Airbnb 101

As my husband and I pulled into the driveway for our first Airbnb adventure in December 2016, I looked over the house that I had seen online, thought about the fact the owners (complete strangers) would also be sleeping in the same home, was very aware of my heart racing, and concluded, “This is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done.”  What were we getting into?  Would we come out alive?!  And, yes, I completely jumped when the neighbor’s large dog suddenly appeared feet away barking ferociously at us (ok, so it was behind a fence…but still).

Airbnb.  A very interesting concept.  To date I’ve stayed in 13 different Airbnb homes (yep, I lived to tell about it).  What drove me to being willing to spend the night in a perfect stranger’s home?  Well, have you ever stayed in a hotel with FOUR YOUNG CHILDREN (one being a screaming baby)?!  I never, ever, ever want to do that again.  Pretty sure I’m scarred for life.  Am I being a bit dramatic?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  So, when I heard of this Airbnb thing, I was curious.  We were contemplating a 13-day family road trip.  Maybe Airbnb would make it actually doable.  But, first I wanted my husband and I to try it out.  So, there we were approaching a stranger’s home.

I absolutely love, love, love Airbnb.  My 13 experiences don’t exactly make me an expert on Airbnb, but it has helped me learn a little that I would like to pass on to you so you too will be willing to try Airbnb.

1. Safer than it sounds

Yes, it feels a little nerve wracking at first (and maybe even later on) to do Airbnb.  But, it is such an adventure.  You get to experience different homes, different layouts, different décor, different artwork, different neighborhoods, and different hosts.

And, it’s safer than it might first sound.  You do not give money directly to the host.  Everything is done online through the Airbnb website.  It’s the middleman so to speak.  You don’t even know the exact address of the Airbnb till after you book it (you know an area beforehand but not the address).  Also, all hosts and guests have to provide a confirmed phone number and a profile picture.  Some will have to provide government-issued ID as well.

I recommend the podcast episode on How I Built This with Guy Raz from August 28, 2017 that features Airbnb.  Quite fascinating to learn the history of this company that has so vastly improved my family’s traveling experiences.

2. Study the pictures

Look over the pictures very well.  Notice artwork.  Notice the feel of the place.  One time I enjoyed staying in a historic row house because I knew it was something I would probably never live in myself.  Here was my chance to experience it for one night at least.

Airbnb

If something seems off or not quite your thing, keep looking.  However, sometimes you might not have much choice.  For us as a family of six there isn’t always tons of options depending on where we’re trying to go.  One time I could tell from the pictures that I didn’t necessarily love the décor or vibe, but the reviews were really good, we needed a place, and there weren’t other options, so I ended up booking it after thoroughly searching.  We had a great time, and it was actually better in person than in the pictures.  No regrets.

One thing to realize with pictures: while “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a picture may also forget to say a thousand other words you wish it had said.  This has only happened with one of our Airbnb experiences but it was quite memorable to us.  Let’s just say, wow to the bathroom.  Nevertheless, even that Airbnb experience makes for some good laughs to this day.  And, the main reason we booked it was the overwhelming reviews saying how much the kids would love it.  The kids did love it (we were right on a lake and got to go fishing and canoeing).  And, so we were happy.  Typically, our Airbnb homes have looked even nicer in person than they did in the pictures.

3. Read, read, read the reviews. ALL of them.

It can be exhausting to read the reviews, but that is where you will find some real direction if this is the place for you or not.  Plus, you will better know what to expect if you do choose the place.  Notice what people aren’t saying as much as what they are saying. Are they mentioning the place is clean?  Good, quick communication with host?  Quiet location?

4. Second pair of eyes

For our family, I am the one that researches potential Airbnb locations.  I love doing that.  However, before actually booking, my husband looks over my suggested selections.  It’s good to have a second pair of eyes (if possible) to see if you have missed anything that would be helpful in determining if this is where you really want to stay.  One time my husband made a very important catch on the “perfect” Airbnb I had found.  I had gotten tired of reading the reviews and had skipped some.  Plus, I had ignored the unfamiliar term “420 friendly” in the title of the Airbnb home.  Well, come to find out, the host was fine with guests smoking marijuana in the house (which is legal in that state) and the place had a strong smell of pot (according to a review I had skipped over).  Soooo, a second pair of eyes is invaluable in my opinion when it comes to booking on Airbnb.

5. Trust your intuition

One time we had a hard time finding a suitable home in the price range we wanted in the location we were searching.  Then, I found a place that looked amazing and was significantly less than anything else.  Also, the place had no reviews yet.  My husband thought something was up, so we skipped it.  I don’t know what was up with that place, if anything, but like anything else, trust your intuition.

6. Coffee, Bath Soap and Good Communication

So, we took our 13-day road trip and had coffee and bath soap at every place as far as I recall.  We recently took a 5-day road trip to a different location and had issues with coffee and soap at each of the three Airbnb homes.   I was a little surprised (and unprepared).  So, if there is something you are depending on the home to have that is not clearly stated in reviews or in the description, check with the host ahead of time.  Or bring you own.  You are not in a hotel.  That said often hosts are very eager to make your stay the best possible, so you could send a quick text to them during your stay.  All of our hosts have been very good with responding quickly.  That is essential for a good experience.  I feel confident booking an Airbnb that has high reviews for good communication.  Personally, I’d steer clear of ones that mention communication being an issue.

7. Good for singles, couples, families

While we have enjoyed several family Airbnb experiences (and the kids LOVE it), we have also enjoyed two just as a couple.  I don’t know that my husband and I will ever stay in a hotel again.  I love Airbnb too much!  It is so nice to be in a home rather than an impersonal hotel room.  And, I’m assuming Airbnb can be a great option for a single person as well.

8. Options: whole house, basement, or just a room

All sorts of Airbnb homes are out there.  You can get a whole house, or basement with a private entrance, or just a room.  You can meet the host to check in or have self-check in with a lock box.  We’ve done all of them.  To some degree, I choose based on what is available.  Depending on where you go, your ideal might not exist.  For me, my ideal is getting the whole house and having self-check-in.  That way I don’t have to worry as much about how loud my kids are being or feel pressured to meet a certain check-in time.  On the other hand, my least favorite option is having just a room…and especially the shared bathroom thing (yes, that awful bathroom I mentioned already was also a shared bathroom…it was quite the experience!).  But, some people probably love sharing a home and interacting with the host a lot.  So, just know what you want.  Try different things.  You’ll figure out your preferences.  A word on staying in basements: typically, you can hear noise above you, at least at some point.  Not a deal-breaker for us, but again, know what to expect.

9. Give thoughtful, helpful, kind reviews

Leaving reviews is key to helping both the host and future guests.  Yet, for me, leaving a review can be hard because I am talking about someone’s home.  It doesn’t get much more personal than that!  Especially if I met the host in person.  I recommend you be very thoughtful in how you leave feedback but that you do actually leave helpful feedback.  From my experience, the hosts seem eager to improve anything that seems in need of change.  Your feedback helps make the experience even better for future travelers.

10. Relive the memories

Have I mentioned how much I love Airbnb?!  We have so many fun family memories at various Airbnb homes.  When we came back from our 13-day family road trip, relatives asked the kids about the trip.  The kids kept telling about all these different Airbnb places we had stayed.  Forget everything else we saw and did on that long trip!  Airbnb was the focus!

Hope you are able to make an Airbnb memory soon too!

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