Airbnb Travel Tips: How to find the best stay for you

After finally getting up the courage to try Airbnb last year, I’ve been using it almost every week — and it truly is a complete game-changer for travel.

The perception is that every Airbnb means you’re staying in a room in someone’s home. That’s not necessarily true. Though renting a room in a house is certainly an option (probably the most common one), there are other choices if you aren’t cool with that.

I’ll explain more in the tips below, but a couple words of caution first:

 These tips are geared toward a single traveler or a couple, who would often only require one room (under the “private room” option) instead of an entire house/apartment. You can probably apply the same tips to the entire house/apartment, I just don’t have as much experience with renting those.

— I’m operating under the assumption you are doing this because you want a cheaper rate than a hotel room. If you don’t care about money, just ignore all this and stay at a hotel. For my personal preference, a nice hotel is still more comfortable than a nice Airbnb; it just costs like five times more money.

— Renting a cheap room in an Airbnb likely won’t be perfect (I’m talking about the places that are $30-$50 a night, which is my typical price range). But you often can find a place that suits your needs and gives you a pleasant stay if you put enough time into researching the available options. It might take some work, but it will be worth it!

By the way, I have no connection to Airbnb whatsoever and am only writing this because I have saved money through my own personal travel experiences and believe you can as well.

Here are some tips from my Airbnb experiences so far:

No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3: Read the reviews, read the reviews, read the reviews. This is by far the most important factor in finding a good Airbnb location. Even if a place has 50 ratings and it’s all five stars, you won’t truly know what to expect until you go through the reviews to see what people say about their stays.

For example: The property description might say “Private bathroom” in the listing, but then you read the reviews and find out the bathroom is down the hallway and not actually attached to your room. That could be a deal-breaker, depending on your comfort level. Or maybe other reviewers will give insight the check-in process (was it smooth?) or how clean the place really is (should you be prepared for some dust?). It’s just better to know what to expect before booking so there are few surprises, and the only way to do that is to go through all the reviews.

No. 4: Speaking of reviews, do not stay at a place that doesn’t have any. A lack of reviews doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. Actually, it’s probably just a newer listing. But don’t take the chance on it being a scam or a shady place; let other people be the guinea pigs and stay there first. That’s why you should look for a place that has at least 10 reviews and make sure they are all five stars. If the place has even four stars, that indicates a red flag and you should just look elsewhere.

No. 5: The number of reviews is often a good thing. That means the host has their Airbnb skills down to a science and has likely added amenities (like making sure there’s shampoo or bottled water) or other special touches to the room based on feedback. For example: My host last week in Las Vegas said she had gotten feedback that the lamp near the bed and the main ceiling light shouldn’t be on the same switch (because then guests would stumble around in the dark). So she had fixed it. A high number of reviews also means they are less likely to be a strange character (if you’re worried about that) or put you in a sketchy situation. It means many travelers have passed through safely and been happy with their stay, which is what you want for yourself.

No. 6: Look for a private room listing that has the words “private entrance” in the headline. This is a MAJOR key for me. Unfortunately, this option isn’t searchable yet, but it usually indicates you will have your own space and not have to enter the main house at all. This could mean the room is a converted garage, a basement, a mother-in-law unit, a guest house in the backyard, etc. It’s your own, separate space! When you find a listing like this, about 75 percent of the time it means you never have to even meet the hosts. There will be a code on the door or a lockbox with a key, and you just go into your own entrance without having to interact with anyone. These are my favorite places to stay, because it’s more like a hotel situation.

If you don’t mind staying right in someone’s house, then disregard this. You can save WAY more money staying in a room in a home (and maybe even have a more comfortable room), but actually being in someone else’s house is not for everyone. I have done that a couple times and it’s more like you’re staying with a friend, so you might have to be a little social. I’ve enjoyed all the people I’ve met, but after a long day at the track, you might not feel like chit-chatting about how your day went. Or maybe you feel guilty waking up early on race day when the rest of the house is sleeping. Personally, I’d just rather have my own space, which is why looking for “private entrance” in the description is the way to go.

