My husband Cullen does all of the research on where to go, what to see, and what Airbnbs to book. For the past 8 months I've been lucky enough to just show up, wheel in my suitcase and unpack, but turns out booking an Airbnb is a real art form. At some point I actually wondered, how does he do it?
I mean, we've lived in Airbnbs full-time, all over the world for the last eight months. This year alone we've been to 16 countries and over 100 cities and towns (or something like that. I counted them up but lost the list).
So I finally asked him to write a post on how he books our Airbnbs, and he agreed to an "interview", lol.
What's the first thing you do when you get on Airbnb?
You gotta set the table and make everything right -- and THEN build a wishlist. Once your wishlist is built, THEN you can deep dive into the properties.
That said, here are my --
Step 1: Set the Filters
First you'll want to set your number of guests, price range, and room type as Entire House. But then there are a few that are discretionary. What I select: wifi, family friendly, two bedrooms, and depending on the area, air conditioning. For most countries that aren't the US, don't assume they have air conditioning, even in Europe.
Step 2: Set the Dates for DISCOUNTS
You know if you book by the month you may be able to get a huge discount, yes? There are weekly discounts and monthly discounts, but the monthly discounts can be deep.
One huge caveat is that the monthly discounts are non-refundable -- even if you arrive and find out that the place is the absolute worst, there's really not much you can do. You just have to be really careful in advance. More on that below.
Meanwhile, to get a discount on my ideal place, I set a date for about a year and a half in the future for monthly stays -- never mind when your actual target dates are. Right now, you just want to see what your options are and be able to compare monthly prices at a glance.
By doing this, you will be able to see all houses that are in your price range and filters. Any sooner than that, and some of the places may be booked and won't show up in the search results.
Step 3: Zoom in on Location. Will you have a car? If the answer is no, you need to weed out anything that's not super close to where you want to be.
For example, for city escapes, I go right for the historical city center. For the beach? Right by the beach. Etc.
As a family, we don't mess with buses, trams or trains -- it's just not worth it in our experience. We get around by foot, rented cars, taxis or uber.
Step 4: Check for Star Ratings. I wishlist only 5-star review places. Anything less than 5 is not acceptable. 4.5 is not going to cut it.
What if it doesn't have any reviews? Don't be a Guinea pig. If the place has no reviews, I'm moving on. For shorter stays, I might allow an exception, but I'm not gambling with one month or longer stays.
Step 5: Scroll through the pics. We're not clicking on anything just yet. Just a gut check scroll - yay or nay?
If it fits all of the criteria above, WISHLIST IT.
Now it's time for a DEEP DIVE.
But are you ready for this though?
Cause this is where things get dicey.
Step 1: Check the reviews
Reviews are everything, but they can be a minefield. My most important rule of thumb is this: people have to be raving about the place itself, not just the host or location. Here's how I weed out the bad ones.
1. Number of reviews. Be skeptical of 2 or 3 five-star reviews. You should assume they are friends of the owner, "salting the tip jar", so to speak. If there are over 20 reviews and they all tend to agree, you're a whole lot safer. But even then, you gotta watch out! Which leads me to my next point.
2. Sniff out sugar-coating. Beware that people sugar coat their reviews, for various reasons. More often than not, it's because they got to know the charming host. Well, nice hosts are fine. But what if the host is great AND the place has rats? You won't find that out until you get there! That actually happened to us in Bali. The place looked great. Nice furniture, with a private pool, daily cleaning and 65 five-star reviews. Unfortunately, it also had a six-pound rat and the bathrooms stunk. When I went back and looked at the reviews, guess what? They were ALL about the host.
3. Sniff out novices. We found out this year that novices tend to rate things highly -- restaurants, hotels, and attractions. It's kind of like this: At a Mexican joint in Lisbon we overheard a 23 year-old diner telling someone at the next table, "get the tacos -- they're THE BEST!" Needless to say, they were nowhere near the best. They tasted like what you would expect: tacos in Portugal. Don't trust a review from a bright-eyed novice.
4. Ask yourself, "Do they have skin in the game?" A reviewer, with no kids, who only stayed for one night can say whatever they want. "It was fabulous!" they'll say. After you get there, you'll be like, "Under NO circumstance is this place fabulous! It is average in every sense."
As a family, we've got a TON of skin in the game -- I've got a wife who's um, not picky at all (cough, love ya babe), two little girls that need things, and we're staying for a month. There's a huge difference.
Takeaway: If any place smells "off", un-heart it immediately.
Step 2: Compare perks. The view from our current Portugal house is just ok, but we went with this place because it comes with free breakfast every morning delivered to our door, for a month! The way my girls eat, that's about $600 worth of breakfast. Plus it has weekly cleaning. Nice.
Step 3: Make the call. If the price is right, the location's great, people think it's great AND it has perks, I'm shacking up.
Pro tip: book it immediately and then don't think about it. If not, you might wuss out!
I feel like I'm forgetting something...oh yeah, kid's stuff:
Step 4: Kid-ly amenities? Compare the descriptions and reviews to see if the house comes with things easier with children, i.e. toys, free bikes, high chair, boogie boards, puzzles, books -- stuff like that. REALLY helps to have this stuff for long stays.
We like to inquire about a pack n play for our 1-year-old, Gisele. Sometimes the listings say there is one and other times it doesn't say. Always inquire about this, because sometimes they have a way to get one or know of how you can rent one when you get there.
Kathryn here 🙂 I'm back.
NOW it's time to book!
You can use the Instant Book option (which will book immediately) or send a request, and usually, the owners get back to you within a day.
Congrats, you just booked your first AIRBNB like a pro!
Getting Ready for your stay, what to expect:
How do you check in to an Airbnb?
Don't assume that the host is any good at communicating where the places are or how to get the key. In some cultures, they will leave things unsaid and assume if you need anything you will just call. But the thing is, if you are in a foreign country -- sometimes your phone doesn't work!
So remember to over-communicate everything about the check in advance. What's the actual address (sometimes it's not listed on the listing). Will someone be there to greet us or will there be a lock box? Can you access it by car or will you have to walk a long way? (Super important for us with kids and lots of stuff!)
Constantly communicate with the host.
If anything goes wrong or you need something contact the host. This is maintenance free living at it's finest. The host usually wants good ratings so they will bend over backward to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Pretty easy, they will usually tell you what to do and have a set time for check out just like a hotel.
Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any useful tips you would like to share.
Overall our last eight months of Airbnb living have been a good experience and if we were to book all over again, it would be completely different knowing what we know now. So hopefully this helps you not make the same mistakes we did and have a nice, clean and relaxed stay at your next Airbnb.