I have now been using AirBnB for over two years and it is one of my favourite ways to book accommodations in a city. Sure, I may stay in the occasional guesthouse or hotel every once in a while, but whenever Sam and I are planning an extended stay anywhere (like say between 1 week to 1 month), we start looking for properties on AirBnB right away.
Over the past 2 years of travel, we’ve stayed in some really unique properties like a cool loft in Chicago, a rustic apartment in one of Berlin’s hippest neighbourhoods, a massive flat in Istanbul (we had family visiting), and many many more.
I’ve recommended AirBnB to family, friends and blog readers alike, but I still get questions from people who seem dubious of the whole concept, so today I thought I’d write about my experiences using AirBnB and how it works. And, no AirBnB isn’t paying me to say anything about them, I just really like the company and I use them any chance I get.
Now let’s get started!
What is AirBnB exactly?
AirBnB is a ‘community marketplace’ where hosts can list accommodations and travellers can find a place to stay. Since the company first started out in 2008, AirBnB has expanded to 190+ countries, 34,000+ cities, and they’ve had a total of 40,000,000+ guests. Wowzahs.
The website allows you to select the city you’ll be travelling to, input your dates, specify how many people you’ll be travelling with, and then it shows you a whole range of options available in the city.
You can then further refine the search by specifying the type of room you’d like to stay in (entire place, private room, or shared room), and zooming in on the map that plots the properties available in your desired neighbourhood.
Things I like about using AirBnB
You can find some really unique listings. I really like the ‘AirBnB Picks’ tab because it allows you to discover some truly unique accommodations. How about sleeping in a lighthouse, or a wagon? A castle, or a shipping container? A yurt, or a yacht? None of those sound good to you? They also have treehouses and windmills, retro trailers and houseboats, geodesic domes and homes of famous authors.
They hold some epic contests to win some pretty memorable stays. AirBnB has made plenty of headlines for the cool competitions where they’ve offered guests the chance to win stays in a KLM airplane turned cosy apartment in Amsterdam, a sky gondola turned hanging bedroom at the Courchevel ski resort in France, and even the chance to win a stay at Andrés Iniesta’s vineyard in Castilla-La Mancha (he’s a footballer for Barcelona FC in case you’re wondering).
You save money if you book for a full week or a full month. One of the perks of booking longer stays on AirBnB (which is what I tend to do) is that you can often get a special rate. Most hosts prefer to have one long-term guest rather than someone who only needs a place for 1 or 2 nights (it’s less work for them), and this results in very affordable rates.
You get to experience a local neighbourhood. Local neighbourhoods mean you have a bakery where you can pick up some breakfast, a corner market where you can shop for fresh produce, and a laundromat where you can haul your dirty laundry. As someone who spends most of the year travelling, I appreciate these little conveniences that make life seem a bit more normal.
You have the chance to play chef in the kitchen. So I may not have a whole lot of interest in whipping up gourmet meals (my husband can attest to that), however, every once in a while it’s nice to cook up a stir-fry or make some pasta. When you rent an entire apartment on AirBnB you have the whole kitchen to yourself, and when you opt for a private room with a shared kitchen most hosts also allow you to cook in their kitchen. (You just have to do your own dishes and make sure things are tidy when you finish.)
I’ve never had the apartment not match the pictures. Knock on wood! So far I’ve only had positive experiences and every apartment has turned out to be like what I envisioned through the photos. Some apartments in big cities have been a little tight, but here’s a tip: If they are shooting their photos with a fisheye lens (the lines in the room will look a little curved), it’s probably because the space is a little small.
It’s so much more affordable than staying in hotels. I think at this point I’ve outgrown hostels (unless I can get a private room in a boutique hostel), so I like being able to stay in a place that’s a bit quieter and has more space. Even though hotels are an option, I find that the rates on AirBnB are much lower and that’s something my wallet appreciates.
