Tips from an Airbnb traveller: 7 tips and tricks to get the most from your booking

posted on: Thursday, 14 May 2015

This past February I had my very first Airbnb experience. I was going out to Los Angeles, for an extended period of time, and was pretty convinced I didn't have it in me (or my wallet) to part with the colossal amount of cash needed to live it up in a five star hotel for ten days. I'm a one-night-stand type of girl when it comes to luxury hotels. For one night, the world's my oyster. For ten days, I need a kitchen and a space to call my own, end of. So, after a lot of back and forth conversations with my bestie, I decided to join her in her quest to see the world from the apartments and homes of people around the world. You see, she was an old Airbnb pro, had stayed at more than I can remember her listing and had entire "saved lists" for towns she would be visiting in the future. She was Airbnb savvy and I was a complete virgin when it came to the whole concept. So, after all this, here's my story and why I think Airbnb might just be one the best ways to see the world...

View from Silver Lake Airbnb Property
So, my first Airbnb experience was in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. When we arrived we were greeted by a couple, and their small child, and, rather surprisingly, they had British accents. It was late when we landed, we were jet lagged and it felt like I was in a parallel universe. I had just arrived in Los Angeles, right? The two Brits lived in a house, with beautiful views of the city of Los Angeles, and their top floor was a converted flat which was used exclusively for Airbnb renters. They were making a hefty sum of money, a second income really, from renting out this hipster crash pad to the masses. I was impressed. The decor was impeccable, the living areas comfortable and the beds perfect for the epic wipeout that was about to happen. Endless hours were spent simply lounging on the sofa that overlooked the hills or sipping glasses of wine from the balcony with a killer view of the Hollywood sign. For the first time visiting a place, I saw a city through the eyes of a local. This is what it would be like to live here, work here and play here, with my very own space. We never saw our hosts, the entire time we were there, besides check in and check out, and this truly made us feel as if it were our home. For me, this changed the whole concept of travel. We weren't guests, we were instantly locals. That's the power of Airbnb

My second experience with Airbnb, also in Los Angeles, was even better than the first (you can see this in the title picture for this piece). I had booked myself into a beautiful bungalow in the East Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. From the photos online, the place seemed too good to be true. It was just my taste, yet with a true California feel (rather than the one I've been trying to emulate for years rather shabbily here in London). The host, who I will now try and lunch with every time I return to LA, was instantly someone who seemed like BFF material rather than landlord. I had booked a place to lay my head at night and had left with a whole new perspective on interior design and a true friend in the city.

Since the first two experiences, I have gone on to have a few more, all in Los Angeles. So sadly, I can't speak for every country's quality of stay. However, I will say I have yet to hear a bad word said about a friend's experience as an Airbnb guest. I have, though, been given a lot of great advice when it comes to booking. So, I thought I'd share. Airbnb is definitely worth a try for anyone looking to truly experience a city as a local, or even just to meet some cool people ahead of a big move. 

7 Airbnb tips to make the most of your booking

1. Read the entire description of the property
There are so many little things to pick up on in the description that people often overlook. A lot of Airbnb hosts are completely against the idea of you bringing guests back to the house, for example. There is so much information to be discovered in these crucial paragraphs that are often in a drop down box, that can be easily missed. Read everything! 

2. Read every comment left from people who have stayed in the property
On that note, the most important thing you can read is the comments section. Airbnb allow for every guest and every host to leave feedback for one another. They do so confidentially and then the reviews are published days after they are written so that nothing can be altered according to what the other party has written. You get people that are pretty brutally honest, but that's exactly what you want. You want to know if you are headed for a filth pit or a place that claims to have air conditioning, when really all they have is a small fan with an open window. Now, some people are unduly harsh on the comments they leave for properties, but the hosts do have a chance to respond and this can sometimes be not only great for explaining, but also just great entertainment. The things people will say out loud... my goodness!

3. Do exchange Airbnb emails with the host before booking
I find you can learn a hell of a lot about your experience just by talking to the host through the Airbnb email communication. Their tone of voice says it all, really, or so has been my experience. Chances are if they are rude and short on email, you're experience in the flat will mirror that attitude. You are staying in a stranger's house and will need them in the case of an emergency with your accommodation. So, you want to know they are decent human beings at the end of the day. Converse, and freely, over email. 

4. Ask every question you can think of before hand
Now, this brings me to a very important part of booking and communication. If you have any questions at all, ask them before booking. Bringing a baby and need a high chair? Coming with someone in a wheelchair and need ramp access? Have a heart condition and can't climb two flights of stairs? Ask away... get your answers before booking, and here's why...

5. Check the cancellation policy
The cancellation policies on most of the Airbnbs I have stayed in have been VERY strict. As in, you book it, you're staying there. Some cancellations are accepted up to seven days before the booking is to used, but then most will still charge you 50% of the booking costs, if you have to cancel for any reason before. You want to be absolutely sure this is the booking you want. 

6. Note the pet and smoking situation
So many people have mentioned pets and smoking when it comes to Airbnb and it's the only thing close to a downside that I've heard. This mostly has to do with allergies or people very sensitive to sent. If you have a problem with pets - a serious allergy, for example, make sure you check with the host that the apartment has not been inhabited by an animal. Same goes for smoking. If you can't stand the smell, even the tiniest hint of it, ask if smoking has ever been allowed in the place before your arrival. 

7. Check on the parking situation
I left the most tedious and annoying tip for last, and it's mostly applicable to the big cities in the USA. Ask about parking and be very firm in requesting a clear answer. This has been my only problem with Airbnb places in LA. Obviously the houses don't come with valets, unlike every other establishment in Los Angeles. So, it's always a struggle. Now, it's one of the first things I check. Do they mention parking? Are they casual or confident in their guests ability to parallel park on an open street or do they have parking garage or dedicated space for guests? ASK this question and get a clear answer!

From there, just book away and enjoy! You won't regret it. While I still love a stay in a five star hotel (who doesn't?), Airbnb has truly opened my eyes to the possibility of truly experiencing a city as a local. It might just be one of the greatest websites created in the 21st century thus far. Oh the possibilities... where will they take us next? {www.airbnb.com}

Do feel free to comment below on your experience with Airbnb. Would be really interested to hear if anyone has any favourites they've stayed in or any experiences dissimilar to mine?

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