Airbnb made easy

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Skint but saddled with an overwhelming desire to travel? Kaye Holland  has the answer: Airbnb

If you’re travel minded – and, given that you’re reading Just About Travel,  you probably are – it’s hard to imagine life without Airbnb, aka the  San Francisco-based Airbnb room/house letting website.

In only eight years it’s changed the way we holiday, offering travellers a characterful, affordable alternative to staying in an overpriced bland, beige hotel room (sure pre Airbnb there was Couch Surfing but, for those of us over the age of 30, sleeping on a stranger’s sofa was never going to hold much appeal even if it does mean saving moolah).

Financial rewards aside,  staying in Airbnb accommodation also helps you to meet real life residents of your destination du jour and brings you closer to the local culture. I’ve enjoyed some great conversations and experiences abroad, all thanks to the kindness of strangers (my Airbnb hosts).

Furthermore Airbnb  allows you to rent or your own room/home meaning you’re earning – or at least covering your costs – while on the road. I’ve been able to swap winter in the UK for summer in Argentina, by renting out my one bedroom west London flat to an Aussie couple until April.

Of course Airbnb isn’t without its problems. As a traveller, I’ve rocked up at properties that aren’t what they initially appeared (Cassi’s spare room in LA was basically a waterbed in the corner of her studio flat, while Maria in Mendoza neglected to mention that I’d also be sharing the apartment with an army of animals). As a host, not every guest has been great. In fact some – such as Zola who managed to stain the bath (18 months later I am still scrubbing it in vain, on a daily basis) and Harsh, who succeed in splattering every single ceiling and floor in food – have been gruesome. And the constant cleaning and croissant buying, and frantic crossing of fingers that your flat won’t be totally trashed, can grate…

With this in mind, here’s my guide – as both an experienced Airbnb host and guest – to getting the best from the San Francisco site.

airbnb

Picture: Kaye Holland

Sell yourself
Hosts are essentially handing over the keys to their humble abodes to strangers so travellers, do your best to put their minds at ease! Take time to write an attractive profile and upload a proper picture (no drunken selfies please). And confirm your social media accounts, phone number etc. As a host, I wouldn’t consider accepting a booking from someone who hasn’t passed Airbnb’s security tests for, at the end of the day, no matter how much I want to travel my pad is my most expensive possession.

Give good feedback
Had a positive expensive – be it as a host or a guest? Write a review – it’s your chance to show your gratitude and also enable your guest/host to get further bookings. Conversely constructive feedback (either in your review or in private) will enable the recipient to become a better host/guest – particularly if they are new to Airbnb. Just don’t forget that both parties only have a fortnight after the stay is over, in which to leave a review.

Be the best possible guest/host
Hosts: ensure that guest bedrooms and communal areas (think the bathroom, kitchen etc) are clean before each new tenant turns up. Change the sheets and towels and stock up on the likes of loo roll, washing up liquid et al. When the guest(s) arrive, greet them with a smile, offer them a cup of tea or coffee (they may have had a long journey) and show them around the property. It’s a good idea to put together a welcome pack telling them a little about the home (including WiFi passwords) and surrounding area.
Guests: try to arrive at the time agreed with the host. If, for whatever reason, you’re running late, let the host know. Show up with a smile and a pleasant attitude – you’re staying in someone’s home after all, not a hotel. If the place isn’t upto scratch (perhaps the ‘promised’ washing machine or WiFi doesn’t work), speak up. However keep in mind that criticising the decor (i.e your hosts personal taste) isn’t on.

UPTOWN-Airbnb-Logo

Do your homework
It’s important to study the listing properly. Case in point? If you can’t see a picture of the ‘so called’ second bedroom, chances are it’s a sofa bed in the study. Similarly if the host has cancelled an array of bookings (cancellations show up on their listing) in the past, proceed with caution – yours could be the next one… The star ratings provide a further indication of how attractive a property is, as do reviews. Although if a property/host has no reviews it’s not necessarily a negative – it could just be that the hosts are new to Airbnb, so don’t discount them! And if the host has a superhost badge –  a badge of honour for the best renters – consider it a green light to go ahead and book.
Before you do though, check the cancellation fee. ‘Flexible’ means guests can cancel up to the day before and still get a full refund. ‘Moderate’ means a full refund up to five days before while ‘strict’ entitles guests to a 50 percent refund upto a week before arrival. Left sorting your accommodation until the very last minute? Look for listings offering an ‘Instant book’ service which basically allows you to make a reservation immediately.

Picture courtesy of Airbnb

Picture courtesy of Airbnb

Hosts: if you’re serious about renting out your room/abode, avail yourself of Airbnb’s free photography service aimed at showcasing your property in its best light. And supply as much as information as possible – amenities, house rules, public transport links and the like – in your listing. This should prevent a barrage of emails from potential guests, all asking exactly the same questions.
Both parties: unless it’s a repeat/regular booking, don’t be persuaded to do a ‘deal’ outside of Airbnb. Sure you’ll save on service fees, but Airbnb protects travellers cash until after the booking has begun, while their ‘Host protection insurance program’ provides primary liability coverage for upto US$1 million – not something to be sniffed at.

Consider alternatives
Can’t find an available listing you like in the neighbourhood, you have your heart set on? If you’ve got time, it’s worth reaching out to the hosts anyway – they may have simply forgotten to update their calendar (it does happen). Failing that, what about Wimdu or other Airbnb competitors such as 9flats, housetrip.com and homeaway.co.uk ? Feeling flush? Look to Onefinestay (an upmarket Airbnb). Alternatively if you want to make like Kate Winslet and Cameron D in The Holiday, try a house swap through a house swapping site such as HomeExchange.

Happy hosting/travels!

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