I’m struggling to figure out the minimalist hipster microwave in my Airbnb when I hear my phone ping. I fuss with the buttons and knobs on the microwave (maybe it’s not a microwave?) as my phone pings again and again and again.
I’ve just posted a video tour of the place where I’m staying – all exposed brick and gorgeous light – and I’m pretty such I know what the Instagram dms are going to say: “How do you find these great places?!” and “Where are you? What’s the listing for this place?”
For ages people have been asking me to share my best Airbnb tips and how I find such great places. This, my friends, is that post!
(And no Airbnb post would be complete without me sharing my affiliate code for $40 towards your first booking. So there’s that.)
If you’re preemtively side-eyeing Airbnb and thinking “Why would I want to use a service that requires a how-to and tips? I don’t need a tutorial on booking hotels! Harumph!”
I get it. But here are three reasons I will almost always use Airbnb:
1. You will almost always get more for your money
Last week, four of us stayed in this two-bedroom waterfront condo for a total of $99 a night. The hotel directly across the street is $153 per night for a room with one queen bed. This is pretty much the case everywhere, ever.
2. You can stay in a residential neighborhood rather than out by the airport
You know what I’m talking about. Most non-boutique hotels exist in that weird hinterland between the highway and Applebee’s. Most Airbnbs are in real, actual neighborhoods.
You can go for a walk in the morning! Pop down to the coffee shop! Get an idea of how locals live rather than eating hotel oatmeal with a bunch of business travelers!
3. You’re putting money directly in the pockets of locals (rather than multinational hospitality conglomerates)
The money I give my Airbnb host is helping her pay for groceries and her kid’s soccer camp. When I stay at a Holiday Inn, my money is going to InterContinental Hotels Group. And who are they, really?
10 Airbnb tips to find great hosts + avoid grody hovels
1. Remember that Airbnb is not a hotel, nor is it run by hospitality professionals
At the risk of stating the obvious, I think we could all use the reminder (myself very much included) that an Airbnb is not the same as a hotel. Most Airbnb hosts are not hospitality professionals with multi-year degrees in hospitality or tourism.
They are not professionally trained interior designers or cleaners. They’re normal humans with full-time jobs and families who are renting out a spare room, their cabin, or the basement they ‘remodeled’ after watching two seasons of ‘Flip or Flop.’
This is not to say that we should tolerate shady behavior or dirty spaces. But I think it’s important to remember that Airbnb hosts are usually well-intentioned, busy humans who don’t necessarily know the marketing value of luxury bath products or high-thread count sheets.
2. Know that just like anything, you get what you pay for
A beautifully-furnished hotel room in a cool urban neighborhood is going to cost more than a Super 8 in the suburbs of Tulsa. Obviously, right?
Similarly, it’s going to be hard to find a gorgeous Airbnb in midtown Manhattan for $55. You could probably find a couch to sleep on in Flatbush for that amount. And when you get there you’ll probably find about $55 worth of cleanliness, hosting, and considerate touches. Which is to say, probably not that many.
If you’re looking for a really lovely, relaxing experience, don’t book yourself into the cheapest option. There’s probably a reason it’s the cheapest.
If you just need a place to sleep that’s cheap, safe, and close to the airport/stadium/convention center and you don’t care if the pillow is flat and there’s no shampoo, book the cheapest option!
3. Literally search ‘best Airbnbs in [city] or [state]’
If you’re traveling on a tight budget or looking for a place in a specific zip code, this tip will not help you. But if you’re just looking for a cool place for a vacation or you’ve got some financial wiggle room, you can find great places this way. And they’re not all super expensive!
Look at this whole house in Williston, ND for $55! Here’s a super cool dude ranch in South Dakota for $75 a night – and they have goats! Here’s a homesteader desert cabin in Joshua Tree for $119 a night.
If you find a particularly amazing place, why not plan a vacation around it? That’s literally what we did with this converted train car Airbnb in Iowa! (Side note: it’s a great space but the ‘kitchen’ is pretty much a microwave and a mini fridge, just FYI.)
4. Know yourself well enough to know where you can (and can’t) cut corners
If you love to eat out and often skip breakfast, you could probably get by with a ‘private entry suite.’ Why spend the extra money on a place with a kitchen?
If you have a car and you don’t particularly care about hip neighborhoods, you can save yourself a lot of money by staying at a place in the suburbs.
I don’t need a lot of space, but I like to cook for myself and beautiful surroundings are a huge happy-maker for me. So I often stay in artsy studio apartments with functioning kitchens. Here’s where I’m staying on an upcoming trip to Denver!
5. Really, actually read the reviews
On the rare occasion I’ve had a negative experience with Airbnb, it’s often because I didn’t read the reviews thoroughly. I clicked through the photos, glanced at the star rating, and booked.
But after a less-than-stellar stay I went back to the listing and – low and behold – there, in very diplomatic terms, were several guests complaining about the very same things I’d experienced.
Be ye not so stupid as me! Read the reviews! All of them!
