5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals

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Last Updated on: 5th September 2023, 02:51 am

In this post, I will share some of our Airbnb experiences and the lessons we learned from them. If you are in a hurry, you can scroll to the last section, All Five Tips, in the table of contents (below).

If you use Airbnb, you probably do what we do: read the reviews and study the photos and maps. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough to ensure you’ll find the best Airbnb for your needs.

Below are five additional things we do when searching for an Airbnb and the stories of how we came to adopt them. Hopefully, they can help you have the best Airbnb experiences possible too.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

A Bumpy Start

Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018. That year we traveled for eight months and stayed in seventeen accommodations, including twelve Airbnbs. More than five years later, we still rely on Airbnb for longer stays. However, it was not without some bumps in the beginning.

One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain instead of a bathroom door. Another host canceled our reservation eleven days before our arrival. But possibly the strangest thing was the solid block of ice in the freezer in our rental in Croatia.

Lesson #1 – An Instant Book Snafu

We got off to a less-than-promising start when we booked an apartment in Barcelona a year before we began our travels. We decided on one and pushed the instant book key. Then we posted this milestone to Facebook.

The next day, we got a message from Manuel, the host, saying the price was wrong. He didn’t name a new price but asked us to make an offer. We said no and asked him to cancel the reservation.

We didn’t want to cancel it because, at that time, if you canceled an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land), you were liable for the first month’s fee. But Manuel wouldn’t budge.

After waiting several days for Manuel to cancel the reservation, I called Airbnb. They said the best thing was for us to cancel, and there would be no penalty.

With that taken care of, we were able to book another apartment in Barcelona for $500 more than the first one. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small balcony, and a washing machine. We were surprised to find that the washing machine was on the rooftop patio.

A small living room with a sofa, a table with two chairs, and a refrigerator
Our apartment in Barcelona was safe and clean but nothing special. And yes, the refrigerator was in the living room.

Lesson #1 – Do not instant book. You can turn this option off in the filters.

We now communicate with the host before booking. We verify the dates and price and ask questions about the accommodation.

Two chairs and a small table with a stuffed hedgehog on a balcony
Hedgie loved watching the action from our tiny balcony in Barcelona.
Lesson # 2 – Don’t Book for Too Long

We were excited to find a studio in Paris for $1,000 per month. From the description, we knew it was small, and we knew that this was very inexpensive for Paris. We planned to spend two months there, so we grabbed this baby.

The minute we walked in, we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there. The whole place was about 100 square feet or 9.3 square meters. In addition, two things in the posting were misleading.

First, there was a picture of a Murphy bed with shelving on either side. There was a Murphy bed but no shelving because there wasn’t room for any.

Second, there was a review stating that the bathroom didn’t have a door, with a reply from the host saying there was a door. Unless door has a different meaning in France, this was a lie. There was only a curtain separating the bathroom/kitchen area from the living/sleeping area. And it didn’t even go all the way across.

Because of these two issues, the host agreed to let us out of the second month without penalty.

Area with a shower door, toilet, small sink, and towel warmer
The bathroom area in our Paris apartment – note the tiny sink above the toilet. It did have an amazing shower, though.
A foldable table and chair set in front of a shower stall and toilet
This foldable table and chair became my early morning workplace while Steve slept.

Lesson #2 – We never book a place for more than one month. We can tolerate most places for that long.

Lesson #2B – Always verify that there is a bathroom door. Only half kidding here.

Lesson #3 – Avoid Hosts Who Have Cancelations

With the second month’s Paris lodging canceled, we decided to spend that month in Strasbourg, France. We had to scramble because it was tourist season, but we found a place. We practiced the first lesson by communicating with the host before booking.

Eleven days before we were scheduled to arrive, she asked for an increase of 54%. We said no. She replied by saying we should cancel the booking. Presumably, she wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a booking. We held firm, and she eventually canceled it.

We found another place in Strasbourg that was nearly perfect. It was clean, spacious, and uncluttered. It was a little higher than our budget, but we were happy to pay the difference because the bathroom had an actual door, even if it was a sliding door that tended to open on a whim, requiring a doorstop to guarantee privacy.

