How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience

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Bronte Beach

Airbnb has quickly become one of my favorite ways to find a place to stay around the world. This unusual lodging site has saved me a lot of money and led to some of my most memorable stays.

While Airbnb was founded in 2008, it absolutely exploded in the past few years. I had my first stay in mid-2013. Since then, I’ve used Airbnb for stays in Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and the United States, and I’ve learned a lot about what works.

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a lodging site that functions as part of the sharing economy — essentially, people rent out their rooms, apartments, and houses to people looking for a place to stay.

While there are lots of sites that focus on site and apartment rentals, Airbnb is the biggest one of all. They claim more than 600,000 listings in 192 countries.

Using Airbnb allows you to stay in a wide range of lodging, from simple futons on the ground to really nice apartments in funky neighborhoods to luxury villas steps from the beach. There are even castles, treehouses, and Airstream trailers. And because nearly all of what you pay goes to the owner directly, you’re keeping your money close to the ground.

Village Building

When to Use Airbnb

You can use Airbnb for almost anywhere, but I’ve found that it works better for some situations rather than others. Some of them:

You want to stay in a particular neighborhood and have a neighborhood experience. If you’re looking for a more local London experience than constant sightseeing, you can rent a flat in a cool neighborhood like Shoreditch and explore the local restaurants and cafes, feeling like a member of the community.

You have a large group and want a property that can accommodate you all. Airbnb will have a selection of houses from individual owners as well as rental companies that have enough space for large parties.

You’re visiting during a festival or popular event. Many hosts raise their rates for popular events — like New Orleans during Mardi Gras — but they’re still often far less of an inflated price than hotels.

In my opinion, Airbnb provides the greatest value in expensive cities — especially when you want to stay in their pricier regions. Most of the time, a private room or even a whole apartment on Airbnb will be cheaper than a budget hotel room on the same street.

Example: In Sydney, I stayed in a private room in the neighborhood of Bronte, a gorgeous beachfront enclave that has neither hotels nor hostels. I stayed in a private room in a big, beautiful house a short walk from the beach for far less than what Sydney hotels cost.

When wouldn’t I use Airbnb? Not when I want the perks of a hotel — housekeeping, 24-hour customer service, anonymity.


Is Airbnb Safe?

Airbnb has lots of safety and security measures in place to make sure that you stay safe.

First of all, guests and hosts are both required to provide identification to Airbnb, usually in the form of a scanned ID. They also verify your phone number.

Both guests and hosts receive reviews that allow you to see their history on Airbnb.

All payment is handled through Airbnb itself, so you won’t get stiffed by your host or guest.

For guests, if necessary, Airbnb’s customer service can be contacted 24/7. As for hosts, Airbnb will cover up to $1,000,000 in damage, though there are some exceptions to this.

But as safe as Airbnb is, remember that nothing is ever 100% safe. Bad experiences can happen from time to time with Airbnb, just as they can with hotels or hostels. To reduce your chances of a bad experience, read on.

Sydney Coastal Path

Getting Started

Fill out your profile in as much detail as possible. And then you may look at all the pretty properties you’d like, and there’s a lovely brownstone in Greenwich Village, or you could stay in Williamsburg for less, and wait, is that a treehouse in Hawaii?

Stop. Have you filled out your profile yet?

Do it now. I mean it. Having a complete and detailed profile is what will make you attractive to hosts. Remember to verify your identification as well.

Airbnb prevents you from listing any websites or email addresses in your profile (ostensibly to keep you from making a cheaper deal off the books). I can’t link to my site, but I can mention it by name.

Bronte Airbnb Rental

Finding the Right Property

Airbnb functions like most lodging sites: you put down your destination, preferred dates, and they show you all available properties.

On the page with results, you’ll be given three options to select:

  • Entire Place: The whole house or apartment is yours and nobody else will be staying there.
  • Private Room: You get your own room, but communal areas will be shared with the host.
  • Shared Room: You and your host share the property and sleep in the same room.

From there, select your price range and the map. Filter for amenities if you’d like.

