Lisa and I have stayed almost exclusively at Airbnb lodgings during our Mexico and Central America adventure. We love the variety of places on offer and the ability to conduct thorough research in advance of our booking. We also love the substantial discounts on offer for multi-week and monthly stays. Here are our best tips for ensuring you find the perfect Airbnb rental for your next trip.
1. Identify your requirements
It sounds simple, but if you want to find the perfect Airbnb rental, you need to start with identifying what it is you’re looking for. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the search and the glamour of the professional marketing shots of a rental, and forget to check if the place actually meets your requirements.
Take 5 minutes before you start your search and jot down your non-negotiables, your nice-to-haves and your disqualifiers. It will be time well spent and you’ll be able to re-use and refine these lists every time you make a booking
Our list of non-negotiable requirements (for stays of at least a week) is:
- Queen or King size bed
- Self-catering facilities
- Entire premises (i.e. have the place to ourselves)
- Air conditioning (depending on expected weather)
Our list of nice-to-haves is:
- Outdoor space / patio / terrace (can be shared)
- Gas stove top rather than electric
- Separate toilet and shower area
- Walkability to:
- restaurants, bars and convenience stores;
- tourist attractions in that town (main square, centro etc.);
- public transport;
- Decent discount for weekly or monthly bookings
- Resident pets
Our list of disqualifiers is:
- Noisy room or neighbourhood
- Unsafe neighbourhood
- Unreliable utilities
- Poor cleanliness or hygeine
- Poor communications from host
2. Stick to and refine your list of requirements
By sticking to these requirements, we can honestly say we haven’t had a bad Airbnb experience in our travels. Sure, there have been some that we probably wouldn’t stay at again, but this is due more to not having our requirements list fully developed at that time.
Case in point, we stayed at an Airbnb in Palenque, Mexico near the famous Mayan Ruins. The listing had a gorgeous jungle setting and you could see and hear howler monkeys from the room. The main problem was, the outdoor temperature was 36 Celcius (“feels like 46 Celsius”) and the place was like a goldfish bowl with large glass windows on all sides. Great for jungle views, not so great for personal comfort.
The place was advertised without A/C but with powerful fans. Accurate on both counts. The reviews made it sound like the fans plus breeze from outside were sufficiently cooling. Unfortunately this was not correct, it was suffocating in the room 24/7 and we had to resort to putting wet towels in the freezer to try to cool down. Needless to say we have now added A/C to our list of non-negotiable requirements when we think the weather will be >22 degrees celsius overnight.
3. Use Airbnb’s built in filters to narrow your search and find the perfect Airbnb rental
Airbnb’s search engine allows you to add multiple filters to your search. Include as many of the items as you can from your non-negotiable and nice-to-have lists into the filters. Let the technology do most of your dirty work in finding your perfect Airbnb rental!
In our case, we include the following items into our initial searches:
- Entire premises
- Air conditioning (depending on weather)
* Airbnb has a Superhost program. We include Superhost status as one of our initial filters, as a proxy for some of our requirements such as cleanliness and good host communications. Obviously we validate this against guest reviews. So far we haven’t encountered a Superhost that didn’t deserve the status.
Superhosts are experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.Airbnb Superhost definition
Once a host reaches Superhost status, a badge will automatically appear on their listing and profile to help you identify them.
We check Superhosts’ activity four times a year, to ensure that the program highlights the people who are most dedicated to providing outstanding hospitality.
You will no doubt have different criteria to us in determining what constitutes the perfect Airbnb rental. Smoking? Pets? Accessibility? All of these are available as filters and can stop you wasting time on properties which are just not suitable for your needs.
If your filters have narrowed down the number of properties too much, you can always go back and remove some, e.g. Superhost, A/C and see if this makes a difference.
There is also a price filter available. We tend not to apply this initially, so we can get a read on what sort of price range we can expect for a property that meets all of our requirements. If we get a big selection of properties to choose from, say more than 50, we tend to then apply a price filter before we start looking at individual properties.
It makes as much sense to filter out properties at the cheaper end of the price range as it does for the more expensive ones. Our experience is ‘you get what you pay for’ and generally if there are properties priced well below the rest of the market there is a reason for it.
5. Make a long list
As soon as you start seeing properties you like the look of, save them in your Airbnb app by using the heart symbol. It’s much easier to do this than go back through multiple listings to find something you liked.
We usually don’t spend too much time on the first pass, just a quick run through to get an idea of what’s out there and what appeals to us at first sight.
6. Share your long list with your fellow travellers
The more people you have looking at your long listed properties, the more chance you have of picking up a red flag.
Start going through the long list in more detail and get rid of those that aren’t suitable.
For us, this includes checking out the bedding situation. Although Airbnb listings generally mention what type of bed configuration is available (single, double, queen, king etc), you cannot filter on this, so one of the first things we do is get rid of any on our short list that don’t have at least a queen size bed.
7. Location location location
It’s the oldest and wisest saying in the real estate business, and for a reason. Nothing will make or break your stay more than a great or terrible location.
We tend to start thinking about specific locations within a town once we’re at short list stage.
