Your summer vacation goals sounded like so much fun until you looked at what hotels are asking for these days. Hostels were great when you studied abroad in college, but a little privacy goes a long way. Instead of packing it in before you pack at all, take a peek at Airbnb.
Launched in 2008, Airbnb is a website that allows travelers to book unique accommodations in more than 190 countries from local hosts at a fraction of the price of a hotel. But it’s the chance to gain local perspective from a host family that can be worth its weight in gold.
“You get to talk to someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 5, 10 to 20 years and they know the neighborhood and city, where to go, where to eat,” said Brian Scios of Long Beach who was an Airbnb host in Manhattan for three years and uses the service as a guest. “Sometimes you get more than that. You can have a great conversation about the area or life in general.”
Scios remembers the days when a search for a place would turn up 20 listings. Now, you might have more than 200 to choose from. To help you find the best of the bunch, I got Scios to share seven insider Airbnb tips.
Just like your own hometown, cities and towns across the globe have pockets that can be a bit unsafe, so it’s important to do your homework. Sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp can help, as can Airbnb guest reviews, and Scios swears by CityData. “The forums have all sorts of message boards on every city in the country and internationally,” he said. You can also ask the host, but Scios warns to be wary. “Of course they’re going to say it’s safe, they listed it.”
Find a Place That Fits Your Travel Goals
Think about your travel goals: do you want to be out on the town or are you craving some R&R? If you want to be in the center of the city, that’s great, but keep in mind your nighttime soundtrack may be of youngins partying until the wee hours of the morning. Your transportation needs will factor into this, too. A big city like Manhattan has a subway within a couple blocks of everything, so village hopping is a piece of cake, whereas smaller towns may not have the same luxury.
“The cool thing about Airbnb is that you can do a search and see a mapview,” Scios said. “You can see a map with restaurant listings in one view and open another tab with an Airbnb map that shows the listings [of places to stay] and you can compare the two.” See where everything is, think about whether you mind the noise and whether or not you’re renting a car, have ample access to public transit or plan to walk and decide accordingly.
Pick Your Price Range
Airbnb makes finding a place within your price range pretty simple. Just check off minimum and maximum prices, pop in the dates of your trip and it’ll pull up listings, but don’t be afraid to go a little higher on your maximum. If you see something you love that’s a little pricier, have three to four backups and then be patient. “Wait three to four days before you’re going and message them and say, ‘Hey, I noticed your place isn’t booked up yet. I’m willing to book it but can you do this price?” Scios suggested. “They know they’re probably not going to make any money on it that weekend.” Some hosts will also offer discounts for longer stays, so read the listings clearly especially if your getaway is for more than a weekend.
Choose a Host with the Most
Take a look at the reviews, as most former guests will be pretty honest and make sure hosts are verified. Also, gauge the tone of the listing. “I saw a place in the [Florida] Keys that had a description that was probably eight to nine paragraphs long and just rules after rules after rules and that just didn’t sound like a vacation,” Scios said. You may find a great spot that looks a bit cheaper than it should be without many reviews, which could be a sign that the hosts are newer. Don’t rule it out, but do understand you’re taking a chance.
Look for Sweet Perks
Whether it’s toiletries that save you from having to check a bag or squeeze toothpaste into a tiny bottle or a complimentary one-hour boat tour like the one Scios and his girlfriend received from their Florida Keys hosts, some spots come with some sweet amenities that can help break a tie between two places you love. Read the listings. If you’re looking for more of a staycation, towels, a TV and access to kitchen and a fridge would be helpful. For those ready for adventure, see if you can find a place that comes with free bikes, kayaks and paddleboards that might cost $50 to rent for a half day. And of course, who doesn’t love complimentary breakfast?
Just as you want to know your hosts are verified, they want to see who guests are before welcoming them to their homes. There are multiple ways to do it, such as putting a phone number or address into Google, but Scios used Facebook the most, which you can link to your Airbnb profile. “I could see how many friends they had,” he said. “Someone with only 50 friends were sort of a red flag.” Also, have an Airbnb profile photo so hosts can see who you are. “A lot of people find comfort in that.”
Make It Easy
Remember how that host with paragraphs of rules was kind of a turn off? Guests should steer clear of being high-maintenance, too. If a host asks when you’ll be arriving, simply give a timeframe window, not your full itinerary. “If you make it difficult for me, I’m probably going to choose someone else.” And remember to communicate. “If I don’t hear from you in two days, I’m going to assume you don’t want it.”