10 Things You Should Know About Using Airbnb

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{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

Now that we are a family of four, holidays have taken on a completely new meaning, especially when it comes to organising accommodation. Finding a hotel which can accommodate two adults, a toddler and a small baby can be a tricky task if you are on a budget. We have stayed in a few hotels where my husband and I would occupy the main bed, our toddler would take up the whole sofa bed, and our baby would sleep in a baby bed squashed into whatever free space was available. It was doable, but it meant that once the kids were “tucked in”, my husband and I were prevented from watching TV or even talking, lest it disturbed the kids who were already excited to be on holidays and with their new sleeping arrangements. Eating out at every meal can also be cumbersome with two tiny tots, not to mention expensive, and we soon discovered that it was worth the cost of paying a bit more to stay in a hotel apartment or Airbnb property where the kids could sleep in a separate room and there would be a kitchen available to cook some meals.

Hotel apartments are fantastic for families, especially if you might need accommodation for more than a few days as you are more likely to be assured the comfort of a home away from home. But most hotel apartments come at a hefty cost, not to mention that they can be limited in availability depending on where you are travelling.

But Airbnb has taken off in many countries and thousands of people are now opting to stay in other people’s homes as an alternative to hotel accommodation. In some instances, you might be staying as a guest with the host owners (as you would in a traditional bed and breakfast), or you might elect to stay in a property all to yourself. Airbnb has now allowed a generation of people to suddenly make a bit of cash by vacating their property for a few nights or more, and it is not uncommon to read that some Airbnb owners are making more in rental returns than traditional landlords would.

If you are considering an alternative to hotel accommodation, here are 10 things you should know about staying at an Airbnb property.

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

1. It is Not a Hotel

Not everyone has your standard of living, unfortunately. Some basic things which you might expect when staying as a guest in someone’s home, like clean towels and clean sheets, are not always guaranteed. An Airbnb apartment is not a hotel where a chambermaid has performed a checklist of cleaning duties prior to your arrival; it is simply someone else’s home, and the cleanliness depends very much on the owner’s standard. We have stayed in properties where we have had to remake all of the beds with clean sheets and duvet covers before daring to sleep in the beds, and we considered ourselves lucky that there were clean sheets available. But some thoughtful hosts will leave a welcome note with their tips on where to eat in the neighbourhood, and we have had one host go so far as to leave a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water for us to enjoy on our arrival.

2. You Will Have to Do Some Cleaning

Most Airbnb bookings will include a cleaning fee which can range anywhere from $20 to $150 or more. Despite the cleaning fee, you should still treat the property with respect and leave the place in a reasonably clean state. This means cleaning the dirty dishes, taking out the garbage, and doing a general tidy-up before you leave. Some places will state what the housekeeping rules are, but it is not uncommon to hear about confusion as to how much cleaning the guests must perform, if any. We once stayed at a property where the owner left a pile of dirty dishcloths by the sink, and the two teatowels available to use were of questionable cleanliness. Given that there were no clean cloths available for our use, we decided that there was little cleaning we could do. On another occasion, we arrived at an apartment at 8.30 pm to discover that it had not been cleaned after the previous Airbnb guests had left. We then had to change all of the bedsheets and towels ourselves, as well as clean the dirty dishes, the kitchen and bathroom, and also take out the garbage from the previous guests. We received a refund for our troubles, but nothing could compensate us for the lost time and frustration.

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

3. Photos Can Be Misleading

Like most real estate photos, most properties on Airbnb will have professional or semi-professional photos to tempt you to make a booking. Just don’t be surprised when you turn up at the property and discover that what looked like a minimalist-style apartment in the photos is actually the home of a messy hoarder who thinks you won’t mind if they leave all of their make-up and skincare clutter on the bathroom counter. We have also stayed in an apartment where every hook on the coat stand by the door was over-burdened with the owner’s coats and jackets, leaving no room at all for our own clothes. There was also no space, let alone empty coathangers, in the wardrobes.

