Have you got a holiday planned? Going somewhere for a long weekend? Heading to a conference or, as I sometimes do, tacking on a couple of days after a business trip?
Instead of using a hotel, why not try out Airbnb? Haven’t used it before? No problem – read on!
The first time I used Airbnb was in Macau, China. I was booked for a day of work, and decided I would stay a couple of days afterwards and play tourist. But I didn’t realise when I’d booked my flights that Macau is the ‘Las Vegas of China’, and pretty expensive to stay in. A friend suggested I try Airbnb for a cheaper room…and I haven’t looked back.
I’ve written about my experiences a few times on Wherever the Wind Takes Me, and quite a few people have asked me what Airbnb is, and how you use it. Here’s a handy guide which will walk you through it and make sure you have a great stay. If you have any questions, pop them in the comments and I’ll see if I can help.
There’s also a £16 credit HERE to get you started!
Airbnb is a ‘peer-to-peer’ website website where people list, find and rent lodging (wiki says it has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities in 190 countries. Pretty impressive – and it’s still growing). Peer-to-peer means that Airbnb don’t own any of the rooms themselves, rather, they help hosts and guests to find each other and use each others’ services.
Where to Start
The first thing to do is to decide what you are looking for, and where. Do you want a shared room (with a stranger), a private room in a house where someone is living, or the place to yourself? (I personally can’t imagine booking the first one for myself, but I have stayed happily in both the latter.)
How long do you want the lodging for? With so many listings, there’ll be a host (or many) who will meet your needs, whether you’re looking for a night, a weekend, a week or something more long term. Quite a few digital nomads that I know use it for stays of one to two months when they hit a new city as it’s an easy way to find a short-let.
Set Up Your Airbnb Profile
When I started, I thought having a complete profile was more important for hosts than for guests, but I was wrong. The website is set up to make sure that both guests and hosts are able to choose who stays with them – both parties review each other.
If you’re a guest, these reviews show up under your profile, so when you want to stay somewhere, your prospective host can check you out in the same way you can check them out. And they can refuse your booking!
It’s easy enough to set up – just fill in the various fields. Put in a bit about yourself – it doesn’t have to be an essay, but it shows you’re a real person. I also have a little about the kind of traveller I am (and that I’m clean and tidy, can’t help right?!).
I also recommend getting your ID verified, which helps hosts to know you have been through at least a limited checking process. I had to upload a government ID, and I also have my airbnb connected to my Facebook profile (although others can’t see that, airbnb can see the history there and so it helps to show you are ‘real’). This sometimes takes a little time, so it’s worth doing this in advance of booking your first place.
Book Your Lodging: Tips on how to narrow down your choice
Get back to the airbnb home page and fill in the following fields:
- Where do you want to go
- Check in
- Check out
- How many guests
This will make sure that all the properties you’re shown are available for the time period you want, and are in loosely the right place.
2. Choose Room Type and Your Price Range
For me, the room type (as described above, shared, private, entire place) depends a bit on the purpose of my trip, though I sometimes circle back to it depending on price. In Macau, my budget meant that a private room in someone’s space, whilst sharing their living room etc, was the most realistic option. You can see the average price in grey on the ‘price range’ bar which can be really useful.
3. Use the Map
This helps with location – in Portland I was attending a workshop, and wanted to be within walking distance of that, which put me in a more local neighbourhood rather than in the centre of the city.
You can move the map around by dragging and dropping, or you can click on the +/- to zoom in or out.
Read through the full listing
Putting in your dates, and tips #1/2/3 should have narrowed down your options, so now you need to start looking at the details. Don’t just skim here. You need to read all the info on the listing. The next few tips will help you to pick out the most useful details to review:
4. Check Your ‘Must-Haves’
I need wifi. It’s not optional given I work on the road. The ‘Amenities’ section will show you what the property offers, and what it doesn’t offer (anything crossed out in faded grey). At times I have also needed parking, a washing machine, and wanted a pool, so you can use the amenities section to make sure the property you are looking at has what you need.
5. Look at the Star Rating
The star rating is at the top, next to the description and the location of the lodging. If you click on it, it breaks down into:
- Accuracy – did the description on Airbnb match what was actually there
- Communication – did the host communicate quickly and efficiently with the guest
- Cleanliness – was the property clean
- Location – was it a good location
- Check in – was the check in process straightforward
- Value – did it feel like value for money
I have a quick look at this first, before I dive into the reviews. If the property has less than 3.5 stars, I tend to ignore it.
6. What are the Property’s Reviews Like?
Actually, first of all, do they have any reviews?
I’m a single female traveller for the most part, and I don’t want to be the first person to try a property. Which is not to say I think it’s especially dangerous to do that – and you will often find some excellent deals on properties that are new and are looking for reviews, and lower their price to entice travellers to stay with them – but it’s just not worth the small risk I’d be taking to do that for me.