TIP: Use the map to pinpoint your actual location. Just because Airbnb says the apartment’s in the neighborhood you want, it doesn’t mean it’s in the nice part of the neighborhood.

Check the amenities list. Is there wifi? Air-conditioning? Parking? Anything else you need?

Check the bed situation. The profile will tell you whether the bed is an actual bed or something else, like a futon or pull-out couch.

Example: Two Airbnb rentals where I stayed in Japan had futons on tatami floors, Japanese-style, rather than beds. It wasn’t a problem, but I’m glad I knew beforehand!

Check your host’s profile, verification, and reviews. Do they seem like a person from whom you’d want to rent? Have they been verified by Airbnb? How soon do they respond to emails? Are their reviews positive? (Keep in mind that everyone starts out with zero reviews and plenty of new Airbnb hosts are just as legitimate as veteran hosts, but many positive reviews give you additional security.)

Check the cancellation policy. Airbnb has cancellation policies ranging from “flexible” to “super-strict” — on flexible, you can get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance and mid-stay get refunded for nights 24 hours after you cancel; on strict, you can only get 50% refunded up to seven nights in advance and mid-stay get refunded 50% for nights seven days after you cancel.

Rockport at Dusk

Sending Your Request

It’s a smart idea to contact your prospective host before booking and ask any questions that you have. Be sure to read through the profile in advance and see if your questions are answered in there. But if they’re not, don’t be shy — this is the time to voice any and all of your concerns.

Here are some questions I typically ask:

  • How is the wifi quality? Does it work consistently?
  • How long is the walk to public transportation?
  • How late does public transportation run?
  • Will I have my own set of keys?
  • Can I lock my room?
  • Can I make coffee and use a bit of your milk and sugar?

TIP: Don’t ask “Is it safe?” That question will put your host on the defensive — after all, they live there. Instead, I ask, “Do you recommend taking a taxi home at night, or would it be safe for me to walk?”

If you’re happy with the answers, it’s time to make your booking.

Kyoto Apartment

How It Works

After you submit a reservation request, your host has 24 hours to accept it. Keep in mind that hosts are not required to accept you — it’s entirely at their discretion. (Also keep in mind that some hosts don’t keep their calendar up to date and may not have the availability the site claims.)

If 24 hours elapse, the reservation is rejected and you pay nothing.

TIP: Don’t wait until the last minute with Airbnb. If you’re in need of a booking that same day, hotels or hostels are a better bet.

Keep in mind that Airbnb charges a 6-12% fee on top of the room cost. (Airbnb also charges hosts 3% on their end as well.)

After your host accepts, your credit card will be charged. If there’s a security deposit or cleaning fee — and the profile will say whether there is — you will be charged these fees as well. A security deposit will be refunded at the discretion of the host; a cleaning fee cannot be refunded.

From there, you and your host can arrange a time to meet at the property.

TIP: To have as smooth an arrival as possible, put your host’s number in your phone and give them specific details about your arrival. It’s not a bad idea to give them a flight number, just in case you get delayed.

Pink House New Orleans

Being a Good Guest

When you’re staying in someone’s house, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that you’re staying with a friend, or in a hotel — but neither is the case.

Be considerate, especially if you’re sharing the rental with your host or other guests, and don’t overstep your boundaries. You’re paying to use their space, and that doesn’t include eating their food, drinking their booze, or using their toiletries. Don’t leave messes for your host to clean up. Don’t have guests over (unless your host says it’s okay). If you’re traveling with your partner, keep your late-night shenanigans at a low volume.

Ask before you use anything not mentioned in the profile. Yes, your host has a treadmill and a fancy blender, but are you allowed to use them? Just ask. This is another reason why it’s good to have your host’s number in your phone already.

Some hosts like to spend time with their guests; some prefer to keep their distance. Be friendly to your host and let him or her take the lead. Respect your host’s space, both physically and emotionally, and don’t think that you need to be in conversation whenever you’re in the same room.

Example: In New Orleans, I had a few chats with my host Michele and soon learned that we got along great. One night she invited me to a burlesque show with her, and it ended up being a fun, offbeat experience for us during Mardi Gras.

