Twenty years ago, if you wanted to cut your lodging costs to see the world, you had two choices–hotels or hostels. Now, with the popularity of Airbnb for affordable and alternative experiences, we have more choices to curate our travel experiences to our budget and our expectations.
Much like online dating, staying in a stranger’s house has become far less taboo than it once was. Additionally, it also opens up the world to allow you to stay in some notable Airbnb accommodations- like boats, yurts, Airstream trailers and pool houses. Truly, your room with Airbnb can be just as much of the adventure as your destination!
If you want to save on travel, know that you don’t have to sacrifice feeling safe when you do so. Here are some pointers to ensure you know what to expect with your next Airbnb booking.
Read The Reviews Before You Book
Book a place that has at least a handful of reviews and read through them. Listings with detailed reviews beyond “it was a nice stay,” can help you book with confidence. Descriptions of the host, location, room, and added perks help you match up the true experience to what’s described in the booking.
How do you deal with negative reviews? Know there’s a difference between “I wish this was closer to the train” or “the decor could use updating” versus “the door on my room didn’t lock,” or “the host wasn’t very responsive during my stay.” Some reviews are petty or subjective, but others are telling.
Unfortunately, some people can leave unfair reviews for circumstances beyond the control of the host (like urban noise or if the AC went out but was fixed as quickly as possible) while others can leave valid concerns that the host needs to fix, and address publicly. Things inevitably will go wrong during a stay, but if a host responded to a public gripe fairly and stated the problem was fixed, that's a good sign that they care about their guests.
Ask Loads Of Questions, Expect Fast Response Times
Airbnb encourages potential guests to reach out to their host before booking if they have questions, or to get clarification on any points they might not understand. It’s truly a win-win when communication is clear and everyone feels like expectations for the experience are met.
Use the chat feature to get to know your host–and ask questions before booking, especially if they have a strict cancellation policy. Be clear on check-in and check-out times, how you can expect to check-in, what the parking situation will be like and how they recommend you travel to nearby activities.
Your host should be quick to respond. While it’s true some hosts have many properties to monitor, it’s a fair expectation that no matter how busy your host is, they answer you promptly. If your host is ghosting you, you absolutely can reach out to Airbnb to have them intervene or refund your money (even with a strict cancellation policy).
Be Proactive About Safety & Communication
You’ll want to book an Airbnb that suits your travel plans accordingly. For a long road trip across the U.S. where a room is simply a place to crash, book with easy parking and freeway access in mind.
If you’re palling around Paris as a tourist, you can ask your host their recommendations for how to best travel to your big “must see” destinations. Read through the reviews to see if solo travelers have stayed and if they commented on the location. If you’re worried about walking around at night, ask your hosts, or hop on to Facebook and find a group for travelers to ask for advice on locations.
Finally, while it’s totally not necessary to print out confirmations, take a screen shot. While I’ve never had a problem with Airbnb goofing up a reservation, I have had issues at traditional B&B’s that insisted I didn’t book a room or pay ahead of time–that confirmation email was a lifesaver!
How To Watch Out For Fake Listings
While this is far more common on Craigslist than Airbnb, finding listings that are duplicates from real listings can happen. If you see a location with no reviews, stock photos or a user with multiple listings and it seems fishy–it can be a sign of a fraudulent account. If you’re really unsure, and something about the photos feels phony, do a reverse Google Image search to check around.
If an Airbnb listing feels too cheap for a certain location or what’s offered, double check that the place really exists. Contact the host directly and ask follow up questions about the listing or reach out to Airbnb before you book.
One thing to note–Airbnb does NOT allow transactions or bookings to happen off of their platform. If a host is asking for cash when you arrive, or wants payment off of the Airbnb platform this a surefire bet it’s a scam, so report them right away!
Gut Feelings Versus Cultural Ignorance
The goal of Airbnb is to connect travelers to the places they visit with an authentic, local experience. While booking with Airbnb offers a convenient and affordable place to sleep, it also gives you a chance to experience the city in a new way.
While you are bound to do your research on cultural differences before you visit a new country, these differences can sometimes be amplified when you’re literally staying in someone’s home. Wearing your shoes into your room might be fine at a hotel in Tokyo, but doing the same at an Airbnb can be incredibly tone deaf.
Culture is a big part of the Airbnb experience, but that never means you should feel unsafe. In a large city, you might find a host treats their guests more like that of a concierge- happy to provide guidance on request, but in general, they might be a bit more “hands off.”
In other locations, a host might invite you to morning coffee and ask to hear about your travel plans and give you an umbrella before you head out the door. Some hosts do this as a hobby, others to cut their living costs, and some see themselves as cultural ambassadors. It can vary!
This being said, while cultures vary from place to place, you should always feel safe and trust your gut. If you book and your host is unresponsive, or if upon arrival, the place is in disarray or not matching up to the listing, call Airbnb. Your cultural boundaries may be challenged a bit with customs different from yours, but you should never feel unsafe!
Want to read more from Shannyn? Check out the rest of her articles here.