 hours a day on a public bus to getting to and from the centre of Washington. The time we wasted on buses each day was not worth the financial saving.
Alternatively, in New Zealand, we opted to stay in cheaper, quieter Arrowtown rather than the very busy and expensive Queenstown. Our 30 minute, scenic drive between the two locations was worth it!
So, you know what you want to spend, what it is you need and where you would like to stay. Now it’s time to find the perfect property for you!
The following tips will help if it is your fist time booking an Airbnb.
Tips for Airbnb – what to look for when booking an Airbnb
Read the listings carefully
Most people choose Airbnb accommodation so that they can self cater as this massively reduces trip costs.
Check the kitchen facilities on offer. Is the kitchen shared or private? Does ‘oven’ mean a full oven, a microwave or a single wonky hot plate? If in doubt, ask the owner.
Do you need a bedroom per person? The more bedrooms you have, the higher the price.
If you decide not to rent accommodation with a bedroom per person (we rarely do), I would recommend ensuring a bed space per person. By bed space I mean everyone gets to sleep in a proper bed even if it is shared. Sleeping on a sofa bed or a pull out bed can affect your sleep and in turn, your whole trip. We avoid anything with sleeping in ‘the common space’ as this means the mattress is on the floor in the living room, kitchen or even the garage. (I saw listings for sleeping in a garage in Hawaii)!
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 apartment. Check before booking if this is an issue for you.
We always book a property with a full oven as cooking for five on a hot plate is not easy. A washing machine is essential as we travel hand luggage only. We usually share bedrooms but now the kids are older (and bigger) we look for properties with five beds rather than bed share.
Scrutinize the photos!
Is there a photo of each room in the property and if not, why not? Has the owner put all their effort into one room for the sake of a good photo?!
Little details in Airbnb listing photographs can tell you a lot about the property.
For example, lights are switched on on a sunny day = a dark property. Rumpled bed = couldn’t be bothered to tidy up for the advertising photos so won’t be bothered to tidy up for your arrival. And any bars or window grills should ring alarm bells!
Little extras in the photographs such as a laid table with a vase of flowers suggests the owner knows what guests want and is willing to make a extra effort.
Check the cancellation policy
Before parting with any money, make sure you know your cancellation policy thoroughly. We always try to get the latest 100% refund date possible.
Check when and what you pay
Does your preferred property require a deposit or the full amount? We prefer to pay a deposit, delaying the full amount to nearer the arrival date.
Check the Airbnb cleaning fee
All Airbnb rentals add an administration fee and a cleaning fee.
Cleaning fees vary hugely. Only pay a fair price – the cleaning fee should be in proportion to the size of the property and its nightly price.
A cheaper property with a large cleaning fee may mean you are financially better off in a higher standard property with a smaller cleaning fee!
Check reviews of your property on other accommodation listings
Check other home rental sites such as Trip Advisor, Home and Away and Owners Direct to see if your proposed property is listed there. This is easy as owners use the same photos are on multiple sites. What do the reviews say? We have been put off several properties by reading reviews on other rental websites.
Is the accommodation the same price for the same dates?
Reading and understanding Airbnb reviews are essential in Airbnb land.
We choose properties that have multiple reviews and prefer properties with ‘superhost’ status. Plus, as we stay in Airbnb with kids, we search for reviews from other families.
Language means everything in Airbnb, both in listings and reviews so learn to read between the lines.
‘Cosy’ = small, ‘interesting’ = quirky (or more often, downright weird) and ‘would benefit from a clean’ = filthy.
And ‘lively neighbourhood’ always means noisy!
But also be aware of reviews from people that expect the impossible from their stay or who are looking for five star accommodation at one star prices.
We stayed in an idyllic beach front chalet in Samoa where one reviewer said it was ‘awful.’ We were nearly put off booking until we read her reason. It was because ‘the waves were far too noisy to sleep at night.’
Establish communication with the Airbnb host
Good, prompt communication indicates the host cares 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.
So before booking, message the Airbnb host 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 it.
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.
But protect your privacy and personal information by communicating via the Airbnb message service, never directly.
Never agree a stay for cash ‘off the books.’ If anything should go wrong during your stay, Airbnb will not cover you.
Check out your Airbnb host
Check the Airbnb host’s personal Airbnb account. Has it been verified? Do they have reviews for other properties?
Have realistic expectations
Airbnb’s are not hotels. The host is not a hotelier available 24/7. An Airbnb property is usually someone’s home or investment property that is rented out to make extra income – or sometimes the only income.
Although the bnb in Airbnb stands for ‘bed and breakfast’, most properties do not provide breakfast. If you want breakfast, check it is listed in the description or ask the owner. Don’t automatically expect it.
I have seen people complaining on forums that breakfast was not provided each day or that the washing machine drum ‘smelt funny’. Both reviewers were chasing refunds from the owner and Airbnb. If you want hotel style accommodation, stay in a hotel.
Consider asking for a discount if you are staying a week or more
Many Airbnb’s offer a discount for a stay of one week or more. This is because the owner saves money on cleaning and admin fees on longer stays than on shorter multiple stays. So if a discount is not advertised for a longer stay, politely ask for one. The owner is under no obligation and can always say no.
Also, depending on the discount offered, it may work out cheaper to book a property for one week even if you do not stay for one week.