Above all, communicate. If something’s wrong, don’t let it fester — talk to your host right away.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

If something goes wrong with your Airbnb stay, you have support. While Airbnb recommends that you work things out personally if it’s a small matter or involve the police if you’re in danger or laws are broken, they also have a 24-hour help line for both hosts and guests.

Kinkakuji Temple Kyoto

Leave Fair Feedback

A few days after your stay, Airbnb asks you to review your host. Always leave a review after your stay — it helps your host get new guests and provides them with additional verification.

The nice thing about Airbnb is that it gives you the option to leave both public and private feedback for your host. It’s the perfect option when you have some suggestions for your host to make the stay better, but you don’t want to list them publicly on their profile.

What you shouldn’t do is leave unfair feedback in the event that something goes wrong. If your host told you that the house was a thirty-minute walk from public transportation before you committed to the stay, don’t complain that it was a thirty-minute walk from public transportation. You knew this going in and you chose to stay there anyway.

Likewise, don’t complain about things out of your host’s control, like transportation strikes, construction in the area, or loud neighbors. Remember that a bad review can adversely affect your host’s income, so be judicious in your evaluation.

How to Get Started

Sign up here and you’ll get free credit from me on your first Airbnb stay.

It’s time to start planning your next trip!

Have you ever used Airbnb? How was your experience?

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96 thoughts on “How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience”

  1. Awesome article Kate! I have stayed in airbnb properties all over the place – Glasgow, a flat in Paris, Austin, Edinburgh, a couple in the US midwest, East Harlem in New York and most recently in a shot gun house in New Orleans. I love airbnb as like you say you get to experience the local neighbourhood and live like a local – so much more personal than a hotel. You have the option of cooking. Not to mention much cheaper!! I must admit when I research trips I tend to check out airbnb first. I will probably use airbnb for my extended stay in the UK next year…try out different London neighbourhoods and still have the benefits of my own flat (being able to cook) but have company as well. I must plead guilty though to not doing as many reviews as I should…I guess I should get on that right now for the two I stayed in last month!!!

  2. I am about to have my first airbnb experience in FL in two weeks – I am a little nervous but my hosts have been very helpful, so I am hoping for a pretty good experience overall.

  3. We use AirBnB and competing sites all the time. We’re currently finishing up three weeks in a NYC one-bedroom apartment thanks to Homeaway. We’ll probably book through one of these sites for upcoming stays in Paris and Barcelona.

    We personally like to have an apartment with a full kitchen whenever we’re in a place for a week or longer. The ability to brew our own coffee in the morning and cook a meal or ten instead of having to constantly forage for every morsel of food relieves a lot of the stress of travel. Interspersing these kinds of places is a very good way to avoid travel burnout – at least it is for us.


  4. I was happy with my AirBnB experience in Tel Aviv but decided to book a hostel for London because London spaces are so tiny, felt like a rip off 🙂

  5. I’m such a diehard Airbnb fan! We have used airbnb in NYC, Lisbon, in Iceland 3 times, Indonesia, London, Amsterdam and will stay at an Airbnb in Tokyo next month. Actually I am writing to you from an Airbnb in Hong Kong right this second! We’ve had nothing but great experiences. It’s also nice to use as a little staycation which we did where we live in Amsterdam…just decided to stay in a cool canalside place for the weekend. I agree that there are times when a hostel is better since hostels have maps and other things to offer tourists. But 90% of the time, you bet we are looking straight towards Airbnb for our accommodation. Couldn’t recommend it enough! Glad you are encouraging others to take the plunge too

  6. Just to add one tip: if you do not have yet and AirBnb account you can sign in after a friend invited you and you receive a bonus of 18 euro that can be used for your reservations.

  7. I used it to stay just outside of Charleston last year. I had a car, so hopping over the bridge was no big deal, and it was SO much cheaper than Charleston hotels and b&b’s. My host even made me breakfast. 🙂

  8. We’re in Playa Del Carmen staying in our first Airbnb and it’s been great. We were in need of a place while we were waiting for our long term apartment to be available and as it’s Spring break the budget hotels and hostels were all full so we tried Airbnb. We took a chance and asked for a discounted rate thinking that as it was last minute they may be open to filling their space. It worked and our offer was accepted…the owner just replies through Airbnb with a special offer and it’s set up with the agreed price. I’m definitely going to be using it in the future as we continue our nomadic lifestyle.