Where I’ve stayed with AirBnB
So I’ve been rambling on a bit about AirBnB, but now let me actually show you a few of my favourite places I’ve stayed in over the years:
The cool and colourful loft in Chicago
I spent 1 week in this Chicago loft and it was amazing. This was a private room in an apartment, which meant I had my own bedroom, but spaces like the living room, kitchen, and bathroom were shared with the host. That being said, my host worked during the day and had a very active social life at night, so I usually had the apartment all to myself. I loved the way it was decorated and it was just a short bus ride into the city centre.
The bright and spacious apartment in Prague
I stayed in Prague for a full week and my favourite thing about this apartment was that it was incredibly spacious. It was also located in a quiet residential neighbourhood, which meant I got to experience a more local side of the city. Just across the street, there was a great restaurant where I could get a hearty plate of goulash and bread dumplings with a Pilsner for a little over 5 Euros. Bargain!
The rustic yet modern apartment in Berlin
I rented this apartment in Berlin for a whole month and it felt like home right away. The apartment was located in trendy Prenzlauer Berg just a skip and a hop from Mauerpark (the place to be on a Sunday!), and the neighbourhood had a really fun vibe. There were quite a few university-aged students in our area, which translated into great bars and restaurants. Also, the apartment looked into a central courtyard, so it was very quiet and perfect for getting work done. That little sofa and ottoman with the natural light streaming in became my personal office.
The family-sized apartment in Istanbul
Sam and I rented this family-sized apartment in Istanbul when we invited his Mom for a visit. We probably went a little overboard considering this place had 3 bedrooms and could sleep 6 people (not including the pull out couch in the living room!), however, it was such a great bargain that we booked it even though we didn’t need the whole space. We enjoyed many cups of apple tea and platefuls of baklava and Turkish delight on that table you see.
The vintage studio in Istanbul
This was another great stay in Istanbul (I think we’ve rented 3 or 4 apartments in this city now!) I really liked the way it was decorated with lots of antiques and vintage pieces, and while it was a small studio, it was perfect for 2 people. Also, because this was a very local neighbourhood, we ended up discovering lots of great little family-run restaurants where the prices were a fraction of what you’d pay in the centre of town.
The cosy studio in Paris
Real estate is in high demand in Paris and that means compact apartments are the norm. I ended up renting this place for a few days on my recent trip to Paris, and even though it looks a bit tight, it had everything two people could possibly need. By day the room had a futon and then by night it transformed into a pullout bed. There was also a bathroom (with a tub!) and a small kitchen where we could prepare simple meals.
I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point; AirBnB is a pretty cool way to find accommodations and there are some real gems out there.
Things to know before using AirBnB
Be aware of the type of room you are selecting. AirBnB allows hosts to offer 3 different types of rooms: entire place, private room, or shared room. The classifications are pretty obvious – if you select ‘entire place’ that means you get the whole studio/apartment to yourself; if you select ‘private room’ you’ll have your own bedroom but share communal areas like the kitchen, living room and bathroom; and if you choose ‘shared room’, you’ll be sharing the bedroom with your host, usually in the form of a spare bed, futon, or blow-up mattress on the ground. (I’ve always chosen ‘entire place’ or ‘private room’ because I find sharing a room with a stranger a little uncomfortable.)
Be wary of hosts who ask you to pay money on the side. A host should never, ever ask you to pay money on the side. All transactions are processed directly through AirBnB, so if a host is asking you for cash, there’s something fishy going on. I once had a host decline my reservation yet message me saying that I could still stay at their place if I paid them in cash. Ummm, no…
Check to see if there are additional fees for extra guests. It’s really important that you remember to indicate how many guests are staying in the property because some hosts charge an additional fee for extra guests even if you are staying in the same room. This fee could be just a few dollars or it could be double the original price of the room, so it’s something that you want to be very mindful of when making your booking. You’ll be able to see the total cost of the room when you select the number of guests from the dropdown menu.
Check to see if there’s a cleaning fee. Some hosts charge a cleaning fee so that’s another additional cost that you want to be mindful of when booking a property. You’ll see this additional charge listed in the total when you go to make your booking.