Consider asking for a discount if you are staying 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 (an honest one please)!
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. As we had established a good relationship with the owner, I checked in advance that this was acceptable with the owner.
Check the laws 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 use as high income Airbnb rentals, thereby pricing out local people. Some local authorities dislike low budget, quick turnaround tourists in unmonitored, potentially unsafe accommodation.
As a result, there has been a crackdown on short term holiday rentals and specific Airbnb rentals in some destinations.
Berlin, Paris and Reykjavik are some of the cities that have introduced legislation designed to curb Airbnb. For example, a host can only rent for a specific number of days a year and party sizes are restricted. In New York, you can only rent a room through Airbnb, not an entire place.
If you rent a property that is in violation of local regulations, you risk the property being discovered and your Airbnb booking cancelled.
Airbnb for families
If you are staying in an Airbnb with kids, there will be additional things you need to look out for.
Is the garden enclosed? Does the balcony look climbable? If there a stair gate on those stone steps? Does the pool have a safety fence?
You can read our detailed advice for Airbnb for families here.
Airbnb Tips for Guests
Before you arrive
Know the exact address of your accommodation and have it easily accessible on arrival at your destination. Use Google Translate before leaving home to translate the address into local dialect.
Bring local maps and information on public transport you may need to take to reach your destination. Don’t rely on accessing WiFi for this information upon arrival. Plus, nothing screams vulnerable tourist more than a someone with a backpack hurriedly downloading a map in a train station or arrivals area.
Know the mobile phone number AND landline number of the property owner. If you do not receive these in your pre arrival communication with the host, ask for these in advance of you arrival. And if you are arriving late at night, I would try these numbers in advance.
If you are meeting the owner to gain access to the property, try to keep in contact with the host 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!
Due to a delayed flight, we arrived at midnight to an Airbnb in Argentina to find the owner had given up on us and gone home. The phone number she had given us didn’t work. It was horrible, standing with our three children on a dark street in an unfamiliar town with no hotels in sight. 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. She had recently changed her number.
When you arrive at your Airbnb
Immediately check the property for any damage
Check the whole property immediately, even if it is late at night and all you want to do is flop into bed.
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 overnight.
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 before complaining to Airbnb.
But if you have serious concerns, contact Airbnb support immediately. Airbnb withholds payment to the host for the first 24 hours of your stay allowing the host to remedy any problems.
Conduct a quick safety check
Do a quick safety check as soon as you arrive and before going to bed. If you are staying in an Airbnb with kids, a safety sweep is essential.
Are there any exposed wires, loose plugs, extending nails? Are plugs sockets overloaded? Do the windows and doors shut securely? Are there working smoke alarms? How would you get out in the event of a fire? Don’t forget to check the balcony, my personal pet hate.
Most Airbnb’s have smoke alarms (if they are not listed, ask) so don’t forget to check they are working when you arrive. Checking could save your life.
See the danger before it becomes a danger.
This safety check may sound time consuming and a faff to complete (and paranoid!) but over time, a ‘security sweep’ will become second nature and will take minutes to complete. Compared to the alternative, a safety sweep is always worth doing.
You can read about travelling safely with children here.
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 her collection on each step of the tiled staircase. We swiftly moved it!
Adjust your expectations
As already mentioned, an Airbnb is not a hotel. The property may be dated, frayed around the edges and look a little different with the normal eye as opposed to a camera with a long lens and filter. But it should accurately reflect both the listing information and the photographs.
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 able to close and lock securely. Owners should provide some shelf, drawer or wardrobe space for your belongings.
During your Airbnb stay
Be a considerate guest
Treat the property as you would like someone to treat your home. Be respectful of plants, furniture, 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 when leaving – you are paying an Airbnb cleaning fee after all – but leave it tidy. Make sure you know what (if any) cleaning is expected of you otherwise you may be charged an additional fee. Don’t forget the host can leave a negative Airbnb review about you.
Alert the owner to any breakages that occurred. Most owners accept broken glasses or cups but like to know about it so they can replace broken items.
Consider leaving finished books or tourist pamphlets for the next guest to benefit from.
After your Airbnb stay
Leave an honest review
If the Airbnb rental was fantastic, take the time to leave a glowing review and include details as to why the property was so good. Specific details will help the travellers who follow you.
Good, detailed reviews encourage all Airbnb owners to improve their services and facilities.
But if the property was disappointing or inaccurate compared to its listing, diplomatically say so and detail why.
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 a home as Airbnb contributes to someone’s livelihood so be fair in your review. 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.
Why we choose to stay in Airbnb accommodation
Airbnb has made travel affordable for our family and each stay has enhanced our travel experience.
We meet local people and gain local insider knowledge. We staying in local neighbourhoods rather than tourist areas and visit local cafes, churches and playgrounds. Plus, having to self cater and shop in a local supermarket, bakery or market is a cultural experience that we will not get in a hotel or all inclusive resort.
We have met wonderful Airbnb hosts who have enhanced our travel experience by sharing their local knowledge, their culture or through their kindness. We have received lifts, medical help, shopping and even Easter and birthday gifts.
You can read more about why we use Airbnb here.
Don’t let all my tips for Airbnb put you off staying in an Airbnb. Use them to choose the right property for you. Do your research, choose carefully and you too will find that staying in Airbnb accommodation can be an enriching and rewarding travel experience.