  9. Great tips and advice for first time AirBnB users. Have booked on several occasions with great results everytime. I used couchsurfing extensively throughout South America as well and met some amazing people. Similar to AirBnB but free, it’s a great option for budget travellers who are flexible on their accommodation options and open to meeting some locals. Similar tips apply to those listed here with a few other considerations to keep in mind.

  10. Never heard of something like this. Sounds good, but need to understand it better. Thanks for sharing the info. I think I should bookmark this for future use.

  11. I stayed in my first AirBnB last month in Budapest. It was RIGHT in the middle of the city – St Stephens was a 5 minute walk away, and we were able to walk to the ruin bars, the Gellert Spa, and the Great Market Hall. It was definitely good value for money and I would love to stay in another!

  12. Great Article on AirBnb, I’ve already shared it with friends, thankyou
    We had our first experience in New York last year , stayed in East Village and had a Trully New York experience , even had our local coffee shop within a couple if days
    We’re booked for Tallin and Heksinki next month and they both look fantastic
    A brilliant way of discovering a local side to a city as well as being able to stay in some very funky places
    Thankyou to the hosts for sharing their fabulous apartments

  13. I used AirBnB for the first time on my last trip to Europe. Stayed in a fantastically cheap and even better located flat in Paris, and the most amazing apartment in Edinburgh for Hogmanay. I was hesitant, based off some very bad experiences some friends had had, but I think there’s serious opportunity for an amazing time. You just have to be careful with your research, and know what you’re getting into. Having a back up plan if you’re worried also helps allay fears too. I would definitely use them again, and the place in Edinburgh I’m intending on going back to, almost just to stay there again!

    1. Hi! I am planning a trip to Paris and I am spending a lot of time reading reviews so I can get the most of this trip. Would you mind sharing the name and address of the Flat you stayed, please? Thank you very much!

  14. We did use Airbnb in october 2012 in Hawaii and it was wonderful! We had a little “house” on a property so we had our own space, which was great! The hosts were very nice and helpful, the lady even gave us breakfast every morning and it wasn’t even mentioned when we booked! Fresh fruits and coffee from Hawaii every morning, a dream! I’m very glad we tried airbnb and will use it again for sure!

  15. The company was started by a couple of guys who rented out 3 air mattresses in their living room and did a bed and breakfast concept. So while many are thinking about using it to travel…. do you have some extra space or a spare bedroom ?

  16. Love this post! 🙂 Very good information shared and I picked many tips from you! I’ve no experience with Airbnb so far, but hoping to put it in good use very soon!

  17. Airbnb has been something I’ve been wanting to use for a while now. Thanks for all the great info, Kate! I’m hoping to use it sometime soon, and I feel a lot more comfortable with your advice and recommendations.

  18. Hey Kate, this is really awesome 🙂
    Do you think you could include about it being illegal in NYC? As a travel agent we often get people saying they will book air bnb but are unaware its illegal in NYC as you can still see places listed!! I had a friend lose their money the day before leaving Australia for the States for this reason, and being such a successful blogger, it would be good for you to inform people.


    1. Hi Madelin, I would be very interested in the details of your friends experience. As a host myself I would do what I could do make that right with Airbnb. Regarding your blanket statement regarding NYC, this is a quote from The New York Times article, dated November 4, 2013 “.In most residential apartment buildings, renting out your space for less than 30 days is illegal, unless you are present when you have that visitor. The restriction does not apply to single- or two-family homes, like Leslie’s, but zoning laws may still limit the practice. Leases and building bylaws may also forbid it. ” So there seems to be a number of exceptions to the “illegal ” label. Also, the Hotel Association of New York is strong, and the illegal hotel law was passed after strong support from them,which for obvious reasons, would prefer people not sign up for an Airbnb account.

