Airbnbs – they’ve been in trouble lately for displacing locals and skirting local accomodation laws.
But Airbnbs are an awesome option for accomodation in my opinion:
- They offer travellers the chance to stay like a local, or with a local, and get a real taste of a place.
- They tend to be cheaper than hotels/motels, which is great for those of us on a budget.
- A lot of people want the privacy and amenities that come with having your own apartment. Hotels don’t tend to offer a fully equipped kitchen and your own washing machine.
- They offer a lot of variety, allowing you to pick your preferred location, size and budget. No more being forced to stay in “tourist central” and pay premium prices if you don’t want to. (Check out this list of Super Cool Airbnbs in Europe – from treehouses to castles!)
- For long-term travellers and digital nomads, the discounts can be massive, making it so much more affordable to stay in a place longer.
Adam and I pretty much live in Airbnbs – with the exception of the odd night at a hotel for travelling convenience – and we’ve learned a lot about how to pick a good one, even with tight purse strings.
So here are my six top-tips for picking a great Airbnb, on a budget!
Ask those in the know on which areas to stay in, and which to avoid
Ask, ask and ask again.
I utilise Facebook groups heavily for this – female focused ones such as Girls Love Travel are great as they are completely international, meaning you’ll likely get perspectives from both travellers and locals.
But don’t be afraid to join expat groups from the area for another perspective! Most are pretty happy to talk about their newly-adopted city. A quick Facebook search for your city might give you a few ideas.
Usually, a city will have 2 or 3 different areas that are recommended. Search for your apartment in those areas and you won’t get caught in the “Bronx of Colombia” (seriously scary stuff).
Compare your Airbnb shortlist to the approximate location on Trip Advisor and Google Maps
Most of the time, you’ll want to make sure you apartment is located amongst the bustle of cafes and restaurants (and don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s “near enough” – a ten-minute walk for dinner at night is a long time when you’re in not-so-safe part of the world).
Being right in the middle of an orange zone (the yellowy-orange tone on the maps), makes it super easy to grab a quick bite if you’re not feeling very adventurous one day or are short on time.
While it might make your apartment a little noisy at night, it also means there are people milling around into the evening, making it safer for you to walk the few minutes home if you wish to.
Where is the nearest supermarket? Coffee shop? Laundrette or Water Dispenser? If you’re staying somewhere for a few weeks or more, these things become so important.
Watch out – if there are casinos and pawn shops around, I recommend you avoid staying there.
And check out the reviews of the nearby parks – be careful if you’re right next to one. Parks tend to be breeding grounds for unsavoury characters, especially at night and without police presence. Reviews on both Tripadvisor and Google of the parks should help with this.
Inspect the photos of the apartment on Airbnb closely and tick off what you need
While not all Airbnb photographs are created equal (professional photographer vs smartphone snapper), don’t let low-res photos put you off.
The important thing is making sure you can see everything you want from your apartment. Hosts are likely to snap things such as a washing machine, which is really handy.
So make sure you compile a list of what you need and want before narrowing down your shortlist. The times we were without a decent table or a microwave really drilled this home. Don’t expect that any apartment or house will have the basics. If you can’t see an oven or coffee maker in the photos, it’s likely there isn’t one.
One sneaky thing to look for, especially if you’re planning on spending a bit of time in an apartment, is windows. So often, cheap apartments are in a basement or built into an existing home, which means no natural light. This can be soul-sucking, so look for those windows!
If you’re in doubt, always feel free to message the host and just ask. That way, if they say they’ve got something in the apartment and it turns out not to be there, you can make a proper claim through Airbnb.
Don’t trust the Airbnb filters
The filters are great for narrowing down apartments – especially to find those within budget.
But all the filters are selected manually by the hosts, which is why you’ll find shared living areas under “entire apartments”, or they’ve listed a washing machine when the laundrette is down the road. I can’t say if this is on purpose to be misleading, or whether language barriers and the way Airbnb asks hosts the questions lead to inaccurate information.
So only tick what you definitely can’t go without (there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get ticked, too, which will limit your search options unnecessarily). But don’t trust that it’s flawless – always verify through reviews or with the host through Airbnb.
Scan the reviews closely – pay close attention to what is not being said
Reviews are one of the most useful parts of Airbnb. It’s great knowing Steve and Linda from Rotorua stayed there just 2 months ago and had a great time.
Good reviewers will often mention how far it is to a supermarket, or if it’s noisy at night (remember, not a bad sign).
However, if all the reviews mainly talk about what a great guy the host is, it’s likely a crappy apartment but the host was so lovely, guests didn’t want to leave a bad review publicly (we’ve been there).
And if no one mentions what a good shower there is, the shower is likely no better than a cold dribble – everyone always gets excited about a good shower, but never too fussy about a bad one to complain about it.
The same with a “comfy bed” or a “safe location”. People are more likely to mention the great things and leave out the bad things – so what are the reviewers leaving out?
Read every single review within the last two years – have past issues been resolved? Did the host cancel at the last minute and not explain it? More than once? If the internet was patchy a year ago, it’s likely no better today.
And, if in doubt, ask.
While I’m talking about reviews, be a good reviewer yourself. Honestly mention things that other travellers will find useful – I’m looking at you, girl who’s too nice to mention there were still no forks after you asked, twice.
How does your Airbnb apartment shortlist compare?
Is your first choice suspiciously cheap or crazy expensive? How long has it been on Airbnb and how many reviews has it got for that time? How many other Airbnbs are available in the area?
Different countries have different standards of living – you should have a good idea through thorough research about the going rate for a simple apartment in the area of your choice, and what a “simple apartment” actually means.
Do most come with a security guard? Or a parking space? Read other reviews – there might be something important mentioned that you’ve yet to think about. Look at Airbnbs you haven’t shortlisted to get an idea of the market.
As with anything, do your research. Adam and I typically spend a few hours shortlisting places and messaging hosts, then taking a day or so to make a decision. A crappy apartment can really make or break your travelling experience.
Now go forth, pick a fantastic Airbnb in the coolest location and have the greatest time! Let us know about your best and worst Airbnb experiences in the comments.