For example, we like to walk a lot and prefer it quieter at night time, so being 1 – 2 kms from the central area and main attractions suits us fine. We also like to self-cater, so nearby tiendas and a decent supermarket rate highly for us. Coincidentally, these type of places usually come in a lot cheaper than ultra-central locations. So win-win for us.
We find that generally the listings themselves will make reference to the desirable locations in a town – “1km to Zocalo”, “5 blocks to History Museum”, “20 minute cab to 5th Avenue”. “walking distance to Walmart”. We learn a lot about the town in this way and start thinking about how each listing will fit with how we like to travel.
Airbnb doesn’t provide the specific address for listings pre-booking but you can often get a very accurate idea by paying careful attention to the details provided in the listing, photos and reviews. In this way it’s possible to use tools like Google Maps to see everything that’s in the vicinity of the listing.
Another way to get an idea of the layout of a town is to do some pre-research on the internet or via travel guides like Lonely Planet.
8. Read the reviews
I can’t stress this enough. If you want to find the perfect Airbnb rental, you need to read the reviews from previous guests. All of them. Even the ones written in foreign languages. Airbnb’s app will translate these for you on the fly.
What you are looking for here are any red flags against your list of disqualifiers. Noise, cleanliness, security, host communications, dodgy wifi, cold showers, rock hard bed etc. Obviously properties that have excellent reviews in these areas go to the top of your short list pile.
In our experience, Airbnb reviews tend to be a bit more guarded than say Trip Advisor hotel reviews. Maybe it’s the personal relationship you build with the host, whose business may suffer if you go too heavy with the criticism. Maybe it’s the concern about tit-for-tat reviews being written by hosts about guests who are too ‘honest’ about the shortcomings of the property.
In any case, be on the lookout for coded messages, “If you’re a light sleeper, you may need ear plugs” often means “Yapping dogs, roosters, traffic noise and noisy neighbours 24/7.” If there are multiple ‘light sleeper’ reviews, you can pretty much guarantee the place is going to be a noise box from hell. You definitely won’t find your perfect Airbnb rental here!
Also, as many Airbnb listings are also listed on other channels, e.g. Bookings.com, it may be possible to check out other review sites to get a wider variety of opinions.
9. Read the rules
Make sure you’ve read the rules governing the listing and most importantly make sure you are happy to abide by them.
10. New listings
We tend to steer away from new listings due to the lack of reviews to judge the place and host by.
Often new listings come with a decent discount so the host can build up a review history.
As they say in the legal textbooks – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.
11. Reconstruct the property layout from the photos
If you were an Airbnb host, you would be crazy not to show your property in the best possible light. This includes taking photos from the best angles to make the place look as inviting and spacious as possible. It might also include moving furniture around in between photos.
We always try to establish the size and layout of a listing by carefully checking out the photos. Particularly with studio-type apartments.
How far away from the bed is the kitchen? Is the bed jammed up against a wall making it hard to get in and out? How much bench space is there in the kitchen? Is there anywhere to put our packs? How big is the fridge? Is there a door between the bedroom and toilet? What kitchen equipment is visible – coffee machine, blender etc? How big is the A/C unit and does it look modern? How big is the pool/garden/balcony and is there any furniture?
Also, a reminder – don’t get sucked in by generic photos of the ‘nearby’ beaches and attractions.
12. Special touches
When reviewing your short-list options, keep an eye out for mentions of things that particularly appeal to you. Lisa is a big animal lover, so she gets excited whenever a listing mentions a friendly dog or cat to play with. (Or iguanas running amok in the back yard).
You might be attracted by the spectacular view from your room. Free use of bicycles or SUP boards? Beers in the fridge on arrival? Or simply by the gushing reviews of the hospitality provided by the host to other guests.
13. OK, now make your decision
Hopefully by now you’ll have a very small remaining short-list of 1 – 3 properties. All you need to do is find which one is the perfect Airbnb rental for you. Do a final pass of each property to make sure you haven’t missed anything important. Have a chat with your travelling companion/s. Maybe each of you can try to rank the remaining ones independently and see if this breaks the deadlock.
When all else fails for us, we usually go with the listing that has the most consistently positive host reviews. And of course all things being equal, we would be swayed by the cheapest option.
14. Communicate with your host
If you have any questions about the listing, don’t hesitate to direct them to your host at any stage of the process.
If nothing else you’ll get a gauge on how responsive they are likely to be when you contact them at check in time and during your stay.
Keep your host in the loop in regards to your travel plans and likely check in time at the property. Let them know as soon as possible if your plans change and you’ve been delayed.
The best hosts provide great resources to their guests – local restaurant recommendations, tour operators, public transport details etc. Often these are available on-line against the listing and other times they are provided in a hard copy manual at the premises.
Don’t be nervous about contacting the host during your stay to ask for specific recommendations or information. We get most of our excellent local restaurant intelligence in this way.
And in conclusion, don’t be shy about reporting issues with the premises to the host. There are countless host responses to negative reviews which say, ‘if only you’d told us while you were here, we’d have attended to the issue straight away’.
Have we missed anything? Do you have other tips or techniques to find the perfect Airbnb rental? Let us know in the comments below.