  19. I have never used Airbnb before but always have a quick look on there before booking anything else. One day the perfect place will pop up and I will book. Thanks for your tips Kate, they will make me more confident in using this site in the future.

  20. Great post with some really useful advice. I’ve not used Airbnb before but I’m going to be travelling for 3 months and I was planning to check it out for some of my destinations. Going to set up my profile now!

  21. I love Airbnb. It’s my favourite way to stay most places, especially cities. When travelling as a couple, I’ve also found it to be more affordable to rent an entire (usually studio) apartment with my partner than to stay in a private room in a hostel, even, which is amazing! One thing I usually do if we’re staying for more than a week, is ask the host for the best price they can offer and try to negotiate it rather than booking directly. Also, I’ve found it doesn’t hurt to ask a host if they know of any other places if you really like their place but it’s not available for the dates you want – they might have another place themselves, or I’ve even been recommended to contact a friend of theirs.

  22. I just blogged about booking my first Airbnb stay! I am going to California in June, renting out an entire apartment. We are staying in town for an entire week, so a hotel would have been far too costly for that length of time. I’m glad to read a post so positive about the experience. I am super excited! : )

  23. Amazing article Kate, thank you! I have always wondered about AirBnB but like others have had some reservations. This post has made me feel much more reassured about the process and the checks in place and I will definitely be filling out a profile ASAP 🙂

  24. Great tips, Kate! I really love AirBnb, too! So far, I’ve rented an entire house on an island in Croatia with my family, and a private room in a fancy rooftop apartment in Basel, Switzerland. Both times booking my accommodation with AirBnb saved me heaps of money (especially in Switzerland!), the hosts were amazing, and I really adored the local experience!

  25. Nice introduction to AirBnB! I’ve stayed a few times at AirBnB properties and I love it. It’s a great way to cut your accommodation costs, especially for long trips. I travel slowly, so I stayed for a month or so and took advantage of the low monthly rate.

    Just pay really close attention to the reviews. Guests are often reluctant to leave bad reviews because the hosts will review them too. So something that seems like a small thing on the review could actually be a deal-breaker.

    That said, I once took a chance on a new listing with no reviews and got to stay in a great area in Montreal. The room was really cheap, too. The place was rather dirty, but overall it was a nice experience nonetheless.

  26. Nice one Kate! This is a really descriptive piece on Airbnb. I haven’t used it myself but I did consider it to get a house in Bali but I was a little worried ‘cos of the distance of where I wanted to stay, which I checked map-wise, but this post is wonderfully assuring. Thank you!

  27. Kate, what a funny timing, I’m about to start renting rooms in my apartment in Lisbon, which have amazing views. I have been reading about ABB a lot lately, but your post is absolutely wonderful and very well written. As a long term traveler, I know what I search for with a home stay or a rented room, but it’s great to read other people’s wishes and opinions.

    Thank you for this post!

  28. We are staying in a studio loft in Brooklyn in November and will be there for 6 weeks. No way in hell we’d be able to stay that long in NYC over the holidays at hotel prices!

    It’s our first Airbnb experience so we’re hoping it is a good one. It might have been wiser to have a shorter stay on our first time using the site, just to dip our toes into the whole thing, but cest la vie.

  29. I just used Airbnb for the first time in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was really happy with the place I got and had a great experience with the website and the host. I can’t wait to try it out more, it’s such a great alternative to hotels.

  30. Thanks for the tips. I’ve only used it once – for the first Traverse conference – and it was another of the girls who organised it. It was a pretty good experience though, and very good value. I’ve looked on the site a few times in Australia, but I find that, even with bigger groups, a hostel is much cheaper. It’s a great option when you want a bit of privacy though.

  31. This article is such a great resource! I love Airbnb, the affordability of finding good quality accommodation and seeing a place from a more local perspective means it has improved the way I travel – like it has for many. I’ll always remember one of the first times I used Airbnb, it was in Poland and my host knocked on my door and when I open it she was holding a plate and said, “I picked some berries from the garden and baked you a pie”. I think about her kindness quite a lot!

