Traveling abroad is expensive. Traveling anywhere is expensive but when you have to convert your money at a loss before you’ve even begun the adventure, costs can really add up quickly.
Hostels can be hit or miss and I am yet to find a website that does a good job of laying them out for comparison and booking. Hotels are exorbitantly priced and take away a lot of the opportunity to truly experience a destination. AirBNB is a perfect combination for all of these things. You can set the neighborhood, the price, and the amount of space you’re looking so you aren’t left shooting in the dark.
For the record, I am not sponsored by them at all (unless you are reading this AirBNB people and want to work together!). I am just a very satisfied customer. That being said, here are my tips for using AirBNB.
1. Go with your gut.
With the exception of one encounter with a strange man who wanted us to meet him in a train station to pay cash for a room (just say no), we met kind and interesting people looking to make a bit of money and share their city. AirBNB allows you to talk to the host before you choose their place so take that opportunity to make sure you are comfortable with them.
2. Be honest.
If you want privacy but can’t afford having a place to yourself, be honest with your host when you introduce yourself. Tell them you don’t want to interact and ask if it will be a problem. Your experience will be much more enjoyable for you and for them if you know what you want and can be upfront about it. Plus, you’ll get better reviews if you stay with a host you get along with which will be beneficial when you go to book more places.
3. Set a budget and stick to it.
We traveled for 2 months on a $6000 for 2 people. That’s including the budget for international flights and transport within Europe. Hotels and nice hostels were entirely out of our budget but we felt like we were able to do everything we wanted to do because we used AirBNB. Many of the hosts don’t upcharge for a second person sharing one room. If they do it’s rarely ever double the original price.
Plus, you can set the price that you’re willing to pay before your search results turn up so you can make sure that you’re only looking at places in your budget.
4. Follow AirBNB’s rules.
Back to our encounter with the train station guy who wanted us to pay in cash. His intentions may have been good for us financially in the immediate future (he charged us less since we wouldn’t be paying AirBNB fees) but if something had gone wrong we wouldn’t have had any recourse. AirBNB offers refunds if you are unsatisfied and has systems in place for peer review that you wouldn’t be able to use if you skirted their services.
5. Leave reviews.
If you had a particularly great experience, this is your chance to brag about your host. You’ll help other people find great hosts and you’ll help your host make more money.
6. Consider the neighborhood and purpose of your trip.
Do you want to walk around and explore? Are you there on business? Do you want to stay in a heavily populated area? It’s difficult to know exactly what you’re getting into when every neighborhood guide says something different. We knew that we wanted to be walking distance everywhere we went so we asked our host how close we were to grocery stores, main attractions, and how safe the area was to walk around.
7. Make a list of questions to ask the host before you commit (or use mine).
Building off of that, have a list of questions that you ask each of the hosts that you are considering. Know which of the things you are willing to compromise on and what would be worth it. Do you want to be close to the airport? Is that worth being 30 minutes outside of the city center? What if it’s half of the cost? Are you willing to stay with someone who doesn’t speak your language? Do you need access to a kitchen? Know your requirements.
We found that when we stayed in a city for longer than 5 days, we liked to move around to try a different part of the city. We were able to mix and match the quality of the place with the convenience of the location and the price to have multiple experiences in each of the cities.
I’ll post a list of questions we used soon.
8. Don’t leave it to the last minute.
While we were lucky enough to always find a place even at the last minute, we lost a lot of options when we waited to book. Message multiple hosts 2-4 weeks ahead of time and even if someone you wanted to stay with books someone else, remain calm. Thank them for their time and ask them to keep you in mind should that space open later.
We canceled a host in Barcelona 24 hours before we were set to stay with her because her messages made us uncomfortable (go with your gut!). Even though there was nothing visibly available in the area we wanted to stay in, one of the hosts we had originally considered but had booked someone else had a cancelation that night and invited us to come stay. It pays to be nice.
9. Be a gracious guest.
At every house that we stayed in, we left a small gift and a card upon our exit. This isn’t required by AirBNB but I was raised by a mother with some Southern tendencies she refuses to give up on so thank you cards are a must. The card doesn’t have to be long but try to make it personal. Many cities have florists on almost every street, a small bouquet or a bag of fruit arranged with some care makes a great gift.
10. Trust that it’s going to be okay.
We got into Paris at 11:30 at night. We took a taxi and a 45 minute metro ride into Pigalle (the red light district) to get to our apartment. Coming to the surface from the metro we saw 3 drug deals happen between the train doors closing and the stairs to street level. A man with a pocket knife bared stumbled around next to us. Two women were verbally harassed after turning down a cat caller. And when we finally made it to the front door, the door wouldn’t budge. The code wouldn’t work, no one inside could hear our calls and we were standing on the streets of Pigalle with all of our possessions on our backs slamming on a door like our lives depended on it. About 6 seconds before I broke down in tears a stranger came out of the building, saw the panic on my face and showed us how to properly enter the code and get inside.
We have dozens of stories like this from our trip where everything is going wrong until it’s not. Just like how you always find something in the last place you look, things will work out if you just keep trying. This one isn’t specific to AirBNB, it’s more of a travel (or life) guideline, but it’s especially applicable here when you are trusting your life into someone else’s hands. Traveling isn’t easy but it can be very enjoyable when you find your balance between having a plan and just letting go.