I tend to look for properties with at least five reviews – enough that it’s not just the host’s buddies all reviewing it for them. I skim through all the reviews (most recent first), see if there are any other travellers like me (similar age, single, female, or even working while travelling), and get a feel for their experience. Are they mentioning things that I’m interested in? Any red flags? Is there a bit of detail in the reviews?
7. Who is the Host?
If I’m going for a private room in a shared house, then I read the host’s profile (found under ‘About the host’ at the bottom of the listing). This is variable – sometimes you get a lot, sometimes not much at all. But it might tell you why they are letting out their room and who they are. I have also found some hosts who have multiple properties, and this can be useful as another place to search. Some hosts also have the ‘superhost’ badge which is a great sign.
8. Check the Real Price
The price might be stated as $100 a night, but there will also be a ‘service fee’ which is the fee charged by Airbnb, and there may also be a one off ‘cleaning fee’. I’m comfortable with both of these (though a very high cleaning fee would put me off – look at a handful of similar properties to see what is typical to gauge this). You may also have to pay a security deposit.
You need to add all these charges together to make sure you have the actual price – don’t just go on the ‘$100 per night’ on the main page as this doesn’t tell the whole story.
9. Look for a Verified ID
As with guests, hosts should also have the verified ID badge. I wouldn’t stay with any host who hadn’t done this basic ID check.
10. Check the Cancellation Policy
Hosts are able to set these for themselves – some hosts are fine, for some it’s a bigger deal, but all will be detailed on their page. Remember that these aren’t big hotels, but individual proprietors, often with one or two rooms/properties, and be respectful.
The Big Question: Is Using Airbnb Dangerous?
There’s some risk – but I think in general you can manage that risk. If you follow the above tips – especially ensuring your host has a verified ID and plenty of reviews, then it’s as legitimate as any small Bed and Breakfast.
Be sensible, of course – I probably wouldn’t stay with a single man in a shared property myself, and you could also consider whether or not you leave your valuables in the property when you’re out.
There are certainly some horror stories that the media has picked up, but given the number of properties and stays that the site handles, statistically you are bound to have some of these. But I think you can go a very long way to making sure you don’t face those issues yourself.
You’ve Picked Your Dream Lodging – Now What?
Send your host a note to check that the property is still free and that they are happy to have you as a guest. You can send a few of these at once if you have questions about a property.
Remember it’s two way – I usually point hosts towards my various online presences so they know I’m a traveller (because of this travel blog) and a ‘real’ person (I know, the irony that I’m using my online presence to do this is noted).
If it’s your first stay you won’t have any reviews of your own so a complete profile and a note with some info is more important.
How do you pay?
Once your host has confirmed they’re happy for you to stay, you can send through a request to book. That takes you to the payment page, handled handled through the website (no cash is exchanged onsite). You should still wait for the confirmation back from the host to ensure you are booked in and confirmed.
Know what the check in procedure is
Once you get the confirmation, you should confirm check-in procedure with your host. In my experience, hosts usually send a standard email or note at this point with all the details – the best was for an apartment I rented in Malaysia, which had an entire travel guide about the area, with eating, shopping, travel and many other suggestions.
The minimum you need is to confirm when you will arrive, and how you will get the key. Don’t assume that the host will automatically be in – they’re living a life, not hotel staff, and so you need to make sure you’ve agreed a plan in advance.
When you’re there
If you’re staying in a shared space, then remember you’re in someone else’s home, and clean up after yourself. Your host should tell you which are the areas that you can use, so don’t just wander into their bedrooms if they’re not there – remember they will also give you a review!
Why use Airbnb?
I’ve loved meeting new people in the two places in Macau and Portland where I’ve booked a room in someone’s house. The two couples I stayed with were interesting people with their own stories to tell, who made me feel very welcome, but also respected my privacy.
It’s great having a source of local information – I went out for supper with one of the couples to a restaurant I would never have known about on my own, and have had numerous recommendations of cool and funky places to eat, visit and shop from all the different hosts, even the ones I didn’t end up meeting in person. It opens up a whole new world knowing someone local.
Get £16/$25 Off Your First Stay
As you can probably tell, I highly recommend Airbnb, and, despite being a bit nervous before I used it the first time, have had some amazing experiences, and will continue to use it in future, all over the world.
I hope a little of my enthusiasm has rubbed off, and this guide makes it a little easier for you. If you’re planning to use it for the first time, I would love it if you used this credit towards your stay. If you use it, we both get a little off our next stays – perfect!
My Airbnb Stays So Far:
Laurelhurt, Portland, room in a house: Airbnb listing
Malaysia, next to the Petronas towers, apartment to myself: Airbnb Listing;