How to Find the Perfect Airbnb
An essential part of any vacation is where you are staying. Since we started traveling, we have used Airbnb whenever possible and it has been an extremely positive experience. It is extremely rare when we cannot use Airbnb and when that happens, I am always a bit disappointed.
Don’t believe me?
So yes, we love Airbnb. I feel it gives us experiences and access that traditional hotels do not. Other benefits we have found:
- Pay less than traditional hotels: It has been the case almost everywhere we travel that Airbnb is either more affordable or the same price as a hotel. And when it is the same price as a hotel, I feel you get far more amenities from an Airbnb than a hotel.
- Have a more comfortable place with amenities of home: You can have all the comforts of home including a fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, parking, separate bedrooms, area to relax, and more.
- Great for large families or groups: Going with a group or have a family? Getting an Airbnb allows for more flexibility in having a larger space with separate bedrooms as oppose to the traditional hotel room where it is one shared space. Having done many family trips, having separate spaces to go to is key to a successful trip.
- Flexible locations: Some people want to be right in the middle of all the action and Airbnb can definitely provide that but if you want to be a bit off the beaten path, Airbnb can help there too.
- Stayed in some unique locations – We have stayed in some incredible Airbnbs. In Charlottesville, we stayed in a garage loft on an active farm. When visiting Yosemite, we stayed on a wine vineyard. In the Hudson Valley, we stayed right on the river in one of the best Airbnbs ever. And in Finger Lakes, we stayed in a cabin on the lake. When visiting Portland, OR, we got to fall in love with the neighborhood the Airbnb was located. These are things you cannot get from traditional accommodations!
- Connected to a local: Your host! The first thing I do when booking an Airbnb is ask for their recommendations for things to do and places to eat. They are one of the best resources you have. We have had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people throughout the world. While we have had more contactless interactions with host post COVID, I know this will change with time. Our most memorable experience with a host was in Wellington where we stayed up quite late with her one night solving all the worlds problems.
Now that you are ready to use Airbnb for your next trip, let’s go through some of the filter options you will want to consider to make your search process easier.
Using Airbnb Filters
There are many filters you can use to help narrow down your search and find exactly what you are looking for. Let’s review some of the filter options that I use that may be helpful when searching for Airbnbs. Keep in mind the type of trip you are looking to have – will you have a car? Are you going to be cooking? How many bedrooms will you need?
- If we are planning on doing cooking, I am going to book a place with not just a kitchen, but a full kitchen that is stocked with cookware like we did when we traveled to Alaska.
- If we are bringing or renting a car, I make sure there is free parking on premise available. When we travel with a car, this is a non-negotiable as worrying about the car and the safety of where it is parked is not something I want to be concerned about.
- If we have to pack in a personal item or a very long trip, I make sure there is a washer / dryer in the Airbnb like for our trips to New Zealand (long trip) and Glacier National Park (packed in a personal item).
- Going to the beach? Check if the Airbnb has beach stuff! When we went to Hawaii, the Airbnb had beach chairs, and umbrella, and more for guests and it was great to not have to worry about packing or renting these items.
- Planning on arriving before check in or staying at the location longer than check out? Look for listings that offer luggage storage / drop off so you do not have to worry about bags. Even if a listing does not list this as an amenity, it never hurts to ask your host. When we visited Quebec City, we were arriving very early in the day and asked if we could drop our bags so we could explore without them and the host was able to allow for it ahead of the check in time.
Price is an obvious filter that should be added before looking at spots. Not looking to spend more than a certain amount each night? Then do not tempt your budget by seeing more expensive options! There have been destinations where we have spent way less than expected and destinations where we had to adjust expectations due to what was available. That being said, I have still always found Airbnbs to be a more affordable option when it comes to accommodations – if the Airbnbs were averaging higher than I expected, the hotels were far more per night. The earlier you book, the more Airbnbs will be available which gives you the best chance of getting a good deal.
Type of location
There are different categories of types of places to stay. Most of the time, I use the “Entire place” filter. However, do not be scared of the “Private Room” option. We have done this on multiple occasions mainly because the price was significantly cheaper or more within the price per night I was looking to spend. The “Private room” option can range from literally a bedroom in someones home to an in-law type suite that is completely separate from the main house. The experiences we had were always positive but this decision was always backed up by 1) having a ton of positive reviews and 2) a private bathroom to accompany the space. It was a huge bonus if the space also had a private entry way. When we planned a last minute trip to Portland, ME the only option available was a private room. It was well rated and looked very private in the photos – it ended up being an in-law type suite and we never saw or heard the hosts. The “Private room” option does require a bit more screening but in some cases can be worth the extra effort, especially if you are on a tight budget and this saves you money as it did when we visited the Iowa State Fair and Nashville.
This one has been my biggest change post pandemic. Before, it was extremely rare for us to have to cancel a vacation – in fact I cannot think of a trip we had to cancel before COVID. Now, I pay extra close attention to this as each Airbnb has their own cancellation policy and window. Let’s look at a few examples.
In Example #1, a trip starting on May 28 has a free cancellation policy before May 23.
In Example #2, there is the option to pay an additional total cost for the refundable cancellation. This one has free cancellation before March 15 for an April 14 stay.
In Example #3, there is free cancellation for 48 hours after the booking of the Airbnb. This is NOT 48 hours before the check in date – it is 48 hours from the time you book the Airbnb.
