It’s holiday-booking season! Airbnbs are a very popular accommodation choice, but the wide variety available means that it’s easy to get caught out when trying to choose the perfect one for your trip. I’ve got plenty of experience booking Airbnbs – I’ve stayed in 11 now (6 in Italy, 2 in Edinburgh, 1 in Bath, 1 in the Lake District and 1 in Poland). So, here are my top tips on things to check for when searching for your perfect Airbnb.
Probably the most obvious, and most important, tip is to think carefully about location. This can be hard when you’re planning to visit a city you’ve never been to before. Once you’ve decided to go to a certain city, have a look at it on Google maps and familiarise yourself with its layout – where’s the centre, where’s the tourist attractions or historic sites, is there a business district? Then, when you’re looking at different Airbnbs, you’ll have a better grasp on which locations are best.
The great thing about Airbnb is that it’s possible to book places which are really close to the centre of town. Buses can be a nightmare to navigate in a foreign country, and taxis obviously get expensive, so you really want somewhere within a decent walking distance to the centre of town – and the train station, if that’s how you’re travelling.
2. The Host
Look out for the ‘superhost’ badge. This means that the host has had many people to stay and has received lots of good reviews. If a host doesn’t have this badge, but they still have many pages of reviews and a high average rating, you still know they’re a good one. Be wary of places with no reviews, or only a couple. It may just mean that they’ve only just set the place up (which they might acknowledge in the description), but you don’t want to get scammed.
You can also click on the host’s name and see how many properties they own that are listed on Airbnb. This could be a good way to find an alternative place which you like even better! This is also a way to detect a company which is using Airbnb to market their properties. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you may get a high level of professionalism. However, I’ve seen this happen where you had to travel to a central office to pick up your keys. You also won’t get the same authentic feeling of staying in a local’s own place.
3. ‘The Aesthetic’
Try not to be too dazzled by lots of beautiful photos of tastefully decorated rooms and instagram-worthy interiors. And don’t worry – I’m more than guilty of doing this myself! Of course a visually beautiful, carefully decorated apartment is lovely. But my point is that it is far more important that the place has the essential facilities that you need. When you are staying there on your trip, you’ll care far more about whether the place has wifi or a table to sit and eat at than the artwork on the walls and the tiling in the bathroom.
Similarly, don’t let non-aesthetic photos automatically put you off. It’s surprising how off-putting a luridly colourful duvet cover can be! The same goes for low quality photos. Whilst this can potentially be a bad sign, if you can still see that the place is nice, it has good reviews and it’s priced well, there’s no reason not to go for it.
Similarly, lots of places offer nice extras – stocking the fridge with a few goodies, providing Netflix on the TV, giving you local advice and recommendations, even including breakfast if the hosts live nearby! All this stuff is wonderful – but it’s important to firstly prioritise location, price and facilities.
5. Air Conditioning
In my opinion, if you are visiting a hot country in the summer, this should be your number one priority when choosing your Airbnb. Booking the place on a chilly spring day in the UK, it’s easy to forget how exhausting, uncomfortable and pervasive very hot weather can be. If you deal badly with the heat, having an apartment with no AC has the power to seriously ruin your trip. (Trust me – just picture trying to sleep when it’s still well over 30 degrees Celsius inside your bedroom). On the contrary, a modern, perfectly working, effective air conditioning unit will make you very comfortable at the end of a long day out and about under the sun.
So – this might all sound obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to get caught out. Hosts can put air conditioning on their list of amenities without specifying exactly what type – and this can make all the difference. AC units vary – and homes don’t usually have them in the UK, so we’re not exactly experts. I stayed in one apartment which purported to have AC on its Airbnb page. In reality, this consisted of a standing fan by the bed and a huge standalone unit which created almost no difference and constantly leaked water into a bowl.
The trick is to look closely at the photos. You’re looking for AC units which are placed high on the wall. These are professionally installed, remote-controlled and they actually work, across the entire apartment.
Big free-standing units can work well, but as I said, I’ve had a bad experience with one not being very effective. And in my experience, fans – whether ceiling or plug-in – aren’t really good enough when it’s really hot.
6. The Photos – examine them closely
Try and piece together the place in your mind. Where will we sit and relax after a long day out? Where will we sit and eat? Is there enough counter-space to prepare dinner? Is there a microwave or oven? Is there a dishwasher or washing machine (if you think you’ll need one)? If you like to write or draw whilst travelling, does it have a desk or table? Is this a large studio-type set up or does it have separate rooms? Again, this sounds obvious, but it’s funny how different apartments can be to how you imagined them.
7. The Reviews – read them thoroughly
This is where you can find out things you might wish you’d known if you end up having an unpleasant trip! Skim through all the ‘we had an amazing stay’ and look for the details. Read at least a few pages of the reviews to get a full picture. Things you might look for include:
a) Temperature – if this is a hot country, do people say that the apartment was cool? If it might get cold, do they say the apartment was cosy and warm once you turned the heating on?
b) Noise – look for people saying ‘it was lovely and quiet’. You won’t really want to stay somewhere above a noisy bar or busy road.
c) Location – is it near a supermarket or convenience store? Cafes, bars or restaurants? Is it near a bus or metro stop, or how long does it take to walk into town?
d) Car parking – if you’re travelling by car, was there decent parking included, or on the road outside, or nearby?
e) How comfy the bed is and how dark the bedroom is at night.
f) The water pressure of the shower.
h) How well-stocked the kitchen equipment is, if you’re planning on cooking.
g) ‘A lot bigger/Even nicer than it looks in the photos!’
Similarly, when you write your review, try to think of what you actually wanted to know about the place, and include those details.
8. How the host responds to negative feedback
This is a minor point. But if someone points out that the kitchen didn’t have much common cooking equipment in it, does the host graciously say ‘thanks for pointing that out’, or do they get defensive and offer no solutions? This could be a small indication of how welcoming, accommodating or understanding the host will be. If anything goes wrong, that could be important.
When you search on Airbnb, you get a map covered in little tags for each apartment, each showing a price per night. These prices can be extremely misleading! Often they increase once you put in your specific dates, as, understandably, hosts charge more in the summer.
Furthermore, the majority of hosts will add on additional charges. This may be cleaning charges, city tourism tax or other miscellaneous amounts. It’s common for hosts to set a fairly low daily charge (which will appear on the map) to entice you to click on the property, and then add a substantial amount on. You are also required to pay a certain amount to Airbnb which acts as insurance. All this means that those properties which appeared cheap may be anything but.
The best way around this is make a shortlist of your favourite places and write these down, including the actual total cost: for your specific dates, including every additional charge. Then you can compare the total cost of all your favourite places, and let that help you choose.
10. Search Around
Once you choose your favourite Airbnb, it’s worth doing a Google search of the name of the place – sometimes properties are advertised on other sites too, or hosts even have their own websites, and you might be able to get a cheaper rate this way.
Happy hunting, and good luck!