Booking an Airbnb may seem straightforward, but as someone who has stayed in over 20 Airbnb rentals for various amounts of time, I can certainly tell you that it is not. Airbnb homes are not hotels and there aren’t really any basic requirements to these places – meaning you can rent everything from someone’s couch to a palace, and everything in between. There are boat houses, tents, cars, etc. and of course, normal apartments which is what I always rent.

Airbnb is a great option for the traveler who wants to live like a local. The apartments are often much cheaper than hotels, and more private than hostels, making them perfect for travelers like me. Below I’ll share my process for booking Airbnbs. I typically book completely private apartments, usually studios and one-bedrooms, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Searching For An Apartment

Start searching for apartments by entering your destination, dates and number of guests. At this point, you’ll get a ton of listings back (hopefully!). If you click over to “Homes” and then “More Filters” and scroll down to Amenities, you can select more filters for the apartments. I always select “Wifi” to start off with, and then “Kitchen”. Then I select a few apartments that seem nice to look into.

Here are three tips for choosing a potential place on Airbnb:

Don’t be fooled by professional photos

Airbnb offers hosts a free professional photography service. It has been proven that this increases the likelihood of an apartment getting booked, and I have fallen for this trap before. I’ve booked apartments that looked amazing in the photos and then turned out to be dumps! Similarly, I’ve booked apartments that had basic camera phone photos and turned out to be wonderful in person. Try to look at the apartment photos as closely as possible and judge objectively!

Read the Description and House Rules

I can’t tell you how many listings I’ve seen where one price is listed in the Cost section, and then another fee is added in the description or house rules section. It baffles me why Airbnb doesn’t ban hosts who charge cash fees, but for some reason they don’t.

The good news is that you are in no way required to pay any additional cash fee once you book an apartment on Airbnb. If a host tries to ask you for more money, politely direct them to this page. You can change the domain ending if you want to send the information to them in their native language. Changing “.com” to “.es” for example would give the page in Spanish.

This happened to me once and the message I sent was:

Hi, I’m so sorry but it’s actually against Airbnb’s policies to ask for money upon arrival. All fees must be paid during the time of booking! You can read more information here:
If the fee is necessary for you then please cancel my booking as soon as possible so I can find another place to stay! Thank you.

The host backed down!

Search for Words in the Reviews

Most people read the last few reviews and make their decision. I would recommend digging into the past reviews a bit more. Airbnb lets you search for specific words in reviews, which I always take advantage of. Here are a few I recommend searching: robbed, internet, nightclub, noise, dirty, construction, neighbors, windows, and of course any variations of these words.

I typically find three apartments that I would be happy booking, and message the hosts in order of preference. Don’t get attached to one apartment, because it may not be available once you inquire!

Messaging the Host

Personally, I don’t ever “Request to Book” before messing the host. There are a few benefits to messaging the host instead of booking directly. First of all, it shows you’re serious about the apartment, second of all, it lets you get pre-approved. If you send a booking request, the host has 24 hours to respond. I think messages convey a little more urgency, because the host has potential income at their fingertips, and it encourages them to keep the ball rolling so you will book the apartment. If you have any special requests, ask them before booking, because the host is much more likely to accommodate you instead of risking the loss of the booking.

Airbnb requires you to input your dates of travel before you can message the host, which is fine by me. You can always change the dates if you need to before booking.

In your message you should include a short introduction of yourself and why you are traveling! A sample introduction could be:

Hello, I’m (your name), I’m from (hometown) but I have lived in France when I was younger! I love to travel, read and watch films. My favorite place is Arles, France, and I speak French and English fluently! I’m coming to (destination) to explore the city like a local. I’m really looking forward to visiting (site). I have a few questions about the apartment I hope you can answer:

Then in the same message, here are the three questions I always ask the host before booking the apartment:

1. Do you have router-based wifi? Is it fast and reliable?
2. Are there any additional fees you charge?
Just to avoid any confusion. In addition to cash cleaning feeds, some hosts will charge you if you arrive after 8pm or another specified time. Get this out of the way just to be sure you won’t be met with any surprise fees!
3. Is there any construction or loud noises going on in the nearby apartments/buildings?

Once you send your message, the host will respond back pretty quickly in my experience.

Set-Up a Meeting Time

Be sure to let the host know your approximate arrival time. I usually write the train station or airport I’ll be arriving to and when, then I include the time I foresee arriving to the apartment. So I might say “Hi there! I’m arriving to the Madrid airport at 1pm so I think I should be at the apartment around 2-2:30pm!” It’s perfectly okay to give a 30 minute window, in my experience. If you’re running late, try to message the host as soon as possible

Checking In to the Apartment

Once you meet your host and arrive in the apartment, I recommend verifying that anything you need during the stay is there when you check in with your host. Keys, toilet paper, towels, sheets, etc. For me, it’s wifi! I recommend verifying the wifi connection works while your host is present. Once I checked in to an apartment, and saw that the host had printed out a nice card showing the wifi network name and password, so I assumed there wouldn’t be a problem if they took the time to do this. Sure enough, the wifi did not work, but the host had already left. Luckily, they were amazing hosts, and the problem was fixed within 2 hours, but I probably could have saved myself this time if I had checked the wifi upon arrival. Point is: whatever you need in the apartment, verify it’s there and working while your host is present!

It’s a good idea to do a quick walk through the place and make sure nothing is visibly broken. If it is, I’d recommend sending a message to your host on Airbnb stating the item that is broken. Take photos as well. While I’ve never had an issue with the security deposit, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have written and visual proof that the item was broken upon your arrival.

Hopefully everything in the apartment is exactly as you expected. If it isn’t, you have a few options. If your host just didn’t meet you at all, then call this number: Airbnb will find you another place to stay in a hotel or nearby apartment. If you arrive to the apartment and it is missing something you were expecting, then follow these instructions.

Enjoy your stay! :)

Checking Out of the Apartment

Most hosts will say it’s okay to leave the apartment keys in the apartment when you leave, but it’s good to check with them and see what they prefer before leaving.

Personally, if there is a cleaning fee, I don’t wash my dishes or clean up very much.

If there is not a fee, then I am sure to wash my dishes and tidy up as much as possible. Of course, I never leave the place a pig sty, regardless of whether there is a fee or not.

Always take a video of the entire apartment before leaving, even if you have to get up early. If you don’t, and you get into a damage dispute with the host, then you risk having no proof of the state in which you left the place.

Overall I’ve had wonderful experiences using Airbnb – and many of my travels truly wouldn’t have been possible without the platform! If you’d like to try Airbnb for yourself, sign up here for $40 USD off your first trip!

How to get Pre-Approved on Airbnb

The Complete Guide to Booking an Airbnb

Booking an Airbnb Paris

Finding the Perfect Airbnb Rental

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