  32. I first used Airbnb during my trip to L.A. mid 2013 and boy was I glad I did that. 3 of us were staying in a fantastic neighborhood which is very centralized and the place, which was converted from a garage, was beautiful and clean, the host was also very helpful. It was good value for money. Just a point to note – to always keep a copy of your communication with the host in hand. We were supposed to check-in early following a series of emails but the host forgot! But it was no biggie since she allowed us to leave our luggage inside her gate. Will definitely be using Airbnb more often 🙂

  33. Fantastic post! I’ve been using AirBnb on my recent trips, and have had a really wonderful experience every time. I prefer getting a whole apartment, which works really well since you generally have a full kitchen to buy groceries and save a bit of money. I’ve used AirBnb in Italy, Puerto Rico, and earlier this month in Reykjavik, and highly recommend it to everyone I know!

  34. Love your blog, Kate! I am obsessed with AirBnb– used it on my honeymoon last year to stay in a condo 100 feet from the beach in Miami for $65/night (SO much cheaper than any hotel), and in Nottingham I booked a flat for my siblings and myself for my sister’s wedding. We all got ready for the wedding there in our gorgeous flat, and it was so much more personal than a hotel. I bargained with my Nottingham host and he gave me a much better deal than his advertised price! I have wishlists all over the world, there are some truly incredible properties on there– can’t wait to experience more!

  35. Hi Kate

    good article. I’m quite a fan of Air BnB. I first heard about the concept at a confereence a few years ago. We have a property in Australia and get quite a few bookings through AirBnB, particularly from international guests. I think, without exception, the guests have been great. And yes, we meet one of the criteria you mentioned – we cater for groups.

    Keep being adventurous! : )



  36. Another fan of AirBnB here. i’m always recommending it to people. I love your list of suggested questions. I’d never thought about doing that – i just book the place or i don’t but it’s good to get some info plus it’d help get an idea of how responsive the host is 🙂

    One tip I’d add is to check the description against the photos and reviews. Some hosts get info wrong, even basic stuff like whether it’s a rental of the entire place or just a room especially if they aren’t native English speakers it seems. I’ve looked at a few places that seem like a good deal for the entire apartment then realised it’s not!

    It’s also good to send an email first rather than making a booking because if the host doesn’t reply or declines your request, AirBnB puts a hold on your $$ and it takes a few days for it to be released.

  37. Staying at an Airbnb apartment right now! Having a great experience and we’ve just booked our next few stays is Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico through them. Enjoyed your thoughts on the subject and I also expect them to become more a popular resource for more long-term travelers like myself.

  38. We LOVE airbnb! It’s a great option for large groups (all your friends in one house = great!), for high season (where it can be hard to find a hotel), and for cost savings (often I’ve found it ends up cheaper than a hotel). And sometimes you even get the bonus of hearing “local” recommendations!

    On the other hand, apparently the hotel industry is not too happy with airbnb and it’s “lack of standardization”… I can imagine this site and ones like it are a huge threat to the industry.

  39. I haven’t try Airbnb before. I’ve been a couchsurfer for quite sometime and this review makes me wanna try Airbnb.

    I’m just wondering, what if your guest knew you are both CS and Airbnb members, would you offer a free bed CS-style or still ask to pay Airbnb-style? Wouldn’t it feel different that why ask for payment if you have let others stay in your house for free before.

    Either way both websites are very helpful to backpackers.

    1. Honestly, Echo, I don’t know of anyone who does both Airbnb and Couchsurfing on the same property, but if there were, I feel like the chances would be slim to none that the same potential customer would find your profile on both Airbnb and Couchsurfing.

      If I ran into a former Couchsurfing host who is now selling his or her place on Airbnb, I wouldn’t begrudge him or her — we all need to make a living.

  40. What a fantastically detailed post. I just put up my review today of our first experience using Airbnb, and you hit on one thing that really resonated with me. You get that neighborhood feel. It can be far more relaxing. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in a flat in Soho for a week.
    Thanks for the post.

  41. I love staying at apartments, studios etc. They offer more privacy and space than hotels do, I think. They also give me that “home away from home” feeling.
    Up until now I’ve only used Roomorama, but I’ve just created my Airbnb profile!

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