Airbnb has been around since 2008, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it got traction among most types of travelers from all around the world.
For me, it is the best site to look for available rooms, apartments, houses –and everything in between– in practically any city in the world. But what’s good about Airbnb is that it can get you a step closer to having a great local experience by facilitating a real local property and even interaction with locals.
It can through the rental of a full house in the city center or suburbs, or by sharing an apartment with a local, or renting someone’s vacation beach house, or any other of the thousands of options available on the site.
These accommodations are not your typical hotel experience. They might come with more cultural flavor and a one-on-one touch if your host happens to live in the same space. But not only that, these accommodation experiences often come at a fraction of the price of a typical hotel.
I’ll go more in-depth to explain what Airbnb is, how I’ve used it to enhance my experiences all around the world, and how you can take advantage of it.
What Is Airbnb?
It is a lodging site based on the sharing economy that has become so popular in the last decade. On this site, people rent their spare rooms, apartments, vacation homes, boats, cabins, etc.
These places are available for specific periods of time or throughout the year, depending on the host. On some occasions, the accommodation options you might find are also small guesthouses, hostels, and hotels looking to expand their clientele.
To date, the site counts with over 1.2 million listings worldwide, spread all over 34,000+ cities in over 190 countries.
Is It Safe?
I believe this is one of the biggest concerns most people have, and yes, it is safe. Airbnb is built on trust and reputation, both from you and your host, so it is essential for the site to keep this high standard for the system to work.
Airbnb has implemented several safety and security measures –both for you and the host– to make sure that you’ll have a safe experience abroad.
When you register to the site, you need to verify your identity by connecting your social media profiles (Facebook, G+, or LinkedIn) to your Airbnb profile, confirming your phone number, and even by providing a scanned ID of a government-issued ID.
You don’t need to perform all of these verification processes, but the more you do, the more trustable you become.
References are also a great way to establish trust health for your profile and to know how trustable is your host.
Payment is fully processed through the site to make sure both hosts and guests stick to their word, according to their booking agreement. Should something happen that your host might not be able to host you after they agreed to it, Airbnb will refund you the money.
I had this experience once already, and once I contacted Airbnb through Twitter (@AirbnbHelp), they refunded the money in less than 10 minutes! You can email them through their site, but I’ve found that social media is more effective and quicker (with most big companies).
For hosts, in case your home gets damaged by your guest, Airbnb provides home insurance that could cover up to $1,000,000, should it apply to the given situation.
Having said all this, have in mind that no single site is 100% safe, but Airbnb does its best to make sure that their safety is a high standard.
When Is It Best To Use Airbnb?
You can use Airbnb at any time and anywhere, but there are certain occasions when it works best.
1. Save money with long term accommodation
You can use Airbnb to stay anywhere anytime from one night to several months. Most hosts offer the option of daily, weekly, and monthly rates. Of course, the longer you stay, the less you will pay per night.
2. Location, location, location
Personally, I’ve found it provides great benefits when I want to stay in a specific neighborhood, especially when I’m settling somewhere for an extended period. When searching for a place, Airbnb will tell you where the lodging is located without telling you the exact address.
Based on that approximate location I can decide if it is a good location for me. Are there supermarkets around? Can I take public transportation? Are there restaurants? All this I can discuss with the host or search on my own before booking it.
3. Save money by sharing with more friends
Should you be traveling with family or several friends, you could consider renting a big apartment or house that is comfortable for all guests. This is the best way to save money by splitting the cost per night.
My best example is when I rented a three-bedroom house on Easter Island with five other friends. We ended paying about $13 a night each (for a full house with kitchen, living, patio, WiFi, laundromat, etc) when the typical cheap hostel there costs no less than $25 a night per person.
4. Find cheaper accommodation during high season and festivals
Hotels often fill up when there’s a festival or is high season. Also, many of them hike prices due to demand. On the other hand, you have more chances of finding great accommodation options for a lower rate through Airbnb.
5. Live like a local
Want to cook? Have a living room where you can relax and read? Have space to work during the day? Have a laundry machine available? These are all options available in several of their listings. When I rented an entire apartment for myself in Milan, I saved a lot of money by cooking almost every day.
6. Interact with locals
As I’m writing this, I’m actually in an apartment where I rented a room through Airbnb. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, and the relationship I have with my two roommates can now be called a friendship.
They are Brazilians and often during our random conversations they help me improve my Portuguese, just as much as I help them learn a bit of Spanish.
In Japan, my hosts took their time to take me out to their traditional sake bars, where I met some of their friends and learned more about the sake culture. It’s great cultural interaction.
Is there a reason not to use Airbnb? Yes, if you are looking for hotel amenities like room service or other services not found in a typical home.
How To Get Started And How To Find The Best Listing For You
First, you must sign up and fill your profile with as much detail as possible. Go through the verification process to look more attractive and trustable to potential hosts.