Lesson #3 – Do not book with hosts whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless they have provided a good reason.

We realize emergencies happen. Airbnb gives hosts the option of responding to a cancellation post. If they don’t respond, we can only assume that they did not have a good reason to cancel on a past guest.

Airbnb in Our Future

During this time, we had three more reservations booked through Airbnb, two of them long-term. We felt trapped but knew we had to make the best of it. I am happy to report that all these apartments had good, solid bathroom doors. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues.

Our next stay was three nights in London. We found what appeared to be a lovely two-bedroom flat, but it turned out to be quite dirty. The problems included food left in the sink, odor in the refrigerator, mold in the shower, stains on a curtain, and cooking supplies that belonged in the garbage.

The bottom of a stained curtain
Stains on the curtain of our London rental. Yuck!

I messaged the host to inform him that the apartment wasn’t clean and suggested he might want to see it for himself since he worked only two doors away. He did not respond to this. He did offer to have the cleaning crew come back.

We only had two full days in London, and we didn’t want to spend them waiting for cleaners. Nor did we trust them with our belongings, so we declined.

Because of the condition of the kitchen, we ate all our meals out. Oh, darn! We were amused that his review of us included that “the apartment was returned clean and tidy.” What?

No new lesson here. Sometimes you just chalk it up to experience and move on.

Lesson #4 – Choose Superhosts

In 2018, we spent three nights in Split, Croatia, a small beach town on the Adriatic Sea. This time we rented from a Superhost for the first time. This was our best Airbnb experience up to that point.

Superhosts are Airbnb hosts who have met several requirements, including receiving high scores from guests, having no cancelations by the host except in extreme cases, and having a high rate of response to inquiries.

A man with his head thrown back and a huge smile
How we felt when we discovered superhosts – photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash.com

Lesson #4Rent from Superhosts whenever possible. You may still encounter a problem, but it is less likely.

Even though we put stock in the Superhost label, there were times when we did not choose a Superhost and had a wonderful experience like at Ryan’s place in Jacksonville, Florida. When we rented from Ryan, he was not a Superhost because his listing was too new. He is now.

Smoother Sailing

During the rest of 2018, we stayed in six more Airbnbs, including a sailboat in Lisbon. All but one host was a Superhost. Except for some mild seasickness on the boat, all these stays were comfortable and problem-free.

A white sailboat at dock
Our temporary floating home in Lisbon
A toy hedgehog sitting at a sailboat’s wheel
Hedgie settling into life at sea

A word of warning if you stay on a boat. Check before you book to make sure it has snubbers. These devices prevent the boat from violently jerking while it is docked. The boat we stayed on did not have them. This wasn’t a problem until our last night. The strong winds caused the boat to jerk hard enough that it kept us awake. Luckily we didn’t get seasick, but it was a real threat.

Getting Our Groove

We spent most of 2019 in Latin America and didn’t have any problems with our Airbnb rentals except for renting one that was so close to perfect that it spoiled us for all others. We loved Sara’s Apartment in Medellin. It was spacious and had floor-to-ceiling windows that slid open to a huge balcony with a beautiful view.

Modern living room opened to a balcony in a Medellin Airbnb
The living room and balcony of our Airbnb in Medellin

During 2020 and 2021, we’ve continued to use Airbnb, but for much longer stays because of the pandemic. Like in 2019, they were all very good.

Lesson #5 – Check Out the Neighborhood

In 2022, we stayed in an Airbnb on the European side of Istanbul for two weeks. The apartment was in a new building and looked pleasant.

We were shocked to discover that while our building was one of several new highrises on one block, the area around that block, in every direction, was a slum. Even so, we never felt unsafe, but it definitely impacted our experience.

Since then, we use Google maps street view to check out the area around the place we are considering.

Lesson #5 – Use Google Maps street view to check out the neighborhood.

After this, we spent two weeks on the Asian side of the city. The prices were cheaper there, and the area around our building was nicer. However, our building, which was only three years old, caught on fire. Luckily it was only on the outside, so no one lost belongings or had damage to the interior.

