We are big fans of using AirBnB, having stayed in rentals booked through the site in 9 different countries and counting. We’ve been selling the benefits of the site to friends and family often enough that we thought we should write a blog post to share our tips for renting through AirBnB.
While AirBnB allows you to rent a shared room, shared apartment, or complete apartment, we only have experience with the latter. We prefer having our own space.
Whether it’s for a long weekend, a vacation, or long-term travel, there are many benefits to an apartment over a traditional hotel room. Please also see our post on why we choose different accommodation options here. And in our experience, a private apartment can be rented for about the same price, and often less, than a private room at a hostel, and at a substantial discount to a hotel room.
There are other websites where you can find short term apartment rentals, anything from expedia.com to booking.com. There are pros and cons to each, but for this article we’ll focus on AirBnB since we have a lot of recent experience using the site and it’s all part of the “sharing economy” where many rentals don’t fall into the traditional, professionally managed, rental market.
Use the filters
These aren’t chain accommodations, so you can’t assume anything. Want a TV in the room? Gotta make sure. Need wifi? Better double-check. Parking? Maybe, maybe not. AirBnB has one of the better sets of filters for your search results, so check off anything that is a “must have”. Hot tip: Don’t forget to check off air conditioning or heating depending on the season of your destination!
Read the reviews
Similar to above, you can’t assume anything. We’ve made the mistake before of seeing a unit that’s rated 4 or 5 stars, and assumed it’s great. But then we got there and the wifi was unusable, or the air conditioning didn’t work and we sweated our way through the entire stay. Keep in mind that most people want to please others, so aren’t overly critical in their reviews. But if someone says the wifi was a bit slow, expect that it may be very slow. If they say you might need earplugs, expect that you’ll hear everything going on in neighbouring apartments or in the streets below. It may not be that bad, but it’s always better to be pleasantly surprised.
We also have an informal policy of never renting a unit that doesn’t have multiple very positive reviews. Many AirBnB rentals don’t have any reviews at all, which means they are likely not professionally managed and may literally be someone renting out their apartment while they’re away for the weekend. Unless you want to stay in some stranger’s house, limit yourself to units that are obviously investment properties rented out on a regular basis – trust us, it just makes your life easier. Check-in will be smoother and amenities will be better!
Check out the pictures
Seems obvious, right? But keep in mind that pictures sometimes don’t tell the entire truth. Sometimes rooms are smaller than they appear or that amazing garden is not private, but in fact shared with other units in the building. You have to be realistic with your expectations.
The big things we look for are the kitchen (can you see a kettle, toaster, stovetop, fridge?) and, if it’s a studio apartment, we check the bed situation. More than once we have shown up at a rental to find the “bed” is actually just a futon (uh oh!), and in the pictures it’s shown as a couch. Sleeping on a futon or pull-out can be fine for short stays, but may be a deal-breaker for longer stays.
Search for Instant Book Units
On AirBnB, some units are instant book, meaning AirBnB will confirm your reservation immediately. Others, you have to request a booking and wait for the owner to get back to you. Going back to point #2, instant book is more likely to be a professionally managed unit. And why would you want to wait and hope the landlord gets back to you, potentially missing on other rentals if you don’t get a prompt response. Unless it’s for an amazing, one-of-a-kind rental or you’re getting a great deal, just go for Instant Book and make your life easier.
Always confirm check-in details
We’ve made this mistake a few times. You have the address and have let the host know what time you will arrive. Then you arrive at the building, and realize you have no idea what buzzer to use or apartment number to go to. Some hosts are better than others at providing directions, but having your booking confirmation miss some key information is surprisingly common. It’s easily avoided, just plan ahead!
“Essentials” can mean anything
Most units we rent claim to include “essentials”, which is supposed to mean things like towels, linens, etc. But we have found in some cases some obvious basics aren’t included. Such as, there is a kitchenette but no dish towel or dish soap, they’ve left only one roll of toilet paper to last 5 days, etc…. Again, skim through the reviews before booking.
Always compare vs other booking options
As good as the experience we’ve had with AirBnB has been, it’s not always the best option. In Spain, Poland, and Australia, we booked almost entirely through AirBnB. But in Portugal, the Baltics, and the Balkans, we often found that we could rent short term apartments for less through other booking sites.
Read the fine print
Every booking will have “house rules” and a cancellation policy. The house rules are generally nothing to be worried about, covering check-in/check-out times, asking you not to be noisy late at night etc., but occasionally there may be something stranger like “don’t cook bacon”. And yes, that was a rule in one place we stayed.
The cancellation policy varies between Strict, Moderate, and Flexible. Being that it is not a hotel, you will see Strict come up more often than you might like.
Some rentals also include cleaning fees that are in addition to the rental charge and refundable security deposits. These sorts of extra fees are more typical when renting a vacation home or cottage, for example, but can be annoying as more and more people use these rentals for short stays instead of a regular hotel.
It’s the little touches that matter
This is tough to screen for, but can make such a difference between an average or sub-average rental, and a great rental. And if there are any AirBnB landlords or property managers reading this, these are things that can make a huge difference to your prospective tenants/clients.
Surprisingly often in Europe, apartments we have rented don’t have a kettle, so we’ve had to boil water in a pot on the stove. This is a pain because we’re big tea drinkers. Or they have no toaster, although frying bread in a little butter in a skillet can be amazing!
On a bigger scale, we also often screen for rentals with washing machines because it allows us to pack less stuff. But even then, few include a clothes drying rack so, when we find one, it’s a huge bonus. And the rarity of getting a dish drying rack makes us cheer too. In a couple of rentals, we have had a dishwasher, which seems like a huge luxury for us these days!
As we mentioned, we like to occasionally watch TV on the road. Obviously this isn’t a make-or-break thing for us, but many rentals include a high-end flatscreen TV, but then don’t include a cable package. So while you might screen your search results for a TV, you can’t always count on being able to watch anything.
There are also positives, so we don’t want to dwell on the negatives. We’re writing this post in Piran, Slovenia, where the host gave us a small bottle of local wine as a token gift when we checked in. At our AirBnB in the Scottish Highlands, we arrived late so the host gave us a bottle of wine as well as some bread, butter, milk, and jam so that we’d be set for breakfast, just in case we hadn’t had time to shop for groceries.
Be open minded
It’s all part of the experience. If you want North American standards, you may be best off staying in a chain hotel. If you want something a bit different, maybe with a bit of character, AirBnB is a great option. There will always be trade-offs – to get the benefits of an apartment rental (kitchen, lower price, etc.) you may have to put up with the occasional inconvenience or questionable esthetics.