I initially heard of AirBnB through a friend who liked to spend his time abroad but was tired of staying in overpriced and under-accommodated hotel rooms. Although I was familiar with online services for couch-surfing and hostel-living, both of which I was hesitant to try for safety reasons, the overwhelming success of AirBnB was enough for me to at least download the app. What could it hurt, anyways?
I was pretty tired of staying at dingy motels with threats of bed bug infestations and decided to finally step-up my traveling game. AirBnB allows property owners to rent out their various spaces to those passing through. I was immediately impressed with how easy it was to navigate through the app itself. Not only did it allow for a multitude of personal choices, it let me interact with other users and renters through a simple chat feature. With a few more clicks, I was all set to be housed up by a couple living in downtown Chicago for a spur of the moment weekend trip. I was hooked.
A year later, I’ve become a committed AirBnB devotee and haven’t booked a hotel room since. From renting out an entire house with 18 of my closest friends (it was pretty much like being on The Real World, minus the cameras), to staying in a tiny inner-city apartment with four other strangers, I’ve learned the ins and out of finding frugal, yet accommodating, hospitality. Here are the secrets to ensuring your AirBnB experience meets exactly what you’re looking for, from a cozy cabin in Iceland to an affordable rooftop in New York City.
Just like a coworker suggesting a restaurant, we are more inclined to chose something if it’s been recommended to us. AirBnB follows the same principle and utilizes feedback so you can see just how many people have stayed at a particular residence and their honest thoughts about their experience.
Make sure you read through both the five star responses as well as the low ones to get a feel for the room you’ll be staying in. (Is it actually a ten minute walk from the train? Or is that only if you’re 6’5” man with exceptionally long strides?) Keep in mind the number of feedback entries as well. A residence with 300 responses is clearly more popular than one with five or six…there must be a good reason for that. If you’re feeling bold and want to pinch a few more pennies, you can always contact a new AirBnB member and ask for a discount while staying there to help build up their reviews.
The perks of staying in someone’s home are that you’re often able to use the amenities available to you, such as a full kitchen and living space. If you’re looking for something in particular, like a gym to squeeze in a workout between museums or even a garage to keep your car, clarify these details in your searches to ensure you’re getting the most suitable results. Many hosts are more than willing to provide you with additional items such as bath towels and toiletries. Yet, double check these details so you’re not left with greasy hair and zero shampoo.
Paying a little bit extra to guarantee a prime location can end up saving you in the long run. Instead of spending money on bus fares and travel fees (looking at you, Uber surcharge), splurge on a higher rent to find a residence that’s closer in proximity to the majority of your expeditions. This is also a way to take note of the safety within your area.
It doesn’t hurt to do a quick check of the crime rate of your host’s location. (I’ve read that you should Google the closest Whole Foods to your spot to verify the safety of a particular neighborhood…doesn’t hurt to try). There have been a time or two when I’ve ended up in dark ally because I was unaware that I had been staying in a less-than-glamorous part of the city. This is a mistake I won’t make again.
Since properties are owned by various hosts, check-in and check-out times can vary dramatically. If you need to discuss a change to the set hours, make sure you do so far in advance. Even then, hosts have to make sure there is no overlap time between visitors and might not be able to accommodate your request. Hosts may also include a list of rules particular to their place. I’ve seen multiple hosts request that you not walk around the premises in your underwear. I’m not entirely sure who’s to blame for this becoming a trend, but keep minor regulations like this in mind. Throw in some sweatpants to keep your bum (and your security deposit) covered.
Along with time, take note of any additional fees. The AirBnB service itself will cost you around $30 added onto the final amount. Additional guests can bump you up another $100, so think twice before bringing home that guy you met seven drinks ago. Others might charge a clean-up fee or a security deposit.
Personally, I’ve found that I was able to bypass these charges traveling alone. However, larger groups might need to be more aware of any damages or messes they cause and how that will increase your overall spending. Make sure the possibilities of additional charges are clear and ask your host ahead of time how to earn your initial security deposit back. Keep these responses handy in case of miscommunication later on.
To further your savings, consider staying in an apartment that either has other visitors or the host themselves there. I’ve found that I rarely see hosts when I’m staying with them, and when I do see them it was nice to have someone nearby to answer any questions…even if it’s just to guide me to the best deep dish pizza is in town. Having a personal contact for the city can help you get better acquainted during your visit.
Many hosts are excited to have you visit and are more than willing to share the hidden gems of their neighborhood. However, this does mean sharing a space and not always having access to certain areas. Though, personally, I spend limited hours in my room when traveling and typically just need a comfy bed to restore my energy for the next day. On the other hand, if you’re set on renting out an entire place, the price might increase but you will have the flexibility to truly ‘move in’ and make yourself at home. This works best if you’re staying with a large group and would like the run of the land.
AirBnB allows travelers to truly immerse themselves in their adventures by letting them live like locals rather than being holed up in a conventional hotel room. Not only will it allow you to save some extra cash so you can afford that excursion you’ve been dreaming of, it also gives you a host to open you up to the insider’s experience you can’t always find on TripAdvisor. Happy Travels!
While I’ve used AirBnB numerous times in the states, I just booked my first AirBnB abroad for the ten days I’ll be spending in Madrid and Barcelona this March. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my experience!