Know that AirBnB does charge a service fee. And of course, AirBnB has to make money somehow, so they do charge a service fee to both hosts and guests for using the service. Again, this fee will be clearly shown in the total when you make the booking.
Read the reviews carefully. Previous guests can leave their hosts a review and share their experiences in the apartment, so don’t skim over these. If you’re on the fence about booking a certain property, read the reviews and see what previous guests had to say.
Don’t forget to check the amenities. AirBnB allows hosts to list the amenities available in the rental unit (ie. access to washer, dryer, pool, cable, free parking, Wifi, etc.) Check these carefully before you book – you wouldn’t want to arrive in a destination in 40C heat to find out your apartment has no AC, or rent a studio and realize it’s on a 6th floor walkup with no elevator. Do your homework and learn everything you can about the apartment before you commit!
Message the host and introduce yourself when you book. AirBnB allows you to message the host before you book or when you book, so this is a good time to introduce yourself, share a little bit about who you are, and maybe tell the host what brings you to their city. Hosts are essentially opening up their homes to strangers, so it’s nice to make a personal connection before you get there.
Ask any questions you may have about the rental. When you message the host, it’s also a good time to ask questions about the rental. Does the apartment have a strong Wifi connection? Do you need to check-in/check-out at a certain time? What’s the best way to reach the apartment via public transport?
Get your Verified ID badge. The Verified ID process is about building trust in the AirBnB community, and some hosts won’t accept your request unless you are verified. You might be asked to upload a photo of your government ID, connect one of your online profiles with your AirBnB account (Facebook, Linkedin, or Google+), or add a phone number.
It’s best to book well in advance. You don’t want to wait until the very last minute to book your property. While some hosts do have the ‘instant book’ option, most don’t, which means you may have to wait up to 24 hours to receive confirmation of whether you request has been approved or declined. If you are booking last minute, it can be a bit stressful to wait for a reply, especially if you get declined and have to start the process all over again. Also, if you are travelling during high season or during a special event, there can be slim pickings the closer you get to the date.
You can read more of my tips for booking with AirBnB for the first time here.
Frequently Asked Questions about using AirBnB
How do you choose a place?
Most of the information you’ll need when making your selection is already on the website, so browse the pictures of the property, look at its placement on the map to ensure it’s in your desired neighbourhood, read through the amenities to make sure it has everything you’ll need, and most importantly, look at the star ratings and read what former guests had to say about their experience.
Do you have to hang out with your hosts?
Again, that depends on the host. I’ve had hosts show up with baklava and coffee as a welcome treat in Istanbul, hosts who sat me down to talk business strategy in New York City, hosts who handed me a key and then disappeared in Prague, and hosts who were neither seen nor heard the whole time I was there. Every host is different but you can usually get a feel of what they’re like by reading their profile and seeing what previous guests had to say.
Do you have to clean the place before you leave?
Most hosts do charge a cleaning fee, but I still like to leave things looking clean and organized before I go. I’ll take out the garbage, wash all my dishes, strip the bed of its linens, and sweep the floors if a broom is provided. I may be a paying guest, but I’m still staying in someone’s home, so I try to leave things looking the way I would like others to treat my home. Also, keep in mind that just like you’re able to review the host, the host is able to review you. If they say you left the place looking like a pigsty, it could affect your chances of securing accommodations in the future.
Can you cancel your reservation if you change your mind?
That depends on the host’s cancellation policy. AirBnB has 6 different cancellation policies and each host can choose one of these policies for their rental. When you’re looking at properties you’ll be able to see the policy listed on the host’s profile and you can click on it to find out exactly what it entails. They range from flexible to super strict. Always read these carefully and if you’re still unsure about your travel plans don’t book anything.
What if something goes wrong or the place is not what was described?
The first step is to speak to the host and give them the chance to try and resolve the problem. However, if you experience a travel issue, AirBnB does have a system in place where you can contact them and they’ll put a hold on the host’s payment. Like I’ve said, I’ve never experienced any problems with AirBnB, but there are steps you can follow if things go wrong during your stay.
What have been your experiences using AirBnB?