The wanderlust is strong, y'all. I don't know about you guys, but I love planning trips, real or hypothetical. And honestly, most of my time isn't spent drawing up an itinerary or figuring out what we're going to do. For me, it's figuring out what we're going to eat (priorities, guys) and where we're going to stay.
I can spend hours on Airbnb looking at places — going back and forth on beautiful apartments and villas and homes, looking at island getaways and treehouses and igloos that I'll never stay in. I won't lie — I get the most anxiety out of picking our lodging. There are so many factors you have to consider, especially because safety and cleanliness are big players here, but I won't lie and pretend I don't go full millenial and contemplate the Instagramability of the location.
We've been using Airbnb for about two years now and I rarely use anything else anymore. It's affordable, it gives you a unique way to see the city the way the locals do, and you always have the ability to meet your hosts and get fantastic travel tips that way. If you haven't used it before, treat yourself to a $20 off coupon for your first night and get to makin' those wish lists after reading a few tips I've picked up along the way. At the end, all you'll be saying is "I want to go to there."
TIPS ON BOOKING GREAT AIRBNBS:
- Where do you want to go? Surprisingly, sometimes I'm not really sure where I want to go until I start looking at Airbnbs. I try to get a feel for a place based on the apartments available, and many times, we decide not to go to a place because lodging is out of our price range, or we see that we'd have to stay somewhere inconvenient or gross to afford to go there. Get to looking and building your wish lists and go wherever you can find the best place for the money!
- Pick your price! 100% the best filter on Airbnb is the price filter. My husband and I are still in our (late) 20s, so our budget is usually pretty tiny, and we push it as much as we can depending on where we're going (obviously, certain countries and cities cost more than others). But once you put in your price, also remember to put in your dates, how many people are coming, and see the grand total. Lots of times, some places have "hidden" fees, like extra cost for extra people, or exorbitant cleaning fees, or peak-season prices, and once those are added up, you could be spending twice as much on a place as your budget allows. So make sure to look at that — I wish Airbnb would build this into their search filter but they haven't seemed to get on that yet, so just do a double-take on that price to make sure you don't get your heart set on something you can't afford (been there).
- What can you not live without? There are also filters for "essential" things like internet, parking, air conditioning and then non-essentials, like pools, elevators, kitchens and gyms. What can you not live without? Maybe this varies from vacation to vacation. Most of the time, a place not having internet is a deal-breaker for me, but I have been known to book places without air conditioning — do as the Romans do, after all!
- What is most important to you? This is something that will probably change with each trip, but what is important to you in your lodging? Is it just a cheap place to rest your head? Do you need to be close to the action and in an optimal location? Perhaps you want a quiet, isolated place, or amazing views. How much time do you plan to be spending in your Airbnb? Will you be spending most of your vacation inside of it, or is it just your control center until you run off to the next activity? For me, price, cleanliness and cuteness are always my priorities, though I've been known to settle on cuteness for location.
- Cool with sleeping on a couch? OK with sharing a space while traveling? There are a few quirks to Airbnb that don't usually apply to hotel lodging, and this is because you're staying in people's homes, typically! Firstly, not every place has a bed. Sometimes, Airbnbs will count a couch or a sofa bed as the place where you will lay your head, especially if you're traveling in a large group. This can easily be filtered out if that's not your style. Airbnb also gives you the option to rent out an entire house/apartment, private room or shared room. We typically try to find an entire house/apartment unless it's out of our price range for that city, and sometimes private rooms will be for places like bed & breakfasts. But if you're an adventurous traveler and don't mind making new friends quickly, you can surely try the shared room option, or just rent out a room in someone's home, and interact with them while you're staying there! I've never done the shared room option, but I've used the private room option before (though we always make sure we have our own bathroom and a lot of privacy), and sometimes it's a great way to get to know new people.