4. A Warning for Foodies

One of the benefits of staying at an Airbnb apartment is having a kitchen where you can cook your own meals instead of having to eat out all of the time. Being able to have breakfast at home each day or cooking a few simple meals during your holiday, can save you a lot of time and money. Plus, the convenience and comfort of being able to eat in sometimes can also help you to feel more relaxed on your holiday. However, just because there is a kitchen, doesn’t mean that it will be fully equiped. Even though my own kitchen might be overflowing with assorted crockery, utensils and gadgets, I am often shocked by how bare some people’s kitchens can be. On our recent trip to Paris, we stayed in an apartment where the only knives in the kitchen were flimsy steak knives. There was also only one small saucepan for cooking, and the oven wasn’t even working. It was rather disappointing, given that there was a twice-weekly farmers’ market right on the doorstep and we were simply unable to do any cooking. Most of the reviews for this apartment raved about the great kitchen, but the only thing that was working was the microwave.

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

5. Is it Really Family-Friendly?

When you are travelling with small children, staying at an Airbnb property is generally a better option to a traditional hotel. In some rare instances, your Airbnb home will come fully-equipped with toys, baby beds, changing mats and high chairs. It makes a huge difference when the children can have a bit more space to roam and play, and it can be quite a relief for the parents to be able to do the laundry while on holidays; having access to a washing machine means you can pack less clothing for the kids, who tend to need a change of clothes more often than adults. But if a home is described as family-friendly, it sometimes has more to do with the sleeping space than whether your kids will be comfortable. More often than not, you will need to do a quick rearranging of most rooms to remove fragile objects and choking hazards. You can generally ascertain from the photos if the home will be child-friendly, i.e. maybe don’t rent an apartment with a glass coffee table if your toddler is still going through the banging-toys-on-furniture phase. If you are not sure, just contact the owner. In some instances, your Airbnb host may be able to organise a travel cot or high chair for you, even if such items are not mentioned in the description. Quite often, child-free hosts forget that their homes may be suitable for families with children and don’t think to market their place for such customers.

6. Check the Fees Per Person

All Airbnb properties will specify how many people are allowed on the premises, and there is often a fee for extra persons. Whilst you should not sneak in extra bodies without properly notifying the owner first, it is worth noting if there are additional fees because they can add up, especially if you are staying for more than a few nights. We once looked at a property where the owner considered our baby (aged 6 months at the time) to be an additional person which would cost us an extra $50 per night, despite the fact that we were bringing our own travel cot. What had originally looked like a bargain was suddenly no longer.

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

7. Running Out of the Bare Necessities

Most owners are not familiar with the rules of the hoteling industry, nor have they read Martha Stewart’s guide to entertaining guests. Just because you are staying for 7 nights, doesn’t mean that you will have toilet paper to last you that long. It is unclear if the owner is responsible for providing the basic necessities for your stay (is it supposed to be covered by the nightly rate?), but we prefer to avoid such awkward conversations and often end up buying items such as toilet paper, hand soap and dishwashing detergent, and leaving behind any leftover for the owner to use or dispose. You might be lucky to have a kitchen stocked with pantry essentials, but don’t be surprised if you have to buy basic ingredients like tea, coffee, salt and pepper.

8. Waiting For Your Airbnb Host to Turn Up

On a recent stay in Paris, we were left stranded on a busy street for 2.5 hours with our luggage and two tired and hungry kids during what would have been dinner time. If you are short on time, the last thing you want to do is hang around waiting while you could be enjoying the local sights. Carefully read the reviews to see how reliable the Airbnb host is, including how well they keep in contact with the guests during their stay. The dependability of your host can mean the difference between a positive and negative experience.

9. Your Airbnb Host May Not Turn Up At All

It is one thing if the Airbnb host is late in meeting you upon arrival, but sometimes they don’t turn up at all. We were recently stopped in the streets of Paris by an Indian couple who had spent several hours desperately trying to contact their Airbnb host. We managed to find our way inside the apartment complex, only to discover a note on the host’s door with a message to call a certain phone number. We dialled the number – it was the number of a Portuguese couple who had similarly been left stranded by the same Airbnb host the previous week. In order to avoid any last-minute bad surprises, you should contact your Airbnb host a few days prior to your arrival, both to remind them of your stay and to organise a time for them to meet you with the key. If your host does not respond, consider making alternative arrangements and getting a refund through Airbnb as soon as possible.

