What you need to know before booking your first Airbnb accommodation

I finally did it. I found a reason to stay at an Airbnb.

When I travel for this blog or for my consulting business I tend to stay at hotels. It is just me traveling, and the trips are usually short and therefore hotels are perfect. I get a decent room, and I spend very little time in it. However, when I recently traveled to South Africa, I traveled with my entire family and the duration of the trip was for 5 weeks. This was an entirely different trip and a hotel room would have been way too small, way too expensive, and therefore Airbnb became the perfect go-to option.

I am currently on route back to Dallas, Texas and looking back at my Airbnb stay, here are my notes:

The Airbnb Concern:

When booking with Airbnb, my only clue as to what the accommodation would be like was based on several photos uploaded by the Airbnb host which looked really great, but let’s be honest, people tend to upload the best images and there is nothing to indicate how recent the pics were taken. This was my first concern.

My second concern was the Airbnb host can cancel the booking until the very last moment. This is within their right to do so. It is rare and sometimes happens due to construction or issues outside the control of the host such as power failure or no water. I would obviously get my money back, but that would leave me scrambling for accommodation at the last minute which means paying a premium for last-minute-booking in a different location. [read: what to do if Airbnb cancels your accommodation at last minute]

What to do: Ask the host when the pictures were taken and if you know someone who lives in the area, ask the host if it’s ok for them to pop by. If the host is genuine, they should have no problem with this request.

House hold routines:

I quickly realized that the Airbnb is just a regular house that is geared towards people renting it for a short period of time. This means that the house “routines” continue as normal. Monday morning 8am, the gardener rings the doorbell – he arrived to do his thing as he does every Monday. Tuesday 8am, the trash gets collected etc. Sleeping in anyone? I think not.

What to do: Ask the host about who will be coming and when and then discuss options that suit you. Do you need the driveway swept at 8am or can it wait?

Housekeeping:

At a hotel, housekeeping arrives every day to tidy the room. At an Airbnb, this varies. Some places have a house keeper that arrives daily, some have it weekly and some don’t have it at all (or they do at additional cost).

In my case, the house keeper arrived at 8am on a Friday. 8am. With no “Do Not Disturb” sign to hand on the door…So much for that lie-in…

What to do: If you are a late rise, speak to the host and ask if the time and day can be changed. In my case, I asked for the housekeeper to only come after 12 on alternate days.

Electricity Meter:

This again varies from place to place, but where I stayed had a pre-paid electricity meter. The Airbnb owner loaded a set amount every week, but that didn’t last and at my expense, I had to top it. It was winter and even without the under floor heating, the meter ran out quickly – especially on the days that the house keeper arrived where the washing machine/ tumble dryer/ iron all used “my” electricity. In a hotel, this is not an element you have to be actively conscious about.

On the plus side, I had my washing done so can’t really complain.

What to do: before confirming your booking, ask the host if there are additional charges so that you are aware and can budget.

Things don’t work:

When staying at a hotel, if there is a problem with your room, your bar fridge, tv, lights or anything else, you simply ring reception and they sort it out. At an Airbnb, if you don’t like your room….tough. You can’t be moved to another room.

The owner of the Airbnb was superb and when we discovered a leak in the toilet, she sent over a plumber the next day to fix it. Great. However, this meant that strangers were walking around the house while the family was still in bed. It also meant I didn’t leave the accommodation with all my belongings while strangers were fixing the issue.

What to do: Ask the host what is the processes for reporting any issues. This should not be an uncomfortable conversation for them to have as they are technically running a “hotel service”. Once you have a process, then should anything go wrong, you simply follow the steps.

You get a home:

As my stay was for a long time with my wife and kids, I wanted a home, not a room. Airbnb was perfect for that and we had a place to go to at the end of a long day and relax on the couch, watch some TV, keep food in the full-size fridge, and eat dinner around the table. Perfect.

Speaking of eating, it gets very expensive to eat out every single meal every single day. So when I travel with my kids, I like to make sure they start the day with breakfast at home before we head out. Not only does that save money, but also gets the day started on a good note without anyone getting HANGRY mid-activity!

The Airbnb had a fridge, stove, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery and all this meant that we could eat meals at home.

What to do: if you are renting an entire house/ apartment, ask what facilities will be available so you can plan.

Internet:

The Airbnb had internet so all our devices could connect without the ridiculous fee some hotel charge for internet access. Some places in New York charge $20 per day PER DEVICE!

What to do: being connected seems to be a need more than a luxury especially when traveling to foreign countries. Ensure that internet access is part of the accommodation price and if not, ask for it to be added at no extra charge.

Hosts:

The hosts were great offering local knowledge or where to go, what to do, where to eat, where the shops were etc. In my case, I headed back to South Africa so I knew where everything was, but I can see how a host with local knowledge would be invaluable in areas that are unfamiliar. At hotels, you get that too with the concierge, but at Airbnb, it felt different and more personal vs. reading a “What to do in city” internet page.

What to do: ask for the host’s contact details and if it would be ok for you to mail them some questions. You can get a lot of info even before you leave your home!

So in Summary:

Overall, I had a superb experience with Airbnb. For me, a hotel chain is still my number one choice, but I absolutely do see the value in Airbnb. Would I stay at one again? Yes. Would I make it my default go-to accommodation? It depends.

Would I stay at one again? Yes. Would I make it my default go-to accommodation? It depends.

It depends on the duration of my stay, if I was alone or with the family and of course, it would depend on the price.

I look forward to exploring more locations and compare Airbnb experiences in the future.

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