6. If something’s not working, tell your host during your stay
Your hosts want you to be happy! You deserve to enjoy your stay! If you need something, if something’s broken or missing or you can’t figure out how to work it – tell them as soon as you notice it so they have an opportunity to fix it.
If you make these requests mid-visit, your hosts won’t be surprised if you mention the issue in your review. And make your requests via text message or Airbnb messaging so you’ll have written proof should you need it. (I say this as someone who made verbal requests for a plumber and then later tangled with the host in the reviews section.)
One last suggestion: If something is really bad, take photos. You might need them to file a claim or send them directly to Airbnb corporate.
7. If there was a problem with your stay, discuss it privately, diplomatically, and calmly with the owner before you post a negative review
Most hosts are nice people, doing their best to navigate the exciting new world of hospitality. If there were issues with your stay and it was their ‘fault,’ many hosts would rather give you a full or partial refund than risk an unhappy guest and bad review.
When I’m complaining, I use ye’ old sandwich method: compliment + concern + compliment.
8. Look at the pictures rather than getting too impressed by five-star ratings
It’s easy to see five stars and a low price point and click ‘book now.’ And if you’re just looking for a place to sleep for one night, go ahead!
But if you’re taking a long-fantasized about vacation, you probably want a space that’s more than a room with a hard bed, right?
Of course, you probably shouldn’t book something cute with hundreds of 2.5 star reviews. Often pictures will tell you more than a bunch of reviews written by people who are afraid their hosts will roast them.
For example, both of these postings are five-star, $34-a-night postings in Denver. Just sayin.’
9. Tell hosts how they can improve their space
If you feel comfortable doing so, after you’ve completed your stay, tell your host how your stay could have been better. Hosts want happy, impressed guests who spread the word about their space! Help them do that. We’d all have better experiences if people did this!
Again, I use the compliment + suggestion + compliment format for this so I’m slightly less likely to come off as a perfectionist busy body. <- I am absolutely a perfectionist busy body.
Here’s an email I sent recently:
I wanted to compliment you on the incredibly comfortable mattress and pillows. I literally travel with my own pillow so this isn’t praise I just throw around! 😉
If you ever wanted to up your coffee game, I imagine those of us who take cream would greatly appreciate the addition of some those little Mini Moos or Coffeemate liquid creamer. It would be such a nice touch!
Again, thanks for the great stay – it’s such a lovely space!
10. If you do leave a negative review, be as diplomatic and professional as possible
After truly awful experiences and exchanging multiple emails with hosts who refused to refund any money, I’ve left negative reviews.
And if you have a bad experience, I think you should, too! I can’t imagine I was the first person to tangle with this particular host in this particular Airbnb, and I wish previous guests had been more honest about their experiences.
That being said, Airbnb reviews are (obviously) not the place for name-calling, swearing, or derogatory comments. Stick to the facts and relate them as objectively as possible: “The air conditioning went down on the third day of our stay and was never repaired despite three phone calls. The internet was too slow to use.”
If you leave a negative review, be prepared for your host to return the favor. When I left mine, the host called me a liar and said that I verbally attacked her workers (which is amazing, since my Spanish isn’t that good). When/if this happens, respond calmly and professionally again.
I said something along the lines of “I think it’s worth noting that this negative review of me as a guest is a direct response to my review of this space. My Spanish is limited to ordering food and asking for prices and directions so I’m not really capable of ‘verbal attacks’.”
Does it suck to have these interactions? Of course. Did I enjoy having that negative guest review hunkered in the middle of my profile page for all to see? I did not.
But allowing people to behave poorly and deliver bad service benefits no one. Everyone who uses Airbnb will have better experiences if we reward the people doing good work and call out the people who aren’t.
Airbnbs I have personally stayed at and can recommend wholeheartedly
A super stylish loft in Winona, MN (Has a giant copper soaking tub!)
A sweet cottage on a goat and alpaca farm in rural Wisconsin (This is where I do my DIY writing retreats!)
A cozy 1850s cabin outside Decorah, IA (Note: they have a fancy outhouse and allow dogs)
Small, art-filled house in the heart of Merida, Mexico’s historic district (When I was there, the internet was a bit slow, but that might not be the case now.)
‘Eco beach house in the trees’ (This is where we spent our honeymoon!)
Gorgeous log cabin near Dollywood (Has a hot tub!)
Waterfront condo in St. Petersburg, FL (I loved the deck!)
Edited to add:
Just like anything in life, Airbnb isn’t 100% unproblematic. In cities with loose housing regulation, low rental availability, and a high tourist draw, Airbnb has further lessened the rentals available to locals. You can read more about it and some of the cities affected here.
If you’re concerned about the ethics of your stay in those cities, consider staying in a small, independently-owned hotel. (Of course, hotels have a terrible carbon footprint and the entire hospitality industry is built on the backs of wildly underpaid undocumented people so … choose your battles, I guess?)
Alternately, consider staying in smaller cities and lesser-known cities where your money will go further and your stay isn’t affecting the rental market!
If you’ve used Airbnb a lot I want to hear from you! What are you best tips? If you’ve stayed in a particularly amazing place PLEASE leave the link in the comments below so we can go there, too!
P.S. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!