MORE TIPS ON BOOKING GREAT AIRBNBS:
- Fine-tune your wish list One of my absolute favorite things to do on Airbnb is make wish lists. Sometimes I make them for hypothetical trips that I don't even know that I'll ever take! I typically pick a place, pick my budget (maybe mark some filters, like internet or parking), fine-tune my location (I do this on the map view) and start adding things to a new wish list. I go through all the options in the search results and add them to my wish list based on looking at a few pictures, and then I turn to my wish list and start culling. I'll open every Airbnb option from my wish list, get a quick look at reviews, location and look through all the pictures, and then slowly remove things, typically comparing it to the best one I've seen so far. Then I'll usually make notes on the wish list, highlighting the best and worst things about the place, and noting which one is my top choice. You can also share your wish list with whomever you're traveling with! If I'm going in a group, I'll also make sure to write down how much it will be per person, per night.
- Read the reviews! Airbnbs are rated on a 5-star system. There is an overall 5-star review, and then it is broken down by things like location, value, accuracy, communication, cleanliness and check-in. Which one is the most important to me? Definitely cleanliness. I can stay in a remote location, I can deal with something not being the best value, but I will not stay in a dirty place, and even something that's rated 4-stars on cleanliness is pushing it for me. Read through the reviews, especially if there aren't many, and of course, make sure to translate them all so you can actually read them!
- Take a good look at the pictures We all know that photos can be misleading, so be extra dilligent about this when looking through the top spots on your wish list. For our first Airbnb, my husband and I accidentally booked a place that only had a sofa bed because I did not notice that the place in the pictures with the sofa and the place with the bed were the same place — and I also didn't look and see that there was no bed listed, as I mentioned above. Sometimes you'll also notice that there are certain things missing from the picture, like a bed if there's more than one bedroom, or a kitchen. Also, bad lighting doesn't mean the place is awful, so try to get past that.
- Start contacting the hosts, and don't use "request to book" I never, ever use the "request to book" option on Airbnb. Why? Because usually I have 2-3 places I'd like to stay, and if I'm booking a trip at the last minute, I don't have time on my side. Instead, I message all the hosts of the properties where I want to stay with my dates and the number of guests, and just kindly ask if their place is available (and include any questions I might have, and compliments on what I like about their space). This also shows me if they're quick to respond, because communication will become very important as you head off to your destination. This way, you can get pre-approval from multiple hosts, if you're lucky, and get to narrow down places yourself. Some hosts don't do a great job of filling out the calendar of when their place is available, so contacting them ahead of time saves you time, and if the place isn't available, you can just hope the other places you contacted are!
- Do a final read-thru Once you get pre-approval for one or more properties, do a final read-through of all the things the host wrote about, their house rules, any hidden fees, and the reviews. I've seen properties that tried to ask for a cleaning fee outside of the Airbnb price, or say that no children were allowed, or note that they didn't yet have Internet but it would be installed in the next few months. This is just a good cover-your-ass move to make sure there isn't anything you missed!
- Book it, and tell a friend! Once your host response and approves you, book away and get excited! Brag about it to your friends! And if your friends are jealous, send them a coupon code to sign up with Airbnb, duh. Feel free to use mine if haven't used Airbnb before — it's for $20 off your first night!
SOME OF MY FAVORITE AIRBNB EXPERIENCES:
- Cottage in Copenhagen: Our trip to Copenhagen was amazing on its own, and our super Scandinavian cottage made it even better. Our host was sweet, the place was beautiful and we event rented bikes for the best way to see Copenhagen.
- Poolside villa in Tuscany: My mom and grandmother visited last September, and I wanted the perfect Tuscan getaway, with a villa feel, olive trees and a pool. Podere Marchiano did not disappoint, and it remains my most-recommend spot to this day!
- Bay windows in Malta: When we went to Malta, we wanted something near St. Julian's Bay for easy access to tours, and a nice view. Our seafront pad fit the bill, was crazy clean and modern, and was perfectly located.
- Lakefront digs on Lake Como: We wanted a quiet, relaxing vacation when we went to the beautiful, ritzy Lake Como in Italy, and Villa Lina was perfect. I chose it because of it's combination of modern decor with old Italian touches, and it's serious lakefront view.
- Cobblestone streets in Paris: I really wanted to stay in Le Marais when we did our spring trip to Paris, and though our apartment was super small and is the one I mentioned with the sofa bed, it had charm enough to make up for it.
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.