5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals

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 map. 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. Three years later, we still rely on Airbnb for our longer stays. However, it was not without some bumps in the beginning.

One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain in place 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.

Our First Curve Ball

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, as a guest, if you cancel an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land), you are 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.

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.
We’re Staying in a Closet?

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 in Paris, so we grabbed this baby.

The minute we walked in, we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there. There is small, and there is microscopic. The whole place was about 100 square feet. 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 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 door on the bathroom. Only half kidding here.

Now What?

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. Apparently, she wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a booking. We held firm, and she eventually canceled it.

We ended up finding a place in Strasbourg that turned out to be 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 the use of a doorstop to guarantee privacy.

Lesson #3 – Do not book with any host whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless the host provides a good reason.

We realize that 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 were feeling 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.

The 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 let him know 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 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.

On to Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813 US. It had air conditioning and was clean and comfortable. And again, the bathroom had a good, solid door. There was only one problem, 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 couldn’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.

Lesson #4 – Take pictures of any problem areas as soon as 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.

Discovering Superhosts

While in Zagreb, we took a side trip to Split, 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 #5 – Rent 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 the year, 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 sail boat 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 are devices that 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 all night. 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 is spacious and has floor-to-ceiling windows that slide 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 have all been very good.

Our Main Reasons for Using Airbnb

As of this writing we have stayed in twenty-eight 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 support.
  • The quality of accommodations on Airbnb is impressive.
  • We find the platform easy to use.
What We Spend

Our original budget allowed for accommodation costs of $1,000 for four weeks. After our Paris experience, we upped it to $1,400. We usually find a perfectly acceptable place close to attractions for less than this.

In a few cases, we have had to go a little over budget, with $1,600 being the highest. The average amount we spent for a 28-night stay before the pandemic was $1,200.

The Medellin apartment (above) was $1,400 for four weeks. This was our view from our 19th floor rental in San Jose, Costa Rica:

View of a pool from a 19th floor balcony

The building also had an indoor hot tub with a view of the mountains, a great deal at $1,200 for four weeks.

Our Personal Preferences

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

  • A well-stocked kitchen
  • A separate bedroom
  • Comfortable looking furniture in the living room
  • A table and chairs where we can take care of business (and write this blog)
  • Good internet
  • A clothes washer (we don’t really need a dryer). See Laundry on the Road to learn about some of the challenges of doing laundry while traveling full-time.
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 period of time for which you can deal with 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. Document problems upon arrival.

5. Book with Superhosts whenever possible.

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.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your travel experiences.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured photo by Deborah Cortelazzi on Unsplash.com

This post is an update of Lessons From Airbnb, originally published on March 27, 2019.

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12 Ways To Be An Amazing Airbnb Host

Steve and I are currently in our twenty-eighth Airbnb since beginning our worldwide travels in April 2018. As of December 31, 2020, we have spent 800 nights in Airbnb apartments. Overall, our experiences have been good. Even so, we have identified twelve things Airbnb hosts can do to take their guests’ experiences from good to great.

Much More Good Than Bad

Airbnb is the most valuable service we use as full-time travelers. It allows us to find roomy apartments at affordable prices. Without it and similar services, we would have to pay more for less (in hotels) or live very simply (in hostels). Neither of these appeal to us.

After some less-than-ideal experiences during our first year of travel (which you can read about in Lessons From Airbnb), we have learned to quickly identify apartments that meet our needs. Since we typically rent for four weeks, we look for a full kitchen with a range, a full-size refrigerator, a separate bedroom, a clothes washer (a dryer is a plus but not common in many cities), and of course wifi. And after staying in one place with a cheap sofa that sat low on the floor, we make sure the living room looks comfortable. We like to use Superhosts, but that is not a deal-breaker.

Most of our hosts have done a great job of providing a clean and pleasant environment. Many have provided welcome food. One host left the flowers (above) along with chocolate and wine.

Wine is appreciated, but we really appreciate a few bottles of drinking water, especially in places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink. We have found the linens to be clean and in good repair, and there is usually at least one flat-screen TV.

I could go on and on about the pleasure of staying with hosts who care about the quality of their guests’ experience. But this article is about the things hosts can do better. We humbly suggest that Airbnb hosts consider these twelve suggestions to give their guests the best Airbnb experience possible (and ensure their own success).

Things We Wish Every Host Would Provide
1. More Hangers

Our rentals have always had clothes hangers. They have almost always had too few. Six seems to be the number of hangers many hosts feel their guests will need. I can tell you right now; we need more hangers! At least six per person. Preferably more. We carry our own hangers but would prefer not to.

2. And More Than One Mirror
A monkey looking into a mirror
Photo credit Andre Mouton on Unsplash.com

We usually have only one bathroom. Not always fun if you are traveling with another person (if you get my drift). We carry a bottle of Poo~Pourri for this very reason. Even so, we don’t always want to enter that room immediately after the other person has used it.

