I can’t tell you the last time we chose to stay in a hotel over renting an Airbnb on a trip. This started off three years ago when Luke was living abroad. It was almost always a guarantee that when he went to Vienna or Budapest for the weekend while residing in Germany and Poland that an Airbnb was going to cost less than a hotel for an accommodation. Since then, we’ve gone through trial and error to learn how to choose the best Airbnb.
At that point, I had never stayed in an Airbnb before. There wasn’t really a particular reason I hadn’t, I just didn’t really know much about it at the time.
But after we were able to stay in the heart of Barcelona for $40 a night in December of 2013, I was sold. Not only was the location great, but we rented a room out of a three bedroom apartment and I really enjoyed being able to ask our host about his favorite restaurants and local hot spot suggestions.
We have since stayed in Airbnbs in southern France, Thailand, Rome and Venice in Italy, Martha’s Vineyard, Sedona in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, and have booked Airbnb stays in Oslo and Bergen in Norway, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen.
Before I booked a trip to celebrate my sister’s 21st birthday last May to D.C., I hadn’t been the one to actually do the research and book the vacation rentals.
I realized when I was looking at all of the options, prices, reviews, and filters that there is actually an art to how you choose the best Airbnb for your stay.
After watching Luke do this with relative ease, I have since learned and developed a checklist and process that I fall back on every time I book a trip.
Here’s my thought process when I’m aiming to choose the best Airbnb for a trip, no matter where my destination is:
Location and Price
First things first: choose whether you are going to spend your money or your time. It just won’t be possible to stay in the city center and also pay a budget price for your Airbnb.
What’s your accommodation budget? I determine ours based on where we are going, how expensive it is in that area, and how many days our total trip is.
Since our trips abroad are about 10 days, it does help to stay in a centrally located Airbnb and pay a little bit more to be able to wake up and start your day to pack in as much sightseeing and exploring as possible instead of reserving 45 extra minutes to get into the city center via public transportation.
However, when we extended one of my business trips in New York City, we did opt to stay in an Airbnb in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood south of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. New York City is a pricey place to vacation, so I preferred to extend the trip, stay a little bit farther outside of the city, and take transportation into Manhattan.
When considering location and price for our upcoming Europe trip to Norway, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen, I first did extensive research on where all of the popular sights are located within the city. Even using Airbnb’s map when filtering through options, it is clear to see where sights are and where the center of all the city’s livelihood goes on.
Scandinavia is generally more expensive than the rest of the EU, so we allotted more money to go towards our stays in Copenhagen and Norway and to compromise, spend less on Amsterdam and Berlin. Our Airbnb in Copenhagen was the most expensive for accommodations, with Amsterdam in second, followed by Berlin, Oslo, and Bergen (I was surprised by this order!).
The bottom line is knowing if you can prioritize being centrally located, either financially or time-wise. I consider it a win if I can pay $75-85/night in a well-located Airbnb.
Manipulate the filtering options
You can save yourself a lot of time searching by really knowing what you’re looking for in an accommodation. Want the whole house to yourself, are you cool with sharing a space? Is WiFi a MUST have?
Take advantage of all of the filters there, and you’ll just cut through the clutter and get right to what you’re looking for from the start.
Decide whether you want a present host or to just pick up a key
I have had a few different experiences with different types of hosts. I’ve shown up to a place with a keypad and typed in a number, never meeting the host. But I have also had a host meet me to help me carry my luggage upstairs, show me around the apartment, and also give me endless recommendations of areas to visit and restaurants to experience.
When you share a space and rent out a room of a home, you basically have a live-in concierge for your destination. Some of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling were thanks to suggestions made by my Airbnb host, like where to get the best seafood in Barcelona.
There are pros and cons to having a very present host or having more of your own space. It is completely up to your preference. You can determine what type of host they are based on whether it’s a shared room or full space, and in their reviews.
This is my golden rule: I don’t stay at “new” listings. I feel that it is absolutely critical to hear another’s perspective on staying in a stranger’s home.
I thoroughly go through the reviews of a listing I am considering. Here’s what I look for:
- Is the host accountable? If they cancelled two days before, or were unfair to a visitor in any way, that’s a red flag.
- Are the displayed photos accurate, or is the king size bed actually two pull out twins squeezed together?
- Was the host present or absent?
- Is the size the place holds actually enough room for the amount of guests it says it is? (sometimes beds are actually a mattress on the floor or a couch – which is fine, as long as you know what to expect ahead of time).
- Is it easy to get there from the airport, and is it also practical to get around from there?
- Is it clean?
Keep in mind hosts rate you, too! You want as many ratings as possible since hosts consider your ratings when you have requested to book their accommodation. This way, you will definitely be able to choose the best Airbnb for what you are looking for.
Instant book vs.Requesting to Book
Airbnb listings either require you to request to book by messaging the host with your dates and purpose of visit, or you can book instantly.
In Copenhagen, every accommodation I was looking at was asking for a request to book. I continued to get rejected by hosts, as they were either hoping to have longer than a two-night stay, or they weren’t actually available for the dates that we were traveling to Copenhagen. After searching and searching, we finally found somewhere that was just instant book and we could skip all of that and were able to secure something in our designated price range. It was certainly stressful for a minute!
If the place you have your eye on asks you to request to book, be sure to paint a good picture of who you are and what your trip is about when you are prompted to send them a message. I usually talk about whether it’s my first time visiting and how excited I am, or if I’m returning, how much I can’t wait to be waltzing among familiar streets and get to enjoy favorite foods again. From my experience, it seems like hosts want to see you’re a real person!
You get the cream of the crop for options when it comes to choosing your Airbnb if you start looking early. Since we only planned our Europe trip about two months out, it has been slim pickings in some cities for our upcoming stay. We are three weeks away, and JUST booked our final Airbnb yesterday.
The earlier you get started on your Airbnb search, the better. You can choose the best Airbnb in your location and pricing with more options!
What are your favorite things about Airbnb?