I show all this to demonstrate that there are many different ways host scan manage cancellation policies. It is up to you what you are comfortable with. I will say, since the pandemic, more Airbnb hosts are offering flexible and longer periods of time for free cancellation. Before the pandemic, I really never looked at the cancellation policy and now I do pay closer attention to it.
One thing I will say is I have been burned before losing an Airbnb that I loved that had a flexible cancellation policy and kicking myself for not just booking it. If you see something you like but plans may not be 100% in stone and the Airbnb has a very generous cancellation policy, just book it. I have lost out on some great Airbnbs because I hesitated.
Picking your Airbnb
OK now that you have the filters you want – lets see what Airbnbs are available.
The first thing you want to identify is where you want to stay at your destination. Do you want to be in the middle of all the action? Do you want something more tucked away? Are you looking for a remote destination? Your preferences will impact where you want to look on Airbnb’s map.
How do you find out where you want to stay? You may already know depending on the destination you are traveling to – perhaps you received a recommendation or you are going for a specific event that you want to be close to, or visiting a friend or family member that resides in a certain area. But if you have no clue – check out my post Tips on Trip Planning and How to Make a Perfect Travel Itinerary.
The goal here is to use Google maps by starring any and all places you may be interested in visiting or eating at. This then gives you an idea of where the action is and how you can position yourself in relationship to the things you want to do. I generally want to stay close but not in where all my stars congregate. Is being near the action or all your stars too expensive? Or perhaps the destination is too big to be centralized perfectly? Then look to public transportation and see what options are available at the destination. Pick an Airbnb that has good proximity to a mode of public transportation such as a train station or bus stop. If it is too $ to stay in the middle of the action – find one close to public transport.
Let’s look at another example. For our most recent trip to Quebec City, here was the Google Map and all the stars I added while trip planning. With a short trip, it was impossible to visit all the stars but it gave me an idea of where the activity was in the city.
The cluster of stars near the river to the right is where the Old City was located. While there is a ton to do and see there, it was not central to the other stars on the map. For example, Old City is the more tourist part of the city so we would not be eating our meals there and instead would be dining at the locates more on the center of the map and to the left. There was also the Carnaval de Quebec activities that were occurring at the center bottom of the map. So for this trip, I knew I wanted to stay accessible to all areas to the city as we would be walking everywhere so I landed on the Saint-Jean neighborhood.
So not that I have an idea of where I want to stay, let’s look at Airbnb for options.
There were actually a good pool of Airbnbs to choose from in the Saint-Jean area so I started searching around that area to select our Airbnb. So once you find the location you want to stay at, it is time to get into the details on how to select your Airbnb. We stayed at a great Airbnb in Quebec City and I will explain why we chose it and how you can ensure you select the perfect Airbnb.
From here, it is all about reviews – the average rating, the number of reviews, and reading the actual reviews themselves. Look for reviews that include “great location”, “very clean”, “host was responsive”, and other phrases that validate the type of stay you are looking for. Also pay attention to the dates of the reviews to use the most recent reviews to help reflect a stay you can expect. If a place is a newer listing with a good rating but lower number of reviews, go look at the hosts page and see their reviews. Sometimes, the hosts have more than one location and if the other Airbnbs with ratings are also high, it can validate the one you are looking at will be ok.
For the Quebec City example, The selected Airbnb was in the right price per night range, had a generous cancellation policy, and was in the location I wanted. For reviews, it was 4.94 rating with 139 reviews all of which were glowing.
I have never book something without reviews. Do yourself a favor and follow the same rule. To date, we have not had a negative experience at any Airbnb due to the research and work to find great spots.
Looking at the pictures is probably the most fun part of looking for Airbnbs. You should be looking for a host that posts many photos of the space to show you exactly what to expect. What does the bed look like? What does the kitchen set up look like? Is there a photo of the entrance? How nice is the bathroom? If you are looking for a washer and dryer – can you find it in the photos? Validate the things you are looking for in your filters in the photos. I had the washer / dryer filter on for our trip to South Africa and I loved one place I found but I could not find a washer / dryer in the photos despite it being listed as an amenity. I messaged the host to confirm and they actually did not have one in the Airbnb. Always cross check your filters with the photos! I will not choose one with few photos or photos that do not showcase the Airbnb.
For our Quebec City example, the photos clearly showed the entire space.
With that, we booked this spot and had a wonderful stay! I would absolutely recommend and stay here again on a return trip to Quebec City. Always review your stay as well – need to pay it forward and keep the Airbnb community informed.
And do not forget – your host gives you a review as well. Be respectful of people’s homes that are being opened to you. Follow their rules, keep the place clean, and treat it like your own home.
Have questions? Message the host! We do this all the time to confirm the amenities we are looking for. Also once we book, we open a dialogue with the host to ask for recommendations for things to do and places to eat – most of the time they are locals themselves and have the inside scoop that can help you visit like a local.
Just browsing? Use the “Wish List” feature and save your favorite Airbnbs for when they are ready to be used.
Do not forget to check out Airbnb experiences! We have started using these recently and have been blown away by the experiences offered! From walking tours to cooking demonstrations to food tours and so much more.
- In Los Angeles, we walked shelter dogs at Runyon Canyon to not just get them out and about but also adopted!
- In Cape Town, we went on a walking tour of Bo-Kaap with a local
- In Bologna, we booked a pasta making class with a chef in his home and it was one of our best memories from that trip
New to Airbnb? I have a coupon!
I hope this helped in your Airbnb search for your next trip or convince you that Airbnb is a great alternative to traditional accommodations.