There is always an element of surprise to all travel arrangements, and, for the sake of adventure spirit, I strongly believe it should remain so. If you have never been disappointed by accommodation in your lifetime, I’d say you are either a wizard or you have not been around that much. Of course, the Internet has tremendously changed the “booking game” for both, the world explorers and the travel industry. Nowadays, armed to our teeth with Google Maps, TripAdvisor, virtual location tours and millions and millions of reports by fellow travelers, we cannot be fooled very easily. But, as it is usually the case, with more information comes more responsibility and more work for you, the end customer. Opening an actual print hotel catalog and pointing your finger at one with the best and, frankly, the most doctored pictures seems quite an outdated option. What worked for the generation of our parents just does not do the trick for us, the travelers of generations X or Y. Our “information high” is always on the look out for the next fix. Those with the most typical cases of Internet addiction will be able to tell you the exact distance, i.a. the number of steps, metro stations, cycling kilometers between their upcoming accommodation and the beach, the nearest bakery, Starbucks, the best restaurant in the neighborhood or the theater/museum the tickets for which they have already acquired (of course!) in a great advance online (“Who wants to queue for hours with other sweaty tourists outside the venue??? Besides, a mobile ticket is environmentally friendly!”).
So how does it work with Airbnb and what “information fixes” should we look for while choosing a right Airbnb host?
Rule 1. Decide on the depth of your Airbnb experience (alternatively, on the “depth” of your purse). Do you want to meet new people aka locals, discuss the latest politics with them, see what they live by? Then you should go for an apartment with a host. If you want to rent a room at someone’s apartment or house you should check “private room” or “shared room” (hostel type) in the Airbnb search. Speaking of the depth of your purse, renting a private room could also spare you a buck or two (up to 50% to be precise – just checked!), and it does not necessarily mean that you will be restricted in any way. Many of such accommodations even have a private bathroom for guests or include breakfast (if you are lucky as we have been, with delicious home-baked muffins or yoghurt & fruits!). At the same time, you will have a unique opportunity to actually get to know your host a bit. Of course you should always respect their privacy (please do!!!), but, from my experience, some hosts participate in Airbnb because they want to meet new people or at least see the social part of the Airbnb arrangement as an additional benefit. Anyway, there is always time for a quick chat, sharing a glass of wine or cooking together with your host. You can always figure out how open a host is to such undertakings from the reports of the previous guests.
Rule 2. Watch out for “professionals”. And no, I am not talking about representatives of the world’s oldest profession. Under the profile of each and every host you can find information on the number of their listings. Hosts with multiple listings in different locations are more often than not professional estate agents or multiple estate owners, who just use Airbnb as a sales channel. These are not the community people, which does not in any case diminish the quality of their listings. These are mere holiday apartments and homes which can be found and booked also on other websites, such as HRS Holidays, Booking.com, fewo direkt or hometogo, to name just a few. There is nothing wrong with these rentals, but it also has nothing to do with the Airbnb experience, including meeting and hanging out with your host, receiving personalized top location lists, mastering your second language skills, etc, etc. I personally believe that Airbnb should not be used by professional estate agents, but whatchyagonnado?! If you are looking for an apartment or house for your exclusive use, then please take my advice and go with private owners instead of estate agents. These apartments are always better equipped and are often in a better shape than your typical holiday rentals, since they are also used by the owners as their summer/seasonal homes. Quite often this information is easy to come by, since hosts disclose it either in their “About” message or in the listing description.
Rule 3. Check out the neighborhood. Some Airbnb listings does not provide the exact address and only indicate the approximate location of the accommodation for the obvious reasons of hosts’ privacy. The exact address will be shown to you upon the booking confirmation. If you have doubts about the neighborhood, look for clues in the guests’ feedback or check it out in Google Maps Streetview to receive a glimpse of the surroundings.
Rule 4. The gifts of the magi. Yes, I am big on O’Henry’s short stories. But all literary references aside, it does not hurt to bring a small gift for your host, especially if you are going to share their living space for some time. It must not be anything fancy or expensive. But a little token of appreciation will for sure score you some points. There is nothing wrong with small acts of kindness – they are the most rewarding things in our lives for all parties involved.
Rule 5. Play by the rules. And by this I mean: abide by the house rules presented above each Airbnb listing. Airbnb is not a hotel, and even at a hotel there are certain rules of conduct. Respect your host’s privacy, enjoy the individual character of your accommodation and keep in mind that in the end of the day it is someone’s HOME. I have read all kinds of conflict stories in the feedback feeds of the listings. Sometimes there is no way to tell which party in the arrangement was the weakest or conflict-bearing link, but, in many cases, it seemed like some guests just refuse to understand that the behavior they can pull with the oppressed hotel chain employees fearing for their jobs just is not and should not be acceptable in case of Airbnb. Be positive. If you do not like something or miss something from the apartment description, be civil, ask politely and in the worst case scenario – leave negative feedback. Let the community fulfill its most important function – self-regulation.