This can be a problem when we are getting ready to go out and need a mirror. That leads to our second request. A mirror outside of the bathroom. Extra points if it is a full-length mirror.

3. Bathroom Shelves

Because we tend to stay in one place for several weeks, we are sensitive to storage space. Many bathrooms have an under-sink cabinet where we can store toiletries. Most of them also have wall space above the toilet that is usually filled with a cheap picture. How about some shelves there instead, so guests can have their toiletries visible and easily accessible?

White floating shelves in pristine bathroom
Photo credit Andrea Davis on Unsplash.com
4. Extra Bath Towels

Hosts are expected to provide one bath towel for each guest. A few will go the extra mile and provide more. This is usually not a problem. However, if the rental is in a building with a swimming pool or hot tub, it would be nice if the hosts would provide two towels per guest. It isn’t fun to dry off at the pool and then have to dry off from your shower with a damp, chlorine-scented towel.

5. And a Bath Mat

Another thing that is often lacking is a mat to use in front of the shower or tub. Guests don’t want to be drying off with the same towel that was just on the floor.

6. Better Sofas

We usually find the beds in our rentals to be roomy and comfortable. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the sofas. We rarely have one that is really comfortable for stretching out after a busy day of sightseeing. Too often, the sofas are just one step up from a futon.

We realize furniture isn’t cheap, and people host Airbnb’s to make money, not get into Architectural Digest. Even so, you can’t put a price tag on a comfy sofa. One that guests can stretch out on. Like this:

Dark gray L-shaped sofa in a living room.
Photo credit Sven Brandsma on Unsplash.com
7. A Clean Vacuum

Many units have a vacuum for the guests to use. Steve is the vacuum handler in our house, and I can’t remember the last time he used a vacuum without having to empty or unclog it first.

Since most units have hard floors rather than carpet, a broom and a dustpan are preferable to a clogged vacuum.

8. Sharp Knives

Overall, hosts do a very good job of outfitting the kitchen. One thing that seems to be universally ignored is keeping the knives sharp. It’s a little thing that means a lot.

9. Street Maps

Yes, we have Google Maps, but it isn’t foolproof. We appreciate it when a host provides a few up-to-date street maps of the area. We recently stayed in one apartment where they had several copies (like about 20), so we didn’t feel bad about taking one and writing on it.

I know we can buy a paper map, but it is getting harder and harder to find them, and who wants to spend their travel time map shopping?

Things We Wish Every Host Would Do
10. Keep On Top of Minor Maintenance Issues

Most of the places we have stayed have been in good repair. But occasionally, a host will let a little maintenance issue slide.

We have had a very loose kitchen faucet (literally hanging in the sink), a large number of burned-out light bulbs, and a freezer that was one giant block of ice, to name a few. As guests, we don’t want to be put in the position of reminding the host about what needs to be fixed, and we don’t want to have to stay home while it is being repaired. Please take care of these issues before your guests arrive. And if you fail to do so, or something breaks after the guests arrive, please do not make them ask you to fix it more than once.

11. An Annual Deep Clean
Sign reading “This house was clean yesterday - we’re sorry you missed it.”
Photo credit Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash.com

It is a pleasure to stay in a new listing. Everything is freshly painted and color-coordinated. Appliances are out of the box shiny and have the latest bells and whistles. But nothing stays new forever. One thing that seems to be lacking is deep cleaning. Yes, the kitchen and bathroom get wiped down after each guest. The floors get washed, and the bedding and towels laundered.

But what about the dust on the woodwork, the calcium deposits on the showerhead, or dirty air conditioning filters? An annual deep cleaning would go a long way towards keeping the unit like new for each guest.

12. Pay Attention to What’s in the Cabinets and Drawers

This is where hosts and their cleaning people drop the ball big time. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to scrub pots and pans or kitchen utensils because a previous guest did not clean them well, and the person who cleaned up after the guest never thought to check on the items in the kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Occasionally an item has been so rusty, moldy, or crusty that we chose to buy our own instead of using it.

Heads up to all hosts and cleaning people. Please keep an eye on the kitchen tools and appliances!

A Quick List

Here are the nine things we would like to see more hosts provide:

More clothes hangers
A mirror outside of the bathroom
Shelves in the bathroom
Extra towels if there is a pool or jacuzzi
A bath mat
A comfy sofa
A clean vacuum
Sharp knives
A few current paper street maps

And here are three things we would like to see every host do:

Take care of small maintenance issues before guests arrive
Do an annual deep clean
Checking the condition of kitchen appliances and tools

Thank You, Airbnb Hosts

Airbnb is a godsend for travelers. We appreciate and commend every host who is providing a safe and comfortable place for his guests.

If you are an Airbnb host and are already doing these things, kudos to you.

For all other hosts, we hope you will give some consideration to these suggestions.

Happy hosting,
Linda

Featured image by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash.com

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