No. 7: Click on the listing to see the fees and actual prices for your desired dates. Though many hosts are not aware there is a race coming to town (and thus do not raise their prices), some are. So when you click on the listing, the price will occasionally change from what you see in the main search screen (I’ve seen it go down, too). At that time, you will also be able to see if your host charges a cleaning fee or if the local area requires you to pay occupancy taxes on the room.

No. 8: Book early, but be sure to check the cancellation policy. That’s up to the host to choose whether they want a Strict policy (only a 50% refund if you cancel, and no refund if you cancel within a week of your stay), a Moderate policy (full refund unless you cancel within five days of your stay) or a Flexible policy (full refund up to 24 hours before).

No. 9: Keep in mind you’re in someone’s home. The host probably cleans it themselves and might not have a professional maid. Some places are spotless, but some might have a hair in the sink. The bed might be squeaky. You might be able to hear the hosts walking around or watching TV. If you’re OK with the unknowns and go in with reasonable expectations, you can find some absolutely amazing deals and easily save yourself hundreds of dollars on a race weekend while having a very enjoyable stay.

Not to jinx myself, but I’ve yet to have a truly bad experience. The worst was probably last July in New Hampshire, when I stayed in an old apartment above someone’s garage. It was deep in the woods and there were some spiders in the room, including some in the shower. I didn’t love that. But at the same time, even that place was worth it because I only paid $135 for the entire race weekend.

No. 10: Treat the space like you’re a guest in a friend’s home. After each stay, you will rate the Airbnb location and write a description for others to see — but the host will rate you, too. Their comments about you will be on your profile forever, and future hosts will read them to see if they want to let you stay in their homes. Do you want to be known as someone who leaves a mess or is loud or disrespectful to their home? I try to leave each place as neat as possible (even if they are charging a cleaning fee); picking up before you leave makes life easier for them and the positive reviews you’ll receive in return will  help clear the way for your future stays.

10 Replies to “Airbnb Travel Tips: How to find the best stay for you”

  1. Great tips, Jeff. We have used AirBnB & VRBO all over the US, in Europe and Russia. Although we have never gone the “single room” route, our experiences have been positive. There is some flexibility required, but it definitely saves money, especially when traveling with friends or family. We love this option when traveling!

  2. Using my first AirBnB this August for the Knoxville Nationals. Didn’t want to stay so far away in DesMoines and wasn’t paying $300 a night to stay in Knoxville. Fingers crossed, had great ratings, all 5*

    1. Mark, let me know your feedback at @Bucky515 on your Airbnb in Knoxville. I go to different race weekend there each year and hotel rates are horrible. If you give great review then I will diffently consider it. Tired of getting ripped off. Hugh.

  3. Jeff, this is super helpful! Thank you for posting! I had one question that wasn’t addressed: do the hosts typically provide clean bedding, blankets, and towels, or would you have to bring your own?

    Many thanks!

    1. Yes the hosts typically offer bedding and towels for your entire stay and enough for your entourage if you’re traveling with your family.

  4. This was exceptionally detailed. I have friends that have wondered about it, so I will be sharing this. Thanks for the great detail Jeff.
    Oh and SOOOOOOO HAPPY you made it in time for your 12 Questions with Larson!

  5. We have only used the whole house option, but it has always been great. We stayed in Daytona during the 500 for $125. We loved it and it was a two block walk to the beach and restaurants. We stayed every night in Airbnb on our recent trip to Iceland. The ones we stayed in downtown Reykjavik were in walking distance to everything. And we’re VERY nice apartments with heated floors and a heated garage. One was a cabin in the woods with a hot tub in the back yard. And they were all WAY cheaper than hotels, i mean hundred(s) of dollars cheaper. We always check prices first with Airbnb. We like having a whole house, most of the time they have a washer and dryer, which we like. Glad you discovered this option!

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