As someone who has been using Airbnb for years, I’m always surprised when people either a) don’t know about the vacation rental company (it launched in 2008, after all) or b) have no idea if it works. The good news is that I’m about to divulge all you need to know about booking your first Airbnb.
How is Airbnb different than other sites like VRBO or HomeAway, you might ask? Well, first of all, it was founded by a couple of students who were living in San Francisco and renting out air mattresses in their flat to others coming through town when hotels were all full. As such, it tends to skew younger in demographic and is full of more apartments and condos than actual houses. That said, you will find houses but they’re less common, particularly in urban areas, or else on the fringes of town, like in Nashville where you’ll find the majority of standalone structures out in Brentwood or Franklin. Oftentimes, it’s the primary residence of a person who travels a lot and rents it out while he/she is gone or, in many cases, is a second home/investment property. I’ve also had much bigger luck with Airbnb in big urban areas like Los Angeles or New York and not as much as Savannah or Charleston (for the smaller towns, one of the older vacation rentals services is more advisable).
Airbnb is a trust-based system that relies heavily on user reviews, social media network verifications and the like. (This will become important later on in my tips section.) The search process for finding a flat to book is pretty streamlined, so if you’re at all proficient with the Internet, you shouldn’t have any trouble. First, I always set my parameters for “entire place,” then enter the number of people I’m traveling with, the maximum amount I wish to spend and the dates I’ll be visiting. From there, you can zoom in or out on the area of town in which you’d like to stay, and Airbnb will adjust the search results accordingly.
If you see one that piques your interest, you can always bookmark it for later by clicking that handy little heart icon on the top of each listing and creating a new board or adding to an existing one. I’m a huge fan of creating Airbnb wishlists by destination, as I spend a lot of downtime watching American Idol and dreaming up future trips based on where I’ve found cool homes to rent.
Once you’ve found your ideal place, here are some basic unspoken etiquette tips you should follow before and after you book:
Fill out your profile in full. This is so very important! Craft a bio that sums up the essence of who you are, pop in a photo and add as many verifications as possible, including your driver’s license and bank account. This will help you be an attractive prospective guest to hosts because, remember, you are asking to stay in their home, and unlike a hotel, they can turn you down if they feel you aren’t a good fit or that your bio doesn’t contain enough information. Reviews are equally important when hosts are approving or denying guests, so if you’re brand new to the community and don’t have any reviews yet, I recommend asking fellow friends who are on Airbnb to leave you a reference (you’ll need to connect your profile to Facebook to do this but it’s a quick and painless process).
Read the listing in its entirety before you submit a request. Most hosts have pretty thorough listings that spell everything out from parking to the general location of the property, so don’t write and say “is there a parking spot?” before reading the full listing and making sure that nugget of info wasn’t included. It will make you look incompetent, and no host wants an incompetent guest who can’t take time to read a basic listing! Also don’t ask for the exact address of the place before you’ve booked; remember, this is someone’s home and they’re not going to want to share that until days before you’re arrival for the sake of privacy. Also be sure that the property has everything you need, like Wi-Fi or cable or other amenities you might require while traveling.
Likewise, don’t try to bend the rules. If a house says it accommodates eight people, do not email that host and say, “hey, I’m coming to town with a group of 12. Is your place available?” Homeowners set a capacity for a reason, whether it’s the number of beds or bathrooms or the building’s fire code or the fact that they just doesn’t want that much wear and tear on his/her home. It’s their home; they have the right to decide who and how many stay there. And don’t assume this is like a hotel where you can break the rules, like squeeze in two extra people: Treat your stay like you’re a house guest, not like you’re a hotel guest. Respect the space and your host.
Send a nice introduction. When you’re submitting a request to stay, it’s always nice to lead off with why you’re coming to town and who you’ll be coming with. For example, “Hi, I’m Kristin! I live in Nashville and often use Airbnb while traveling. My husband and I are low-key travelers who love to spend our holiday weekends visiting new cities and checking out the local restaurant and bar scene. Your place looks perfect for our needs!” Once you’ve booked, feel free to use your host as a concierge of sorts to find out their favorite local hangs; often, they’ll have a guide already drawn up that they can send your way.
Once you’re arrived, follow the house rules. This is a biggie. If a host asks you to strip the beds and take out the trash, do it. Would you want to come back to your house and find food rotting in your trash can? No, no you would not.
Know that if something goes wrong, you have support. Airbnb has an excellent customer service department. The one time that we arrived at a rental, and it was not at all what we thought—the trash hadn’t been taken out, the windows were caked in dust, there was the owner’s dog running around the property, trying to get into the house—they refunded us immediately, and we went out and booked a hotel room immediately. If it’s something that the homeowner can fix (like a wonky Internet connection or a busted water heater), then call, text or email your host immediately so he or she can tend to the problem. It’s always a good idea to program the host’s number into your phone so you can get in touch if anything does go awry.
Now that your trip is done, there’s one step left: Leave a review. Be honest, but also realize that for many hosts, this is a business. If there was something you think the host could have done better—like provide basic cooking necessities such as olive oil and salt and pepper—leave this in the private feedback section or email them directly. There’s no need to make that a part of your review unless it’s a huge part of the stay (like there was no lock on the door or there was a meth lab operating directly across the street—in other words, things that would make a huge difference for other travelers).
Ummm, that’s about it. Any questions? Ask away!
This post is in no way, shape or form sponsored by Airbnb (though I’m always game for a partnership if they want, ha!). However, if you use this link for your first booking, you’ll get a $25 credit for future Airbnb stays, and I will, too. Win-win for both of us, amirite?