Remember, they will either accept you or decline you according to their availability and your sense of trust.
Once your profile is ready, start searching for properties in your desired destination. Once you input the destination, dates, and number of guests, you’ll see a series of listings available. (as shown below)
Now, it is time to filter them according to your needs and wants. You have the option to search for properties in these three categories:
Entire Place – the whole apartment, house, etc. is yours, and only you and your travel companions will be using it.
Private Room – You will have a room for yourself in an apartment. You might be sharing the apartment with your local host.
Shared Room – You will have a bed for yourself, but will be sharing the room with someone else.
Also, you can add filters based on what you want. Need WiFi, a laundry machine, a tv, a kitchen, a specific number of beds? Just go through the filters options and check everything you need. Should you have doubts, confirm the amenities with your host.
For example, in Japan, many hosts don’t offer a “real bed.” They offer thin mats on the floor since this is the cultural way of sleeping there. Nothing bad with it, and, in fact, I enjoyed it when I stayed with my hosts there, but it’s good to know beforehand.
Additionally, you can check the specific neighborhoods you want to stay in or simply browse through the map to have an idea of where they are located.
You can also give it a try here through this widget.
Now that you have gone over the listing, read a bit about your host and their references. Do they have good references from previous guests? Do they share a bit about themselves? Have in mind that some hosts might not have references yet.
This has been the case with a few of my hosts. They didn’t have references, but everything else seemed fine to me. Turns out they’ve been great hosts and once I left, I was the first one giving them an excellent reference.
Finally, what’s the cancelation policy? It ranges from flexible to strict. You could get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance with flexible or no refund with the strictest of policies. There’s also a 50% refund for the “semi-strict” up to seven days in advance.
How To Send Your Request And Finalize Your Booking, or Instant Booking
Even though Airbnb offers the option of “instant booking” for people who have a full profile with pictures, I don’t recommend doing that since you might want to do a few follow-up questions to your host before booking it.
Instead, read the entire property profile, in addition to your host’s profile and description, and send your questions accordingly. The most questions you ask, and the most accurate you can be, the least surprises you’ll encounter once there.
Typical questions I ask are:
- How good is the WiFi? What’s the speed in MB?
- Which public transportation can I take? How far is it walking from the place?
- Until how late does the public transportation works? What are the alternatives?
- Do I have restaurants and supermarkets within walking distance?
- Can I use the living room to work during the day? (or whatever space you need)
- Can I cook?
- Is there [insert specific need] in the apartment or around it?
- And others…
After you submit your reservation request and your host approves it, you’ll have 24 hours to confirm it. Should you confirm it, your credit card will be charged the established price, including Airbnb’s 6-12% guest service fee (hosts also get charged 3% on their end).
Should you not confirm, the reservation is automatically canceled and nothing is charged. You can still contact the host after 24 hours to reconfirm.
Some listings take a security deposit and a cleaning fee. These will be clearly displayed on the listing profile and charged once the booking is confirmed. Should everything go smoothly, your security deposit is released automatically by Airbnb once you check out. The cleaning fee is not refunded.
Additionally, many hosts allow you to do instant booking, which skips the “request and accept” process. In this case, the instant booking feels more like a hotel booking, which guarantees you the place once you hit that “book” button.
Planning Your Arrival And Enjoying Your Time There (Guest Etiquette)
Once you’re booked, your host’s contact information and address will be available. Discuss with your host about your arrival time so they are there to welcome you.
In some cases, should the host be available and willing, they even pick you up at the airport or point of meeting. Do your best to stay in touch with your host on the day of arrival to update your arrival time, should there be any delay.
Once settled, take some time to chat with your host to get comfortable enough with them. Some hosts are very open and friendly while others are just giving you a place to stay and don’t socialize much.
Remember, you’re staying at their home, so respect their social boundaries. Should you have the entire place to yourself, simply discuss with your host how everything works before they leave you on your own.
Additional basic etiquette:
- Do not eat their food or consume their drinks, unless they invite you to do so.
- Don’t use anything not offered unless you have permission.
- Follow their house rules.
- Respect their privacy and keep your private matter within your room.
- Communicate with them should you have a question about the place.
Once you check out, you’ll have the opportunity to leave your host a public review and private feedback. Don’t miss doing this, as this is one of the most important things to establish trust. Equally, your host will leave a review of you as a guest.
With the private feedback, you can tell your host anything they can improve without letting everyone know about it, or simply praise them a bit more in private.
What To Do Should Something Go Wrong
Should you encounter a situation that can’t be solved directly with your host, Airbnb can intervene to find a resolution. Contact Airbnb support through email or social media (available 24 hours a day) and address your concerns. Airbnb will then study the matter and address it accordingly.
That’s pretty much it when it comes to getting a great experience abroad using Airbnb. Now, don’t forget to sign up!
Finally, have you used Airbnb before? What was your experience? Share it with us!
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