(Editor’s note: We’re approaching the peak travel month of August, so you’re thinking about vacation, not work. We thought you could use some tips on using Airbnb from expat nomad and travel pro Beth Hoke.)
Want to go on a vacation but not spend a small fortune on a hotel room? Check out Airbnb.
Born into the sharing economy in 2008, this web-based service brokers deals between property owners and travelers. Weekend vacationers and wandering nomads can rent properties from campsites to mansions in 191 countries across the globe.
But don’t go into it blindly.
Here are some things to consider when making your first reservation.
First, create a free account and get $40 toward your first stay here. Even if you’re not ready to travel yet, you can browse the listings while daydreaming about quitting your job and jet-setting around the world or imagining a romantic vacation in an exotic locale.
You can even create a wish list by clicking on the heart icon found in the upper right corner of the listing photo or the “Save to Wish List” button on the individual listing.
Next, you can filter your search by location, dates, room type, price range, amenities, facilities, pet-friendly lodgings, and more.
When you find a listing that appeals to you, the first thing you should check out is the community reviews and the more there are of them, the better.
Airbnb shows reviews as a rating system as well as written comments by guests who chose to give their opinions about the properties where they’ve stayed. Keep in mind that some people are more high-maintenance than others, so you should use your best judgment and take the reviews with a grain of salt.
I made the grave mistake of staying at a property that didn’t have any reviews, having based my decision on the positive reviews for another property listed by the same host.
The property where I stayed was quaint, but had no refrigerator as it had just broken and not yet been replaced; had a damp, musty odor due to water leaking in a crack between the wall and the foundation, and was infested with moths.
For more on my Airbnb misstep, see my account of my trip to central Italy here.
If the reviews make you want to book the property, great! But reviews aren’t the only thing you should consider.
Here’s a breakdown of other details you should check out:
If you have indicated the days you will be staying at the Airbnb, the price listed will give you the total amount, including any discounts, the cleaning fee, and the Airbnb fee. Some listings may refer to a security deposit, but that amount won’t be included in the total, nor will it be charged to your credit card or PayPal account unless the host discovers you have damaged something during your stay.
[Pro Tip No. 1: Even if you will be staying for only part of a week or month, input dates that include a full week or a full month to check for discounted rates. Sometimes it’s less expensive to book the property for longer than you will actually be staying when the discount is factored into the total cost.]
[Pro Tip No. 2: If there will be more than one guest staying at the property, the additional cost (if there is one) will be listed in this section.
Airbnb has a range of cancellation policies from which hosts can choose. Each listing will include information about the property’s cancellation policy. Read these carefully so you know if there is any wiggle room in case your plans change or you get to a property and decide it’s just not for you.
If you’re a smoker or plan on bringing a pet with you, check out the house rules. If you ignore the house rules (and you shouldn’t), be prepared to be accept the consequences.
The amenities section will tell you which niceties (or necessities depending on your needs) to expect. If you can’t live without wifi or air conditioning, for example, this is where you would find out if they’re available at the property you’re considering.
Many hosts will include this information in the “About this listing” section. If you don’t see it, don’t be afraid to ask. Bringing your own car? Be sure to check the listing to see if parking is available and, if so, whether it is free or not.
Try to work it out
If you get to your Airbnb and it just doesn’t match up to what you expected based on the listing, the company suggests that you try to resolve your issue with the host first. If that doesn’t work, you can contact Airbnb and their customer support team will lend a helping hand. The website lists all the options that are available to you.
(Editor’s note: Check out how we dealt with our Airbnb nightmare here ….)
Never, ever discuss money or problems with the property outside the Airbnb site or app. This is for your protection.
Airbnb can’t help you if you communicate with the host separately or try to save a buck by striking a deal outside the service.
I have been traveling since November and, other than a few weeks spent at my daughter’s apartment in Germany, I’ve stayed exclusively in Airbnbs with no major problems. Some have not ended up being somewhere I wanted to stay longer than a week or two, but I always choose properties with flexible cancellation policies to give myself an out if I need it.
Some have been true gems where I stayed happily for several months at a time, despite wishing for an amenity or two that wasn’t included.
As long as you have reasonable expectations and communicate with your host, you’ll find Airbnb to be a great alternative to hostels, hotels, or your family member’s couch.
About the author: Beth Hoke is rejoining the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.
Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.
Beth has been traveling around Europe for nine months. She’s filed posts from six countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia and Madeira, Portugal.