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

{Photo © Entrance Makleri}

10. Sometimes, It Can Be Better Than a Hotel

It may be illegal in some cities, but some entrepreneurial owners rent out their homes exclusively and permanently on Airbnb, i.e. they live elsewhere and the property is rented out like a serviced apartment for short stays. In my view, these are the best places to stay. Such places are usually cleaned professionally and equipped to a minimum standard expected of regular serviced apartments. You also won’t have to worry about anyone else’s personal effects about the place, and you might even have your dealings with a third-party agent instead of the owner. It is almost like staying in a hotel which, all things considered, is perhaps not in the spirit of Airbnb …

Conclusion

We have used Airbnb on 5 occasions in 3 countries (in Europe) and, to date, our experience has been good, but not great. We tend to choose properties which are centrally located and which are, therefore, in the mid to high price bracket. But paying more does not necessarily guarantee a better experience, and this is, unfortunately, the conclusion which we have arrived at. That said, Airbnb homes usually provide much more convenience and comfort than what you can find from traditional hotels for the same price. It is usually more cost efficient to stay in an Airbnb home when travelling in small groups, and the convenience of having a kitchen and laundry while on holidays can be priceless. We know many people who have had positive experiences with Airbnb and who would choose Airbnb as their first source of accommodation when travelling. Make sure you read all of the reviews for the Airbnb host to determine if you will enjoy staying at their property, but keep in mind that everyone has different standards and expectations. We have stayed in properties which have had at least a dozen reviews – all of them predominantly positive – yet we still encountered the issues which are mentioned above.

Have you stayed at an Airbnb property? Has your experience been positive or negative? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

12 Comments

  1. What a great article Thanh!

    My husband stayed in an Airbnb property in New York, and while it was ideally located, we had similar issues to you. The kitchen pretty much only had a microwave and basic cutlery. There wasn’t even a chopping board (despite its listing as a fully equipped kitchen). Thankfully we were able to communicate with the owner and she purchased a chopping board, toaster and kettle along with some proper knives which made it a little more usable. Really all we wanted was to be able to make breakfast each morning but without the basics we couldn’t even do that.

    And like you I’ve found cleanliness an issue. When we arrived (at midnight) we had to change the sheets and towels. It was the last thing we wanted to be doing.

    All that being said, it was much more convenient than staying in a hotel and much cheaper too. On our fist visit to New York we stayed in a hotel on the upper east side and despite its 5 star rating we had more issues with that hotel than we did with our Airbnb place and the hotel was 5 times the price! Just like picking a hotel to stay in you need to carefully read the reviews.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 23 August 2016

      Hi Jennifer!

      That’s very true – picking an Airbnb property is much like choosing a hotel, and one should do as much research as possible first.

      That’s great to hear that your Airbnb host in New York was happy to purchase those items for you. Sounds like she at least tried to make your stay as comfortable as possible. We have also been lucky to have had hosts who were available and understanding of our needs. But yes, changing sheets upon arrival (and late in the evening!) is the last thing anyone wants to do!

      For us, the price benefit of staying in an Airbnb property hasn’t been so high. We’ve stayed in properties which have cost similar or slightly less than booking a family room or two adjoining rooms in a decent hotel for the same period. However, this allowed us to save on eating out at every meal, and being able to do the laundry (especially with two young kids) has always been a bonus. But given the problems which we have encountered at these Airbnb properties, I would almost rather pay the same or more to stay at a hotel where we are unlikely to run into the same problems with cleanliness, reliability, etc. It could just be that we have been unlucky with the properties which we have selected …

      And what a shame that you had horrible experience at a 5 star hotel! I hope you left a review to alert other potential guests?

      I don’t think I would completely rule out staying at another Airbnb property in the future, but I have definitely lowered my expectations.

      Reply
  2. Fiona 23 August 2016

    We have used Airbnb 3 times now, and overall it has been a positive experience.

    I think your list is excellent, and the one thing I would add a comment about is the review process.

    We stayed in a flat in London, and had problems with the TV and Wifi (TV wasn’t an issue for us, but we wanted the Wifi to plan trips etc).
    For the duration of our stay the owner wasn’t able to fix the Wifi, and told us we could always go to a cafe over the road and use the Wifi there. The problem was we wanted to check things in the evening once the kids were in bed to ensure we mad the most of our limited time. And we didn’t want to spend our evening with one of us in a cafe and one of us at the flat.

    I wrote a very positive review for the property, but I did mention the problems we had, and how they had not been resolved.

