Soñando Sunday: An Introduction to Airbnb
During our weekends we love to travel (hence our Soñando Sunday section) and we definitely have a lot of tips and tricks to make our travels as fun and easy as possible without breaking the bank. We’ve talked about things like Couchsurfing—see posts one, two, and three—and BlaBlaCar—see posts one, two, and three—, but we haven’t talked about Airbnb yet! So, we wanted to share with you a basic introduction to this option when traveling.
What is Airbnb?
Airbnb is a platform, like BlaBlaCar or Couchsufing, that initially started with people offering additional rooms in their homes or apartments at a smaller cost than a traditional hotel. This method of house-sharing allows the tenets to make a little bit of extra money and additional benefits for the guest, including getting to meet the locals and (usually) having access to utilities such as laundry services and a kitchen. As someone who personally doesn't really like hotels but gets a bit overwhelmed in busy hostels, I tend to find that Airbnb is a good intermediary option at a good price when I’m looking for somewhere different to stay in the city.
Note: Today, many cities are having issues with people deciding to Airbnb entire flats instead of renting to local people living in the area (check out this example in Lisbon). This has a double implication in that rent is driven up dramatically and that local hospitality industry suffers the consequences. Different cities are taking different measures against this, so you should check what the protocol is where you are going before you decide to book.
Who can use it?
Anyone can use Airbnb as long as you have a way to pay for it (major credit cards, PayPal, some debit cards, etc. are valid ways of payment). Originally hosts could be anyone, around the world who were willing to open up their home to travelers. However, with all of the issues around housing and tourism in different cities, in many places Airbnb hosts now have to go through a validation process to ensure that they are complying with local laws.
Pro-tip: The platform itself works to verify all users (hosts and guests). There is also a specific verification badge awarded to those people who have excellent profiles and comply with all local and national regulations, so look for this when booking to ensure you are booking with legal entities within the city.
What should I keep in mind?
While I have used Airbnb several times, I wouldn’t necessarily say I am an expert on it. In fact, I am very likely to stay with friends when traveling and not be looking for anywhere to stay at all. However, there are three things that I would keep in mind:
The profile: I know there are hosts around the world (for Airbnb, but also for Couchsurfing, etc.) who don’t really care what you write. At the same time, I am the kind of person who wants my host to care. Therefore, I made an effort to fill out my profile and go the extra length to read what others say in their profiles before booking—shocking, I know but I always feel that by doing my bit, I am inviting the other side to do theirs as well.
The offer: Consider what you need before you start looking. This will help you set the filters available to you to find something that actually fits your needs (for example, you don’t actually need to be looking for a one-bed room when you are two couples or a place 3km outside of the city when you have no form of transport). You can usually find these filters at the top of the page or within the app and they really help to narrow down your search to your needs to the specifics before you start looking so that you will have a better chance to stay focused and find what you are looking for.
The reviews: Reviews seem to be the way to go with services these days and, in all honesty, Airbnb is no different. Reviews left by previous guests are the way you are able to see if what you see in the profile is actually what you will get when you get there. At the same time, it is not always easy to decide if the reviews do the place justice. For example, if new places only have a few reviews or a place has several good reviews and one bad one, you will have to go with your gut a little bit.
Note: Keep in mind that the reviews are not anonymous so people are less likely to write negative experiences.
For a little bit more of an expert opinion, I asked my mom for what she thought on the subject (and boy am I glad I did!). My mom uses Airbnb all the time—mostly for work travel either alone or in groups—and has had experiences all around the world with this platform. When I asked her for her top tips to keep in mind when using Airbnb, this is what she told me:
The cancellation policy: As every host is able to decide their own cancellation policy (from fairly lenient to very strict), make sure that what they put fits your needs. It is especially important to remember that not all trips are the same and that you might need different amounts of flexibility depending on what you are personally doing.
The total cost: When you search for places, there are two different prices to consider—the price per night and the price with extra fees included. Some of these fees include service and cleaning fees. While these final prices cannot be negotiated, if budget is important to you make sure you are taking into account the total cost of the stay.
The location: Because the system just gives you a general neighborhood/location before you book, it is hard to know exactly where it is located. Here the trick is to look at the map provided to see where the place is in relation to other places. Even though they won’t give you the address, it does give you a close estimation to where the place is. Keep this in mind especially if you want to stay in a specific place.
The description of the space available to you: People who are sharing their homes can technically post any photos they like of the space. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have access to all of the places in the posted and you should make sure to read through the description provided to ensure you are aware of what you will actually be able to use.
My mom’s story: Renting a place in Barcelona for a work meeting, she was sharing a space with two colleagues for the weekend. She based her choice on the photos provided in the host’s profile only to find that the actual space (as described in the written section of the profile) they were allowed to use was much smaller than the photos. Long story short, she ended up checking into a hotel because she just wasn’t comfortable.
Is it safe?
I feel like this is a big question (especially for young females, like me, traveling alone ). However, I feel like my answer isn’t definitive because I would post it as a question—is anywhere really safe? I have personally lived through a lot of experiences that others might not think were safe and not had one single problem that makes me want to stop. At the same time, my personality encourages me to take precautions where others might not be so inclined and I feel like I go into most situations (not matter how ‘safe’ they are), slightly wary of what is going on around me. So, maybe my answer should be, it is as safe as you make it, with the risk that something could always go wrong.
This means that if you properly check out your host (read the profile, the reviews, etc.) you are most likely going to be fine. There is always a risk—no matter where you stay, even at home—that something could go wrong, but as long as you do your homework, it shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, you will probably have a great time with your host as you enjoy a new city. Just keep in mind that every experience is unique and that being aware of your surroundings is a good way to ensure that you are safe.