I’ve read about Airbnb for quite some time now on different travel blogs or on travel magazine websites and thought it sounded like a great concept. In addition to saving some money over more traditional hotels, I really liked the idea of getting to ‘live like a local’ and experience different types of houses around the world. It wasn’t until our recent trip to Canada that we had the opportunity to give it a try but we’re now all on board the Airbnb train.

L and I really make an effort when we travel to stay in unique places, instead of the run-of-the-mill hotel chains, so you’ll usually find us in a little B&B or a boutique hotel and Airbnb offers exactly the kinds of accommodations that fit into this idea. The other factor that really sold Airbnb for us for Canada was we’d be able to get a bigger place for more privacy than any of the hotels we could find, or were willing to pay for. In order to meet these two requirements we knew we’d have to look at suites, or at least junior suites, and the prices for those basic rooms in hotels just seemed to be getting more and more expensive. So off to the Airbnb site we went where we found just what we were looking for, and in some cases, even more.

As with any new thing we wondered how it would work and if we’d like it in reality as much as we liked the idea of it. I did quite a bit of reading about it in advance that was helpful so today I’d like to pass along what we’ve learned (so far) and our tips for all those who are new to Airbnb like we were just a few short weeks ago in the hopes that I can now help you.

Checking Out Your Options

According to Airbnb they have over 1 million listings now in over 190 countries in 34,000 cities in all price ranges. They even have listings for over 600 castles! I have really got to look into those more. How cool would it be to stay in a castle? Really though you are bound to find a room or house that will meet your needs with only a quick search.

The easiest way to start is by simply entering the name of the city you are looking at and the dates you’d like to stay. From there you’re given all kinds of options from city centre and then spreading out around the city and into the surrounding areas. Along with the options there is a map with a pin for each option so you can start narrowing down your search.

The image below shows several of the ways you can filter and other features:

  • Edit your dates and the number of guests. It is important to disclose truthfully the number of people that will be staying to get an accurate rate.
  • The type(s) of rooms you want included in your search. For Canada we chose “Entire Place” and ended up booking three apartments and one whole house.
  • Your price range. My slider is usually a lot closer to $10 than $1000. Why tease myself with something that is way out of my price range eh? Well unless it’s one of those castles and then heck yeah! I’m totally going to pay $1000 a night. Just kidding L! Just seeing if you were paying attention. :-)
  • On “More Filters” you can filter for things like “Instant Book” or choose the number of bedrooms, what amenities you want, even the language of your hosts. Personally I don’t filter too strictly as none of those things are necessarily deal breakers and I like to see my options.
  • The map on the left shows where the listings are and if you click on a pin it will pop up specifically which listing it is. You can scroll through the photos on here or click on the listing to get bigger photos and all the details for it.
  • You can also save your favourite options to a “Wish List” and then make notes about each one you save which comes in really handy when you’re comparing places and making your final selection. Or to have some as a back up plan if your request is declined (more on that coming up).

There are likely other features but these are the ones I’ve been using and a good place to get you started.

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Checking Out Your Options (screenshot from Airbnb)

 

You’ve Found Some Options… Now What?

Once I’ve done a quick search of the places that look most appealing to me I start to do some more in depth reading about them. If there is only one thing you take away today please let it be this- read everything carefully and thoroughly. Read it twice or three times if you have to but read it carefully and thoroughly. I really can’t stress that enough. There are some real humdingers of descriptions/house rules out there and you want to know what you’re getting.

Read the sections about:

  • The Space– How many bedrooms? How many beds? Are they real beds or fold out sofas? How many bathrooms?
  • The Amenities– Does it have everything you need? Parking? Wifi? A kitchen? And are there fun extras like a swimming pool or hot tub?
  • Prices– This gives additional information for extra charges like a security deposit or an extra person charge. It also gives the cancellation policy.
  • Description– This is a free text area where the host can give you additional details about the space, their house rules and expectations of you as their guest, and any other information they wish to share. Read ALL of this. Some people have some pretty strict house rules so you want to be sure you know what is expected of you because the host will also be reviewing you at the end of the stay on how you were as a guest.
  • Reviews from other guests- Read as many of these as you can. Not only do they let you know if the place was as advertised, and if the host was friendly, professional, and courteous, but they also give you additional little details about the location (e.g. an easy 10 minute walk to the city centre), the parking (e.g. free parking but it was on the street two blocks away), or other little tidbits to help you make your decision (e.g. flat is up four flights of narrow stairs so pack light!).
  • About the Host– a little bit of information about the person that is hosting this listing.

If, after reading all this information, you still have questions you can contact the host to ask them for more information.

The Booking Process

The booking process is as simple as booking a hotel whereby you select your check in and check out dates and the number of guests. Your total per night is displayed and you can select “Request to Book“. Most places will give the “Request to Book” option which will send a notification to the host and they’ll either accept or decline your request. There is also an option for “Instant Book” (designated by a little yellow lightning bolt) which works the same as a hotel- once you select it the room/apartment is booked.