    The owner never wrote a review for us, so my review of him wasn’t published.
    His property does have a reviews though, so I know he does write them for others.
    I do wonder how many owners who have problems with their guests, just don’t review them to keep the overall balance of the reviews on the positive side?
    I understand they can’t see your review until they have written one in return, but sometimes if guests have complained it might be easier not to take the chance?

    But despite that we would definitely use Airbnb again.
    Like I said before our overall experience has been very positive.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 23 August 2016

      Hi Fiona,

      Thank you for your feedback! I didn’t know that about the review process, so thanks for bringing it to our attention. I wonder if this is how some properties have only positive reviews on their profile? At the last Airbnb property we stayed in in Paris, the reviews were almost 100% positive. Yet, it was the property where we waited 2.5 hours and then discovered that it hadn’t been cleaned after the previous guests had left. The TV and wifi were not working, and the bathroom door was also broken. The owner was also out of town and unable to be reached for most of the time!

      I think it’s great that Airbnb works on a review system, but if owners can take advantage of the system by not leaving reviews to avoid them receiving a negative review, that isn’t fair. It’s definitely something to keep in mind.

      Reply
  3. Paula 24 August 2016

    I love you wrote this post!! Because we also use to book by Airbnb. Some years ago, when we used a hotels website, we always try to find an hotel with kitchen, better than a simple room.

    But then I discovered some cute homes at Airbnb, and we started with them, even with the fee you have to pay (we didn’t in the hotel website we used). The truth is that, at the end, you pay more than in a hotel, because you choose the cutest home. But I love travelling like that, we enjoy it more than a hotel room.
    I find it even a better option for families, as it’s much more spacious, and I think that the cost is better.

    But I’m always afraid, because if you have a bad experience, I don’t know how Airbnb is going to respond you, that scares me a little. You’ve scared me a little more, because I never have seen something as you’re telling!!! It’s true that we have been only in five Airbnb properties (and, as you, in 3 countries), so I’m not an expert, and I dare that someday, we’ll suffer something little problem as you did. And you don’t want this kind of surprises when you’re travelling…
    For the moment everything has gone positive, but we always read very very very carefully the reviews (even if you know that what for some people is clean or well equiped can be not enought for you), description, rules… Let’s cross fingers, because on November, two Airbnb properties are waiting for us!! 😛

    Any way, about the review system, I think they’ve changed something. I write a review for a home, and even if the host didn’t write another, it was published. And, when a host wrote about me, before I did the same, I received a message, telling me that he has written, and that I had 2-4 weeks (don’t remember) to write mine, and if not, the review of the host, would be published. The same happen with the other, I wrote it, a few weeks after they didn’t write, and so, my review was published. And the host, neither the traveller, can’t see the others review until they both are public.

    And, wow, renting a house in Paris where the oven is not working must be soooo sad!!!

    Have a nice week, Thanh!!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 24 August 2016

      Hi Paula,

      That’s great to hear that you have only had positive experiences with Airbnb. I think you just have to be lucky in finding a nice home with a nice owner 🙂

      Like I have said above, our experiences have been good, but not *wow*. It is definitely much more comfortable in a house or apartment when you have children, or even if you just want a bit more space and especially a kitchen. Perhaps I have been spoilt by some nice hotels, so my expectations of Airbnb have been too high 😉 But quite honestly, I think clean bed sheets and towels are a minimum. When you have travelled a long distance and arrive at your accommodation, you just want to relax. So when you discover that you have to change the bed sheets yourselves, clean the kitchen and bathroom, etc., it sort of spoils the experience. And then you start wondering what else could be wrong with the place!

      I think the review process is interesting. In the past, when you submitted a review, it would be published right away. Currently, the rule is that both parties have only 14 days to write a review, and you can only see each other’s review once you have both submitted a review. But as Fiona pointed out in the comment above, if the host suspects you might give a negative review, they can choose not to submit a review, which means that your review will not be published. I will have to wait and see if this also happens to me … I wonder if there might just be a delay in publishing some reviews?

      And yes … it was so frustrating to not be able to cook at this particular apartment in Paris! I think the host must have eaten takeaway or frozen meals every night because it was impossible to cook in her kitchen. She didn’t even have a toaster or kettle!

