5 Ways to Find a Kick Ass Airbnb For Your Next Trip
When I tell people that I gave up my lovely little one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan to pursue life on the road as a full-time traveler, they immediately assume I’m living out of a suitcase in cramped hotel rooms or bunking with a dozen strangers and cockroaches in backpacking hostels. Think again.
During my long-term stops of a month or more, I’ve managed to live in accommodations that have been, for the most part, more spacious and convenient than my NYC abode. Did someone say in-unit washer and dryer?!?!
Why do I stay away from hotels?
I run a business and often need to take phone calls or do Skype sessions in the middle of the night due to opposite time zones. And if you’ve read my other blogs, you know I’ve experimented with different ways of eating and sometimes that means cooking at home in a fully-equipped kitchen.
And to avoid becoming home sick or feeling uprooted it’s also important for me to be able to unpack, hang up my clothes and put my yoga pants in drawers. It’s the little things…
And for those staying in a place for a month or more, this approach often saves you quite a bit of green which allows you to travel that much longer.
So, where do I live on the road?
For the most part I have lived in other people’s places using websites like Airbnb or HomeAway. But some travelers find the process of searching for a property on Airbnb confusing and stressful, or they are weirded out by staying in other people’s places.
So, I’ve developed a how-to guide for getting the most out of these home sharing websites so you can live like a queen (or king) on the road.
1. Develop a “must have” list for your accommodations, and use search filters.
One of the main reasons I book apartment-like accommodations is my long list of requirements. Okay, I’m a snob – I know. But I like to be comfortable while I travel and when you “work from home” you’ll spend a lot more time inside than you would on a normal two-week vacation.
Everyone’s list of apartment deal breakers will be a little different, but mine look a lot like this:
· Lightning-fast internet - Don’t be afraid to ask your host to send you the results of a free online speed test, as “fast internet” means something different for everyone, especially in countries where internet speeds are lacking to begin with.
· A fully-equipped kitchen with at least a stove and refrigerator – This is only important for people like me that want to save money in more expensive countries by cooking at home, or have specific dietary requirements that may be hard to communicate with added language barriers.
· Close-proximity to the city center or easy public transportation – I’m willing to pay for a good location to enhance my sightseeing efforts and to avoid long trips home late at night by myself.
· Location in a safe neighborhood - You’ll have to do your own research on safe neighborhoods in a city you don’t know, but you’d be surprised how easy good info is to find with a simple google search like, “best neighborhoods in Lisbon.”
· An in-unit or in-building washer - When your entire wardrobe fits into a bag or two you’ll become very protective of it, how it’s washed and how to make sure it isn’t lost or ruined by a third-party cleaning service.
2. Read and depend on good reviews.
Unless inventory is low and I’m really desperate, I rarely book a place with less than a five-star rating. Hosts on Airbnb and HomeAway almost always have a set of reviews unless they are a new property. And no, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt on a new property when I’m booking for an entire month.
You’ll learn a lot about a property by carefully reading reviews. For example, maybe the upstairs neighbors like to have EDM dance parties at 3am or the unit is on the 6th floor and you have a 50-pound suitcase. I’ve learned to read and love reviews, as well as leave detailed ones myself.
3. Only book with hosts that respond in a normal, timely manner.
I never book without first reaching out to a host. I’ll think of some silly question to ask them to make sure they are actually a real human, they are responsive to my requests, and they aren’t high maintenance or creepy. If you get locked out of a property in the middle of the night, don't you want to be sure they'll respond to your text?
I’ve learned to do this from a variety of mistakes I’ve made in the past. I had one host with automatic booking just never send me the address or arrange for key pick up so I had to book something else the night before my arrival.
Another host requested that I hop on a series of Skype calls so she could “read my energy” to make sure I’d take care of her place. You can tell a professional Airbnb host if they are courteous, quick in their response, and have a sufficient process around how they handle new bookings.
4. Don’t be afraid to search for “coolest or most unique Airbnbs” in your destination.
I’ve stayed in an historic Georgian house in Dublin, a yurt in the New Zealand countryside, a cave house on the edge of an ancient volcano in Greece, and a traditional row house in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London. Most of which were under $100 per night, so a cool property doesn't always mean an expensive one.
Before I even begin my search I’ll usually google “hottest” or “most unique” Airbnbs in whatever city I’m planning to visit. Your accommodations are such a big part of the experience of your trip – why stay somewhere mediocre?
5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
The reason I get so much bang for my buck staying at Airbnb properties as opposed to hotels is because most hosts offer a hefty discount if you book for a week or a month. Sometimes those discounts have been as much as 50 percent because there is much less work for the host with a long-term guest.
But if your host isn’t offering a discount, or if there is an influx of properties available during your dates – don’t be afraid to ask for a discount! Most of the time a host is much happier to have their place occupied than not, even if it means less money for them.
I saved over $2000 negotiating my flat in London, and received full refunds on two “non-refundable” properties in Indonesia and Portugal by asking nicely and explaining why my plans changed. And on short stays I’ve also been able to negotiate down the “minimum nights” requirements. Hosts want good reviews and are often happy to accommodate quality, potential repeat, and long-term guests.
Above all, your experience in a new city amongst an unfamiliar culture will be so much more rewarding if you can immerse yourself as an actual resident, as opposed to sitting around a hotel lobby with people from your home country.
Shopping at the local grocery stores, talking to your new neighbors and living like a real local will likely be part of your best memories from your trip. Happy Airbnb hunting.