 

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Booking Process (screenshot from Airbnb)

Once your request is accepted, either by the host or instantly, your credit card will be charged. Airbnb will then hold this payment until 24 hours after you check in to give both you and the host time to make sure everything was as you expected. For security deposits Airbnb will retain your payment information but there won’t be any charges or authorizations made to your credit card unless the host files a claim.

Once your booking is confirmed you’ll receive an email with more information about the location such as the exact address, phone number for the host, how to pick up the keys, even things like the Wifi password.

You’ll also receive reminders as your stay gets close about your upcoming reservation. We also found it very helpful to contact the hosts directly to give them an idea of our travel plans and they were appreciative of that so they could plan their day knowing if/when they needed to be available to let us in and show us around.

We would definitely suggest booking as early as possible to allow yourself time to find a spot if your first, second, or even third options aren’t available or get declined for any reason. Each host has 24 hours to accept your request or it is automatically declined so it may take several days to finalize a booking. This did happen to us when we were looking in Canada so it was nice to have time to request other options.

This is where our one frustration would come in for Airbnb and it isn’t really directed at Airbnb but towards hosts. If a host doesn’t have a date available or doesn’t want to let out the space on a particular day they should make those dates unavailable on their calendars so guests can’t choose them- but they don’t always do this. We found several that came back to us and told us the date was not available yet it wasn’t blocked out on the calendar. It may have been the time of year we were looking to book for (during Christmas and New Year’s holiday) or that fact that we were brand new and didn’t have any reviews to support that we would be a good guest. Either way it was a little frustrating but we found places in the end that worked out great. That wish list with your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choices I mentioned before- this is where that really comes in handy.

Check In and Enjoying Your Stay

Each host will have their own process for getting you checked in. Three of the four hosts we stayed with in Canada greeted us, gave us our keys, and then showed us around the apartments, answered any questions we had, and noted any quirks (like a light switch in one that turned off the power to the upstairs so don’t touch) or particular house rules (removing shoes before entering the apartment). With our 4th place we had the whole house to ourselves and the host kept the key in a lock box on the door so we could enter. She also left lots of great little post-it notes around for little reminders (like please turn down the heat when we leave) or notes to help ourselves to any of the food in the fridge or cupboards. At this time your host will also tell you the check out procedures and find out when you’re planning to leave, especially if they are going to need to prepare the place for another guest coming that day.

We really had a great time checking out the amenities each host had made available to us and especially appreciated the little extras some provided. For example one place had cooking oils and spices etc. available to use for meals. All but one had shampoo and conditioner available which was great for me as I didn’t have enough to get through nine days. And my favourite place of the four we stayed at even included travel guides for the city along with a binder the host had put together with maps, amenities and attractions in the area, and her suggestions for great places to eat and shop. I really loved and appreciated all these little extras that made our stay so much easier and more enjoyable.

My final tip for your stay would be to be a great guest. It likely goes without saying, and most people would do so naturally, but I think one of the keys this option is so successful is not only hosts that deliver on what they’ve advertised, but also guests that treat their homes with respect and care. Even if guests weren’t reviewed after their stay (which they likely will be) I still think that would be the motto we should all approach a stay in someone’s home with.

After You Come Home

I can only think of one thing you’ll want to do after you come home – start a new search for your next great place to book on Airbnb! You likely won’t get a 5 star hotel experience (although with one of those castles you might…really must check those out) but what you will get is:

  • A stay in a local’s home with a host that is usually eager to give you all kinds of information and tips about their city.
  • More privacy and space than a hotel at a comparable rate (or even less than a hotel)
  • Little extras to stretch your travel budget farther like coffee, tea, toiletries, food, drinks, and kitchen facilities to make your own meals. Some places also include laundry facilities.
  • The experience of ‘living like a local’ if even for only a night or two.

If you’d like to check out the places we stayed (and would recommend) when we were traveling in Canada please follow the links below.

Guelph, ONthree bedroom apartment in Guelph for three nights. Lots of space, private entrance, and couldn’t have been a better location for our needs.

Kingston, ON–  cozy two bedroom house in Kingston for one night. The place with the post-it notes that even though we didn’t meet the host we still felt very welcome in her home.

Ottawa, ONbeautiful two bedroom apartment in Victorian house (It even had a turret! That’s kind of like a castle right?) for three nights. My absolute favourite of the four places we stayed. The host really thought of everything (the travel guides and binder), the apartment was beautiful (it’s the one in the opening photo), and the location was perfect for staying in Ottawa. If it hadn’t been so cold I don’t think our car (free parking on site too) would have left the driveway.

Guelph, ON–  third floor cottage apartment in Guelph for two nights. Lots of space in this one too, though only a trundle bed for the kiddo in this one (but we did know that in advance) but the bed in the bedroom was so cozy and warm. Also little goodies in the kitchen to eat and drink if we wished and within walking distance of downtown Guelph.

I’d love to hear from you too. If you’ve used Airbnb how was your experience? Also do you have any places that you’d definitely recommend to other travelers (like us!) so we can put them on our wish list for possible places to stay on future trips?

We’ve already booked places in Arras, France and Reims, France but are now on the hunt for something in Luxembourg City (those screenshots above weren’t just for this post-they are my real search!). Please do share your suggestions.