8 Tips I’ve Learned from Over a Year in Airbnbs
Where are you from?
What are you doing here?
Do you like [insert city name]?
Do you speak [insert local language]?
Questions, questions. Any world traveler gets used to locals inundating them with the same ones. It’s been more than 12 years since I left New York City for Buenos Aires, and I’ve lived and logged quality time on five continents since then: South America, Australia, Asia, Africa, and Europe. I know the drill — and the questions.
The one I’ve fielded most often from the folks back home over the course of my last 15 months spent visiting 40 European cities in 17 countries (starting point: Frankfurt, Germany, in October of 2017) is this: How do you afford traveling so much and for so long without a full-time gig?
Answer: I couldn’t finance my nomadic lifestyle without Airbnb (and occasionally, Booking.com and Agoda apartment rentals). The accommodations alternative to packing and unpacking in cold, impersonal hotels is advantageous as much for the decreased cost as for the increased local experience.
15 Ways Airbnb Hosts Can Keep Demanding Guests Like Me Happy
Sometimes it’s the little things — lighting, pillows, bathrooms— that make or break holidays.
A lower daily rate isn’t the only monetary value of booking a bed in a stranger’s home. (I always choose the “Entire place” option to feel less like an awkward interloper.) Being able to eat in rather than out means I get to spend as much or as little on food as I’d like. And let’s not forget the money I save by not having to pay electricity and water, Internet, and cable bills.
Being able to eat in rather than out means I get to spend as much or as little on food as I’d like. And let’s not forget the money I save by not having to pay electricity and water, Internet, and cable bills.
But before you pack up and hit the road for an extended break from your everyday routine, you should consider some of the things more than a year living in Airbnbs has taught me. Happy travels!
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If a deal is too good to believe, side-eye it good.
Sometimes you get unexpected bang for your bucks in cities that aren’t necessarily known for cheap rentals. Last month in Prague, for example, I landed a sweet studio in the hip Vinohrady district during the height of the over-priced Christmas season for just $214 a week.
The reason: As the host Šimon (pronounced Shay-MOAN) explained, being new to Airbnb, he was trying to round up reviews, hence the bargain-basement price tag for his “Stylish Pop Art apartment,” which has a proper kitchen in a separate room. Now that Šimon is collecting raves on Airbnb, the rate is rising: I’ll be spending 15 days there this month for $10 a week more.
But let the renter beware: If you’re considering a veteran Airbnb host’s two-bedroom apartment for the price of a studio, in, say, Zagreb, Croatia, prepare yourself for a potentially lower standard of sleeping. I’ve caved to irresistible deals that have included an AC that barely worked in the summer, or hot water that suddenly turned cold mid-shower, or towels that smelled like they were left to dry in the washing machine.
When in doubt about a price that couldn’t possibly be right, I limit my renting risk to “superhost” options with 100 percent five-star reviews.
Stock up on kitchen sponges.
It should be a no-brainer for hosts: Replace the kitchen sponge before every check-in. Who wants to wash dishes with someone else’s left-overs still stuck to an old scrubbing pad?
Unfortunately, in many an Airbnb, I’ve been greeted by dirty, bacteria-infested sponges that look like they haven’t been replaced for several guest cycles. If you travel with your own stash (often available for buck or two per package of four to six), no worries — and no increased risk of catching a stomach bug.
Just be sure to wash all the dishes and silverware before eating with them for the first time. God only knows what the cleaner used to scrub them. Well, actually, if there’s an old sponge by the sink getting moldier by the minute, you can probably assume it played a role, so another round of soap and water wouldn’t hurt.
Don’t be afraid to request a new shower curtain.
For me, the bathroom is the most important room in any Airbnb. It can make or break a stay, and nothing in the vicinity of the toilet and sink is more important than the ablution chamber.
I’ve always preferred glass showers, and thankfully, most of the apartments I’ve rented have had one installed. When I was looking for a place in Sarajevo, I requested a new shower curtain before booking my first pad there. Another time, in Wrocław, Poland, I asked for a new one to replace the moldy, mildewed thing hanging from a rod that I was afraid to touch, let alone shower behind.
Much to my surprise and delight, both requests were cheerfully honored. In Sarajevo, I was so happy with the rest of the apartment that I booked two others from the same host.
Don’t leave home without a wine, bottle, and can opener — just in case.
Few things will dampen your excitement over a five-star space quite as frustratingly as stocking up on bottles of fine wine at the local supermarket in the afternoon and having no way to open them at night, well after closing time.
I’ve risked my dental health trying to remove non-twist caps from cider bottles with my teeth (a knife works better — just don’t accidentally slash yourself), and once, during my canned-mandarin-slices phase in Berlin, I had to borrow a can opener from the pub next door.
Alas, not every rental comes with a friendly bartender on the side.
Pack an extra roll of toilet paper in your suitcase.
This is not just recommended safety insurance while traveling by bus or train. It also will come in handy if your Airbnb host forgets to stock up before your arrival — and one of them inevitably will.
Buy a plug-in air freshener for odor emergencies.
Many of the apartments I’ve stayed in while traveling through Eastern Europe have been in antique buildings. Sometimes, even when the spaces have been modernized and refurbished, old smells remain, particularly in the bathroom.
I spent two months in an apartment in Belgrade that would rank among my best Airbnb experiences. I don’t know what I would have done without Air Wick to save my olfactory system from the mysterious odor emanating from the drain in the spotless and spacious open shower alcove.
A five-star review is easier to write when you’re not holding your nose.
Check that there’s a supermarket nearby — and a microwave in the kitchen.
One of the obvious points of staying in an apartment rather than a hotel is to enjoy living like a local. Part of that non-touristy experience is not having to eat every meal out. It’s easier to pull off if there’s a place nearby to buy food and means to heat it up with minimal fuss.
The nicest of my four Airbnbs in Lviv, Kiev, was one kilometer away from the nearest sizable supermarket. Though it was great to get daily exercise going and coming back (via a medium-steep hill), I would have given up some of the posh and the cardio to work (out) less for my food.
Choose your locations wisely.
In larger cities, it’s better to stay as close to the city center but as far from the railway/bus station as possible. (The best apartments for the best prices are often one or two neighborhoods from the main square.) Meanwhile, I’ve found that city centers in smaller towns by the sea (like Bar, Montenegro, and Vlorë, Albania) are worth avoiding.
A five-star Airbnb experience is more likely to happen in an apartment with an ocean view — even if it’s from up on a hill and/or on a communal terrace — far from the annoying downtown crowds.
Your sea-side digs may cost you a bit more, but your Airbnb will be so much lovelier with cool, clear water sparkling in the background.