Ever curious and hungry for adventure, Elaine Masters is a passionate traveler and digital storyteller. As founder of Tripwellgal.com she thrives on variety, from following fishing trends to cocktail culture and uncovering unsung destinations. Elaine hunts for stories, pictures, and video across the planet from her San Diego base. A scuba diving and seafood fanatic, she agrees with Helen Keller that, "Life's an adventure or nothing."
Choosing to stay at an Airbnb can be a vacation's salvation, a refuge for the night. Or a nightmare. To crib an aphorism, "It's all in the details." And the expectations.
The founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, came up with the idea as a way to help pay their rent. They transformed their San Francisco living room into space for three and even offered guests breakfast. Flash forward ten years and their company brings travelers over 2 million listings in 191 countries.
If you haven't tried this app, it's a unique way to personalize your accommodations. These points will help you make the best choices.
The first thing Airbnb will ask you to do is set up a profile, to publish a few words about yourself and what you do. Don't be alarmed by the personal questions; one of the site's strengths is presenting opportunities for experiences and relationships. You may not necessarily want to hang out with your hosts, or they with you, but proximity encourages tolerance, and Airbnb is really about the win-win.
Hosts are often happy to provide local recommendations that might have escaped Yelp or TripAdvisor, that an over-worked concierge wouldn't be able to tailor to your interests. Knowing how much interaction you are comfortable with or crave is an important prerequisite to Airbnb offering you appropriate options.
Be realistic about what kind of traveler you are. If you're a solo woman, the place may be beautiful and affordable -- but are you comfortable with sharing an apartment and bathroom with a male host? If you're an amorous couple, don't be swayed by saving money and slip into someone's living room for a week. Make sure you have a private space.
As you get familiar with the site's options, you can find the perfect setup. Look carefully through the different Airbnb tabs as you search.
If your trip is a multi-generational get-away, having an entire flat or home to yourself could be much more fun than booking a suite of linked rooms in a hotel. The family can cook together,, and if you want amenities like access to a gym or a swimming pool, look for them. Know that value is going to be reflected by location and season. Prices may also go up if there's a popular event taking place nearby at the time you're trying to book.
Try to schedule your Airbnb well in advance, but don't dismiss last minute flings either. Finding a reasonable space in San Diego during Comic-Con is especially difficult in the weeks leading up to the event. In Manhattan, you will pay a premium based on location; flats closer to central hubs are generally more expensive than those that may be a trolley ride away. If you like walking, how far will you be from the places on your itinerary? Can the destination cater to your Uber-obsession or is it close to buses and trains?
Hosts have a chance to showcase their homes on Airbnb, and most relish decorating and presenting what makes their abode special. Don't dismiss the host who doesn't offer the perfect lighting, but look instead at the furnishings. Are they a fun match for your style? It may seem that IKEA furnishes most Airbnb spaces around the world, but there are gems out there too. Imagine a private apartment in a WWII building set with prints in antique frames, embroidered linens, and windows looking across the river at Budapest's Parliament building -- all for a fraction of what it costs to rent a tiny hotel room on the other side of the river. Notice, too, if the rental pictures are taken with a wide-angle lens (the outer edges will bow slightly towards the center -- a Go Pro giveaway). A wide-angle shot is a great way to get everything into the picture, but it can also make a small space seem grandiose.
Not all hosts are created equal. What one host lives with may be very different than your standards, for better or worse. They have expectations just as you do, and the reviews will provide important information. Note how many have been written and compare that with how long the host has been in business. If they've offered a listing for a year and there are only 3 reviews, there are probably reasons their place is not popular.
That said, if someone's a new host, they won't have many reviews. In that case, pour over the photos. Are there only a few? Are they clear? Can you see the entrance? Look at the general neighborhood in relation to what you want to see and available transportation (you won't receive the address until you've booked). The flip side is that you will be reviewed as well. Hosts are more secure in booking someone with positive reviews, but they often won't hold an absence of reviews against new app users. Don't treat the space as you would a hotel: wash your dishes, strip the bed, pile up the garbage. The host will love you for making their job easier.
After each stay you'll be expected to give your host a review and Airbnb will remind you over and over about it until you do. Reviews don't have to take a lot of time, but know they're really at the heart of making the system work. You'll be asked to leave a public and a private review. Take advantage of the privacy to let your hosts know how they're doing and what they can improve on specifically. Be timely in your responses. The hosts will review you as well and neither of you will see the other's until you've both submitted.
Don't dismiss Airbnb as a budget traveler's resource. If you have a special occasion coming up, there are accommodating places happy to cater to your whims. Just look. Just ask. You can query a host about what you are planning before booking. Special places are being added weekly. You'll find tree houses, yurts, and even private islands. Know a bit about the area you are renting in too. If a city has outlawed short-term rentals, what are the odds that the beach house you've booked for a bachelor night will be much more than basic and that the police won't be breaking up the party before it begins?
Airbnb is here to stay, and the competition is catching on. Several hotel chains have started offering home stays with extra amenities for their high-end clients. If that sounds like a match for you, great. That leaves more nights available on Airbnb for those in search of homier accomodations.