One More Thing

In 2018, we visited Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813. It had air conditioning and was clean and comfortable. And again, the bathroom had a good, solid door. The only problem was a solid block of ice in the freezer.

A frozen solid freezer
At least the freezer was cold.

We were shown into the apartment by Mladen, a friend of our host. He did not speak English, and we don’t speak Croatian. Steve set about looking around the apartment. He opened the freezer door and saw the ice. Mladen quickly ran over, signally “no,” and firmly shut the door. OK, so we didn’t have use of the freezer, no big deal.

Shortly after he left, we had a message from our host telling us that we must not use the freezer to cool the apartment, and if the refrigerator breaks, we will be charged for it.

The next day, Steve offered to defrost the freezer. Our host’s response was quite chilly. She told Steve not to touch it. She ended up sending Mladen over to take care of it. It turned out the entire freezer was a block of ice, so this problem had been going on for a while. We don’t understand why it wasn’t taken care of earlier.

Aside from this issue, we had a great stay in this apartment and managed to put this issue behind us when dealing with our host.

One More Thing – Take pictures of any problem areas when you arrive, and discuss the big ones with the host.

We’ve been doing this from the beginning. The other thing we do is take pictures before we move any items so we can put them back where they were before we leave.

Our Main Reasons for Using Airbnb

As of this writing, we have stayed in over 40 Airbnbs. We plan to continue booking through Airbnb because:

  • We can get a comfortable apartment with a full kitchen for much less than a hotel would cost.
  • Most hosts offer discounts for stays of 28 days or longer.
  • The few times we have had issues, Airbnb offered good support.
  • The quality of accommodations on Airbnb is impressive.
  • We find the platform easy to use.
What We Spend

Our original budget (2018) allowed for accommodation costs of $1,000 for four weeks. After our Paris experience, we upped it to $1,400 but averaged $1,200 per 28-night stay until the pandemic.

We got a great deal in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 2019. For $1,200 for four weeks, we had an apartment on the nineteenth floor. It had great views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor hot tub with a mountain view.

View of a pool from a 19th floor balcony
The view from our San Jose Airbnb

Since the pandemic, the cost has gone up a bit. From October 2022 to September 2023, we stayed in twelve Airbnbs in Greece, Morocco, and the Balkans. Nine of them were for 28 nights, with an average cost of $1,600. That’s only $57 per night!

The three we stayed in for fewer nights averaged $82 per night.

Our Personal Preferences

We are proponents of slow travel who often stay in one city for four weeks or more. As full-time travelers, we are not on vacation but are setting up house in a new place. Therefore, we look for apartments with these things:

  • A well-stocked kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, a stovetop, an oven, and a dishwasher
  • A separate bedroom
  • Comfortable-looking living room furniture
  • A table and chairs where we can take care of business (and write this blog)
  • Good internet
  • A clothes washer (we don’t need a dryer). See “Laundry on the Road” to learn about the challenges of doing laundry while traveling.
All Five Tips

Through trial and error, we learned to make Airbnb work for us, and you can too by using these five rules:

1. Do not instant book. Communicate with the host before booking to verify the dates and price and get answers to any questions or concerns you have.

2. Only book a place for the length of time for which you can tolerate a less-than-ideal situation. For us, it’s one month. For you, it might be different.

3. Avoid hosts who have unexplained cancellations.

4. Rent from Superhosts whenever possible.

5. Use Google Maps street view to check out the neighborhood.

Finally – once you arrive, document any problems and discuss the big ones with your host.

More Information

For even more ways to find the best Airbnbs, check out this article by dreamstays.com. You might also be interested in our post “12 Ways To Be An Amazing Airbnb Host.

Until Next Time

I hope you found this post helpful. As always, Steve and I would love to hear from you. Please share your Airbnb experiences and tips in the comment sections below. And please consider sharing this post using the buttons at the top.

Happy traveling,

Featured photo by Deborah Cortelazzi on Unsplash.com

This post was originally published on May 26, 2021.

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2 thoughts on “5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals”

  1. Good information to have! Overall, you’ve had good experiences, thank goodness. It’s so interesting to read about your travels, thanks again for sharing! Looking forward to the next post. Have fun and stay safe! ❤️

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