5 insider tips to ensure the best Airbnb experience

Using Airbnb for the first time can be daunting. Concerns abound.  Maybe it’s just for kids, you think. Or,  you’d rather have the safety of a hotel.  Maybe as a solo traveler, the idea of an apartment is not inviting.  Questions arise. What if the apartment isn’t as advertised, or the location is near…..nothing. What if the host isn’t there to meet me? How do I get the keys? Who can I ask for restaurant suggestions?   You’ve got some questions, here are some answers to ensure the best Airbnb experience….

Airbnb makes it pretty easy to search for exactly the kind of place that will work for you, and in a location you desire.  Let’s start with the neighborhood.

Zero in on your Airbnb neighborhood

Let’s take London. You may know you want to stay in Notting Hill, for example.  If you aren’t sure, ask friends for their suggestions, or consider what you’ll be doing and want to be near. Covent Garden to be near theatre?  Scroll down under “More Filters” on the far right and dozens of neighborhoods will pop up.  

For a recent trip to Budapest with a friend, we sought a  2 bedroom apartment. As neighborhoods go, I had scant knowledge.  I knew I wanted to be on the Pest side of the Danube, and that the St. Stephen Basilica was in the heart of the action. The search was limited to Districts V and VI, in which there are tons of lovely options.

We settled on this lovely Art Deco apartment with every modern convenience and St. Stephen’s tower across the street. The owners, who run this as a full-time Airbnb rental, could not have been more helpful, both with prepared information and conversational tips.

What is the best Airbnb accommodation?

You may think that an entire house or apartment is the default, but if you’re traveling solo, a private room just might work.

Honestly, a private room has become my go-to when in London and traveling solo.  Clearly, it’s kind to the budget. I know I want to be in Notting Hill, a neighborhood I’m very familiar with. I’m out most of the day, so there is no need for 3  rooms.

I like coming in after dinner or theatre to find the host ready for a brief chat and glass of wine or cup of tea.  Sometimes breakfast is in the offing, or at least coffee.  I’ve met lovely people and felt even more connected to the neighborhood.  There’s never been a moment of discomfort, even with the massive young host who played the body double for the “Beast” in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.  He treated me like a favorite aunt visiting for the weekend.

That said, I’m particularly picky. I heartily recommend finding a place with a private, rather than shared, bath.  But that’s me.

I don’t worry about cleanliness or someone bouldering through the bathroom door. It’s about convenience – and habit. I want to pad around in a robe with a towel around wet hair.  At 3 score and more, my days of sharing a bathroom are over unless that person is a close friend or family member. Even then…

However, your tolerance for shared facilities might be greater than mine.

You’ll find in cities, London in particular, a hybrid model of apartment/boutique hotel. This new listing is essentially an ensuite bedroom, but with a kitchenette, tons of amenities in a lovely residential neighborhood.  At this writing, there are no reviews, but at $150/night it will be on my short list for the next trip.

One final note on accommodation: Airbnb offers a curated list of homes and apartments, Airbnb Plus, singled out for their high-end amenities and caring hosts’ attention to detail.

In London, there are nearly 200 such spots, including this utterly charming ensuite bedroom with kitchenette.  A bargain, too.

Pay close attention to Airbnb details,  reviews, and pictures

You’ve found your neighborhood and have a few places under consideration. At this point, you want to drill down on the specifics.

What about the amenities? All Airbnb rentals will come with essentials including bath and bed linens. But if other creature comforts are important, such as air conditioning, wi-fi access, hair dryer,  TV or tea kettle,  make sure your list is satisfied.  Specialty items such as cribs will be noted as well.

Reviews should be gushing.  Look for, “Loved it and can’t wait to go back.”  A few polite reviews might suggest more reserved guests through no fault of the host or accommodation.  ALL polite, reserved reviews? There’s an unstated problem. 

Look for telltale signals like, “place was as advertised” or, “it was very clean”.  Good things to know. Notes like, “didn’t see them much” might warn you that host is not too engaged in the process. You might want to look elsewhere.

The pictures are worth a thousand words.

Not everyone is a stylist, but the pictures should give you a clear idea of what you’re getting into.  A shot of closet/cupboard, to make sure there is one. A shot of the bathroom is especially important. I’ve never been tempted to walk away, but I have been unpleasantly surprised. Another reason for a private bath, in my opinion.

Other items to note.

House Rules will stipulate check-in/check-out times.  You can often negotiate with the host if you expect a late arrival.  Late departure will depend on the guests following you.  If they say the place is not appropriate for children, believe them.

Cancellation Policies are clearly stated.  There should be no confusion.  Of course, stuff happens and you can appeal to the host to accommodate a last minute change of plans.

The neighborhood map will give you an approximate idea of where the accommodation is located, noted by the blue circle.

If you are specific about where you want to stay in a certain neighborhood, this map is very handy.  Airbnb will not share the address until your reservation has been confirmed. You can click to see relevant transit lines, again very helpful.

The hosts are the linchpin.

They make the difference between someplace to lay your head and a great experience. Superhosts,  identified by the small medallion on the website listing, are the real pros.  They have been designated by Airbnb based on their strong reviews, quick response rates, and lack of complaints.

I have had great hosts who weren’t  “super” but brought their A-game of welcoming hospitality.  Strong reviews from past guests are the best indicator that the host is on the ball.

If you have any question, make sure to communicate with the hosts before you book.  I’ve been able to negotiate a better rate for longer stays (the host can adjust the rate at will) and discuss particulars of the stay in advance.  Their response, both in immediacy and in tone, will tell you a lot about whether they are in this because they truly like their side of the sharing experience, or if it’s just for the fee. Listen to your gut.

Finally, hosts are the resident experts. They will share where to get the best coffee, the best Thai food, and let you in on the pub that’s just so/so.

Airbnb requires hosts to furnish basic info like emergency numbers and exits, but the insider info is what can make a good experience a great one.

What’s your Airbnb experience?  Share your tips below!



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Feature Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

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