      Reply
  4. Wendyr 27 August 2016

    My husband and I have been using Airbnb since 2012- it tends to be our go-to when traveling. I would say we have used it a dozen times in 10 countries (US and Europe). Our experiences have nearly always been extremely positive- but my husband dislikes staying in hotels, so maybe that has something to do with our more relaxed attitude! We have had minor niggles – no toilet paper at our most recent in Amsterdam, a late host in a country where being on time is unheard of…. But other than that, I would always pick Airbnb over the other options.

    While this post is useful, I wish you had highlighted more if the positive! It seemed very negative- while I think it is key that people go in with the right expectations and it is definitely not for everyone (I would never suggest my mother stay in one- she is way too picky!), you can have such an incredible experience. Some of my best memories from our holidays were we used Airbnb directly involve the places we stayed. Sitting on the porch, drinking beers in Austin; the wonderful Swedish host in Stockholm who loaded us up with traditional Swedish Christmas treats; sleeping in a converted church in London; lying around all afternoon reading in our flat in Gdansk to escape the summer heat…

    I understand less than ideal experiences can be annoying, but there are ways to ensure it doesn’t ruin your trip. Be smart about where you stay, go in with a positive attitude, know it is not a hotel so you can’t expect it to be a hotel….and enjoy what staying in a home and all that can offer!

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 27 August 2016

      Hi Wendy,
      Thanks for your feedback! It sounds like you and your husband are seasoned Airbnb guests! And it also sounds like you’ve had some very lovely and thoughtful hosts. I must admit that we regarded our first experience as positive; despite some cleanliness issues and lack of items like toilet paper and handsoap, we really enjoyed our stay and appreciated the convenience of a large apartment to a tiny hotel room. But at each subsequent Airbnb stay, we encountered worse and worse issues, and this has made our overall Airbnb experience less than great. I’m sorry if my post sounds a bit negative … I’ve tried to highlight the positives where I can, but I suppose I just wanted to warn readers of some issues they might encounter, especially those using Airbnb for the first time. We haven’t written off Airbnb, and hopefully we will one day also have a host who will be so kind to leave behind local treats! I think little things like that can make all the difference 🙂

      Reply
  5. Carol Thompson 5 October 2016

    I have stayed in several Airbnb apartments, mostly without any problems. One issue I have though is that the host can cancel your booking without warning. I have had this occur twice, and luckily both times have found accommodation equal to,if not better than the original booking. Airbnb ‘compensated’ with a contribution towards the cost, but I don’t know how I would manage arriving in a different country to find my booking was no longer.
    That said I have 2 bookings coming up in October.I love having ‘my own space’ rather than a hotel room and have met some fantastic ‘hosts’ in Europe, Australia and USA.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 5 October 2016

      Hi Carol, thank you for your feedback! And thank you for pointing out the fact that your booking can be cancelled by the host without warning. It has never happened to us, thankfully, but I often see this mentioned on many listings. Is it a bit unbalanced then if guests are bound by cancellation policies (some of them quite strict), whilst hosts are not? Great to hear that your experience of Airbnb has been positive, and I hope it will continue to be this way on your upcoming trips. Bon voyage!

      Reply
  6. Donna 29 November 2016

    We have stayed in AirBnb accommodation 4 times and have a 5th one coming up in January. All of them have been extremely positive experiences for two reasons: you have to “roll with it” when you run into situations of a less than fully equipped suites and we chose the places based on the proximity to the places we planned to explore. All of our hosts were great and we even had one host provide all the makings for breakfast eggs, bread, milk, cereal, jam and a bottle of wine and a specialty beer for my husband. Another had a huge gourmet kitchen to use. Just wonderful and we have lots of great memories because of our accommodations. One thing is important, we always leave the place as tidy and cleaned or more than when we arrived.

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 29 November 2016

      Hi Donna,
      Sounds like you have a knack for choosing really great Airbnb homes! We recently stayed in a beautiful Airbnb apartment in Bordeaux (France), and I think that was our best experience yet. The apartment was nicer and more spacious than in the photos, the kitchen was really well equipped, the beds were comfy, and the location was fantastic. So when things go to plan, or exceed expectations, it’s a nice feeling. You are lucky to have hosts provide some food (and wine!), especially for a meal like breakfast which is usually easier to eat at home. I think gestures like these go a long way to make you enjoy your stay. And I agree that guests should clean before they leave, irrespective of the cleaning fee. I think it’s just a common courtesy, much like when you stay at a friend’s home. Enjoy your upcoming trip!

      Reply

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