How to Choose an Airbnb

Since leaving our homes behind, we’ve lived almost exclusively in Airbnbs. Full time traveling would be a lot harder if we had to stay in boring, small, and expensive hotels. But not all Airbnbs are created equal. This is a good thing! Different styles suit different folks. Through painful experience we have learned some valuable lessons that ensure we find the best places, at the best prices, for our needs. And we’re passing those lessons on, because how-to articles are the gold standard in driving organic traffic to a blog we like you.

First of all, it didn’t take us long to learn that “month stays” netted us the biggest discounts. This actually begins at four weeks, 28 days rather than 30 or 31. Considering many visas permit stays of 30 or 90 days, these 4 week blocks are the perfect length of time to maximize a stay with a few days’ buffer for getting around.

Even so, housing is consistently our biggest expense. So much so that (along with transportation costs) it frequently dictates where what cities we can and can’t choose to live in. We try to book as early as possible to ensure the greatest possible number of options; since we’re looking for such unusually-long contiguous blocks of time, even a single night’s booking can take an ideal place off the table.

 

Our search begins with a place (usually at the city level), a potential block of dates, and a few of our favorite filters like having the entire place to ourself, 1+ bedrooms (no studios), and a reasonable maximum price. Other filters include:

Wifi

Kitchen (verifying via photos the presence of a stove, and optionally, but hopefully, an oven and microwave)

Washer (worth it for the convenience factor and cost-saving)

 

Once we have our pool of candidates, we begin prioritizing and picking our favorites. Price is obviously a key factor. Other considerations include:

Is the neighborhood walkable? We’re often priced out of the tourist core, so we tend to concentrate on the first ring of neighborhoods near the center

Are there nearby grocery stores or markets?

Is it near green space or a waterfront?

Does it have more of a local vibe than touristic one?

Is it off the ground floor? We feel safer higher up, and it cuts down traffic and pedestrian noise

 

And of course we’re also checking each listing for our preferred amenities. Mostly we just verify the host was honest about filters (or location). But we also scrutinize photos to see if we can determine the true size and layout, what kind of kitchen appliances are available, if the shower has curtains (surprisingly rare in some places), and whether there is a separate bedroom with a door (i.e. it’s not a studio masquerading as 1-bedroom).

Airbnb has been pushing “Instant Book” recently. Double check that Instant Book is off to guarantee the most options. Also, not all hosts are amenable to our style of long-term reservations. Sending an advance message lets us ask questions and check that an extended stay is okay.

 

Airbnb Warning Signs

With several years of travel behind us, we’ve only had a couple of dud Airbnbs and have never been left out in the cold. To help keep this streak going, we are wary of:

✘ Hosts requesting communication outside of Airbnb, especially before booking

✘ Ratings below 4.x stars

✘ Brand-new listings (not a deal breaker, but worth extra vetting)

✘ Demand for fees to be paid in cash (often a way to recoup expensive energy costs, but it also opens the door to extortion)

✘ Lack of photos or photos that seem “too good to be true

By this point we’ve probably narrowed it down to a handful of favorites. Now it’s time to comb the reviews. Any noise complaints, issues with the wifi, etc? If the score is below 5 stars, why? Did one guest have a bad experience that was addressed by the host, or is it a worrying trend?

Too few reviews can be a bad sign, but so can too many. Places with a triple-digit number of ratings, especially near transit hubs, can indicate high turnover. This generally means more wear and tear on the apartment.

Currency Conversion

It used to be that Airbnb handled currency conversion on their end (at a pretty crappy exchange rate), but recently they’ve begun allowing customers to specify their own transaction currency. This is far better for us since our credit card handles currency exchange at a fair rate and no foreign transaction fee. Keep an eye on this setting!

Finally, we contact the host to ask about noise levels or anything the listing didn’t clarify. Many times they’ll pre-approve us, and if we’re ready to reserve, we’ll accept. If not, we send a reservation request. Once the host accepts, our card is charged and the reservation is golden.

 

If you want to get started choosing your own Airbnb, sign up here for free credit toward your first reservation!

 

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