I have to confess something to you that I haven’t told anyone…ready? I never used Airbnb before heading out on this journey.
Nope, I hadn’t. It just wasn’t of interest to me. I had my “go to” sites for accommodations which were Homeaway and, occasionally, VRBO. I used them several times when going to Walt Disney World and a few other locations. They hadn’t let me down and I was good to keep using them forever until… I began asking people how they found affordable housing in foreign locations and the answer usually started with Airbnb. It really made me wonder what Airbnb had over these other sites and it all went uphill from there. Maybe you’re not familiar with Airbnb or perhaps, like me, you didn’t pay it much mind as an option for you. Well, stick around because this is for you.
Airbnb Stands Out From the Crowd
One of the first things I noticed in differences between Airbnb and Homeaway is that the fees were dramatically less on Airbnb. There were less fees overall, meaning Airbnb has a cleaning and service fee while Homeaway has “Managers” fees which combines a cleaning and booking fee. Homeaway also has a service fee in their pricing. In addition to the compounded fees, the fees that are included in the price seem to be less than fees on the other sites.
Another major difference is the option to reserve a private room in someone’s home verses reserving an entire home. I had no idea this was an option. I truly assumed that all of these sites only catered to staying in entire homes or condos. It doesn’t stop there, though. There’s also the option to stay in a “common” or “shared” space on Airbnb. This means you can stay in someone’s living room, as an example. I, honestly, don’t think I’d ever be so bold…or so carefree…not sure which it is. It’s just not my jam but I love that there are choices.
The final thing I noticed is that the rates for Airbnbs are lower. Period.
Pulled to the Dark Side
Since experienced travelers kept whispering “Airbnb…airbnb” and I was looking to make our travels fun and cost efficient I decided to give it a try. Our first stop was in Mexico City. I really didn’t want to spend a ton of money there so I began my search. My main requirements for temporary housing are at minimum, one bedroom (with a door), clean and nice. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot but that knocks out the “common” and “private” room options. After setting my price and my “home type” I was ready.
I settled on a condo in the Centro Historico area of Mexico City. It was the cutest one bedroom apartment in a brand new building with security doors and a 24 hour door man. The price for 3 nights was less than one night at a standard hotel in any major city in the U.S. We had a full kitchen with a bar area where my son did his school work, a living room set up with a sofa bed, television and Netflix, a bedroom with a full bed and tons of bedding, and a nice sized bathroom. The decor was cute and welcoming and we felt comfortable there. Bingo!
Since my first Airbnb rendevous, I have used them for every stay I’ve booked since. I even have one booked for my next trip. I’ve had great experiences and highly recommend using Airbnb. The thing is, I’ve heard of people having some really bad experiences and that sucks! In my time using Airbnb I’ve learned a few tricks. I know it’s important to have reliable and safe accommodations, especially when traveling with kids so I want to share mine with you.
Pictures Say Everything…Sometimes
Pictures are your friend. In fact, one of the first things I do is look at the pictures. Of course, they grab your attention and cause you to pass by or click for more. When one catches my eye, I then go through every single picture for that unit more than once. What I’m looking for is discrepancies. Remember I told you one of my criteria is “nice”? I don’t want to stay in anything that isn’t as nice as my home was. It’s a comfort thing for me. Sometimes pictures show a nice bedroom but the next picture is a bathroom with a grimy shower or the living room is nice and the stove is in the middle of the kitchen. In the middle! Going through the pictures “with a fine tooth comb” allows weeding out homes with crazy quirks and things I’m just not willing to deal with.
Trust the Reviews
Reviews are your golden ticket when booking through Airbnb because they tell you everything you need to know. For me, since I have my son, I choose not to stay anywhere that has zero reviews. In fact, I prefer to stay somewhere that has at least 20 reviews but definitely no less than 10. I have a friend who will stay in homes with zero reviews but they must belong to a Superhost and she verifies the reviews on the host’s other properties. I think this is pretty slick and may try it one day, if necessary. (It’s definitely a way to save money.)
After narrowing down by number of reviews I always read through, at a minimum, the first two pages of reviews. At times, I’ll read through every single review. I’m looking for tips that the hosts are not likely to share. For example, a host may say they have great wifi but a review may say, “WHEN the wifi works, it’s great but it goes out occasionally.” I’ve read reviews that say, “great unit and has everything one would want to feel at home but is in a neighborhood that feels unsafe to come back to at night”. This is information I need to know.
Find Superstar Hosts
Before I ever book an Airbnb, even if the unit belongs to a SuperHost, I write a message to the host. (“Superhosts are experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.” -Airbnb) I follow Airbnb’s advice by letting the host know who I’m traveling with, 1 or 2 things I love about their apartment and I ask some questions. Things such as confirmation of availability of my desired dates (even if the calendar says they are available), where is the unit in proximity to something of importance to me. I inquire about long term discounts and if are there parks, eateries, or banks close to their unit. Of course, I don’t ask all of these things; I choose some of them according to my needs and desires for that particular travel leg.
While getting the answers to these questions is of importance to me, it’s really not the biggest reason why I do it. The purpose is to get an idea of the host’s responsiveness and openness. A responsive and friendly host is more likely to be that way while I’m staying in their home verses doing something crazy like kicking me out on a whim or cancelling my reservation at the last minute. This brings me to the second reason I do this.
By writing them and letting the host know I’m coming with my son, that I love their place because it’s by all the museums which we love to visit and so on…we are letting them know we’re real people. I’m giving them a glimpse of who we are; that we have likes, dislikes and feelings. When people feel like they’re interacting with a person verses simply managing a transaction they are more likely to act in an humane way, such as not cancelling at the last minute.
Lastly, if they’re unresponsive when I’m interested in booking the more likely they are to be unresponsive while I’m staying there. That’s a no go in my book.
That’s It! Easy Peasy
Three simple steps, right? Not hard at all but I guarantee you that taking these steps helps to have a better experience. Like I said before, I haven’t had a bad experience yet and I’ve followed these steps from the first booking I made. Don’t get me wrong, you may still come across a bad apple, as I may too, but this will help weed them out as much as one has the ability to.
You’re geeked now, aren’t you? If you’re an Airbnb newbie like I was but now you’re ready, give it a try. Click here to start hunting on Airbnb!
Oh! One last tip. While Airbnb is awesome and all, you still gotta use your spidey senses. One way I do this is by using the Addalock. It’s a portable door lock that allows you to lock most doors from the inside. Even if someone has a key, they won’t be able to get in with this on the door. Having this on the door always makes me feel super safe.
**Let’s chat affiliate links…they’re in this post. I’m sharing and putting you up on some great stuff I want to share with you. If you’re so excited that you want to try them then it’d be awesome if you use my links to purchase because it helps me and costs you nothing more than when you go directly to the site yourself. So, thank you. 🙂