Airbnb has now risen to become one of the most used sites when looking for an alternative to traditional vacation accommodations, but it’s far from a perfect system. It can do more than just let you down if you don’t do some research first and take the steps necessary to make it work for you. As a family of four who have used Airbnb a plethora of times over the last two years we have seen our share of the good, the bad and the very ugly. Here is what I have learned and how I make sure we don’t regret our Airbnb choice and run for the nearest hotel.
Our first really bad experience probably couldn’t have gotten any worse unless the building was falling down on us. Yeah, it was that bad. Our family was in NYC and we had just finished a wonderful Lower East Side Airbnb and needed something to move onto shortly after that.
This was our Lower East Side apartment, and while it was definitely cozy... it worked out perfectly for our little family and we loved it!
We decided we wanted to immerse ourselves further into the “Real New Yorker” experience and made the mistake of choosing a place in Harlem with only one other review. I did no research; I saw the price and jumped on it. Big mistake. Let me ease your fears though about choosing and Airbnb in Harlem, we have now rented multiple times in Harlem and it was great. There are some fantastic neighborhoods! Unfortunately there are some streets where it really should just be businesses.
Don't let only one review or no reviews scare you away, the property above was a one review property and it was fantastic!
While only one review isn’t necessarily a red flag, (after all everyone has to start somewhere) it is an indicator that more information and research is needed. It’s time to dig in! Time to go thoroughly through these four steps I now use for every booking:
1. If you can do a drive by of the property – this doesn’t have to be in person. Lol While we would have been able to do this since we were already in NY, it would have just been a short train ride; obviously not everyone can go check out a property beforehand, but that’s where Google Maps comes in! If you can get an address before hand, great! If not see if you can get an idea of where the neighborhood is. While you can’t always judge a book by its cover, this will give you a good idea of what you’re in for. If I had done this before our horrible stay I would have realized not only was it not a good neighborhood it was also on a super busy and probably noisy street. Super helpful information that would have saved our family a huge hassle.
While some hosts plan on you being on your own, by communicating with them before hand they might even help you out by showing you around and even possibly share a meal with you! Our first place in Japan invited us to a gathering of other travelers and Japanese students looking to learn English and meet new friends.
For us, playgrounds for our two kids to get out and run around are crucial. We work from our Airbnb's and some days the kids need something fun to do that doesn't take a lot for us to plan. When booking be sure to ask what is in the area and make sure the things that are important to you are easy to get to.
A good bed is important, and in other countries the beds can be a lot different. This is a good thing to discuss with your host before booking
2. Ask questions! - Sometimes you can be made to feel on Airbnb like it’s a “seller’s market” and somehow the property will disappear if you don’t grab it quick. And while some places might be like that it’s not worth skipping you questions just so you can book something right away. Before booking make sure you have a detailed conversation with the owner and get any questions you have answered. This isn’t a hotel with a front desk you can go to if you run into a problem. Better to be on the same page as the owner on what you need and expect. Ask about the neighborhood, if everything in the home works, the cleanliness to expect, bed sizes (don’t just guess based on pics), about check-in and check-out and what they expect from you. If you are doing a shared place the questions should be even more extensive!
3. If there are reviews, read them - Reviews while sometimes can be skewed most likely will still give you an indicator of what to expect from the property. It’s usually easy to pinpoint the fake reviews from the real based on detail. (Yes, hosts will put up fake reviews) If you see “it was awesome” as a review that not only isn’t enough information to go on, but seriously? I wouldn’t buy a product on Amazon based on that review! You want details! You are looking for real, honest and detailed reviews. That’s where the gold is. As a note, we have actually stayed at places that had one reviewer state something negative. If most reviews are positive and one is negative pay close attention to that review, but also realize that what works for most doesn’t always work for all.
A true experience of living somewhere doesn't come from a hotel, it comes from immersing yourself and living like a local. Even if that means your sink is attached to your toilet. lol
Still don't understand what size this bed was, we measured it and it was bigger than a California King!
One Airbnb reviewer didn’t like the mattress at one apartment, but loved everything else. Under the review we noticed that the owner commented that they had replaced the mattress. Most owners want you to have a great experience, its dollars in their pocket. We stayed at that place and it was a great experience and we were glad the one negative comment didn’t sway us. Use your best judgement and you should be fine!
This beautiful Airbnb in Colombia had only one review, this would normally feel really risky (especially in another country) but the one review was incredibly detailed and I spoke to the owner extensively before booking asking every question I could possibly think of.
4. Read the Rules – Somehow because these are made by one human being instead of a company some renters either don’t take them seriously or don’t even bother to read them. Again – Big Mistake! Owners are perfectly in their right to come back to Airbnb after your stay and ask that you pay for not adhering to the rules. That’s right, you could basically be fined afterward, and while you can dispute the charges do you really want to deal with the hassle? Probably not. Read the rules and what the owner is expecting from you, it will save you butt in the long run.
This is even further needed when booking in a different country. Different country, possibly different rules. We stayed in many Airbnb’s while in Japan and one of the most common rules was to completely sort the garbage before leaving. This was not something up for debate; it was an absolute that needed to be followed as the owner themselves had garbage rules they had to follow. You not following or knowing the rules might affect your host as well.
If I had these rules before our first booking in Harlem we would have had a much better experience. Instead, we dealt with:
• mice droppings (an obvious after effect)
• filthy apartment (even without the droppings)
• 3AM fight outside the bar next to the apartment, and due to extremely thin walls it felt like they were yelling at me. (unless you plan on hanging out at the bar often, it’s probably not a location you want to pick)
• Again obvious after effect … 5 cop cars with blaring lights that shined through our windows making our apartment look like a red and blue dance club.
• Huge set of steep stairs. I appreciate a good workout as much as the next person, but not fun with kids and luggage! If you don’t like stairs and you are looking at an Airbnb apartment, be sure to ask about stairs! Better yet just ask if there’s an elevator!
While this was definitely an undesirable place and it didn’t help that the owner denied it all, it didn’t scare us from using Airbnb again and it actually helped in the long run, it made us smarter Airbnb users!
Our booking process went from “yeah, that looks fine” to actually knowing exactly what we are getting and walking away with some truly amazing experiences! I wouldn’t trade some of our Airbnb stays for any hotel experience. We didn’t just stay somewhere, we LIVED there!
This isn’t a hotel stay, Airbnb is a completely different monster and with the right knowledge it can be the best thing you booked for your vacation!
*Airbnb is in no way affiliated with this article, and I was not compensated at all for this post, but I really do believe in using Airbnb and feel it is a great tool to help you when traveling!