While none of the Airbnb homes we’ve stayed in has been perfect, in hindsight they’ve all come pretty close. Finding a place for us to stay was one of my responsibilities, although Brett always got a final say in whether it was a yes or no. Although I never had any sort of secret formula for choosing a place, in looking back I can see there were certain things I looked for when choosing a potential home to stay in, and a certain process I followed, and so far it’s worked well for us.
After setting our price perimeters (using Airbnb’s handy slider), I started by looking at places with five-star ratings (usually more than 50, if possible), and then crawled over the reviews looking for things that stand out. What did former guests say about the cleanliness of the place? What about the kitchen? The bed? The location? The host? Are they a Superhost? Reviews are subjective, but I found that I could get a pretty good idea of what we were going to find after reading around 20 of them. The more stays and good reviews the better, too. Patterns would develop about what was great about a place and what might or could be an issue.
- The number one thing I focused on in the reviews was cleanliness, and the more reviews that mentioned the home’s cleanliness the better. On this point we batted 1.000 – every apartment and home we stayed in was spotlessly clean. The second most important thing I focused on was how well the Wi-Fi worked; again, it was great in every place we stayed.
- We soon discovered during our stays that having a comfortable bed was another important factor in how we judged a house, and in this regard we lucked out with almost every place we stayed. We knew not getting a good night’s sleep on an uncomfortable bed could and would ruin the next day or even several days for us. We learned though that just because reviewers said a bed was comfortable didn’t mean it would be comfortable for us. Brett and I prefer a firm mattress, but for others a softer mattress is the apex of comfort so we were never completely sure going in what we were going to get. Believe it or not, the best mattress we slept on was the one in the sleeper sofa in our Strasbourg apartment – it was just about perfect, surprising when you consider that many sleeper mattresses are pure torture. The second best bed we enjoyed was the 14″ memory foam in Buenos Aires. There was no worst.
- The location of an apartment was also a very important factor for us. Reading through reviews we could usually tell if a rental was near to public transportation so that it was easy to get around and get back home, or like in Florence, in a good location for walking to the places we want to visit. Another important factor for whether the location of a rental was good for us or not was its proximity to grocery stores and other shops for necessities. Our apartment in Sangenjaya, Tokyo, got our top mark for location – we were about three or four minutes away from the subway station, and just two stops away from Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s major transportation hubs. There were also two large grocery stores nearby as well as many other shopping and dining options (like coffee shops and a Muji store!). Our Perth location was also fantastic – located in a quiet, residential neighborhood yet walking distance in one direction to stores and restaurants, and in the other to the train station making easy to get into the city and also for getting our suitcases over to catch the Indian-Pacific. Except for our Montevideo apartment, none of our homes was in a truly bad location. During the day in Montevideo our location was fine but we were warned not to go out after dark.
- When looking for a place to stay I always, always looked for what reviewers said about the host and their communication with them, and I was definitely swayed by reviews that mentioned the ease of communication and the hosts’ responsiveness to questions or problems. Some of our hosts interacted with us more than others, but we still managed to establish a good rapport with all of them, and even if we didn’t actually meet them almost all had wine, snacks and/or other refreshments waiting for us when we checked in, which were always appreciated. The most amazing host experience we had was our short stay in the farmhouse outside of Lucerne, Switzerland. Even though our hosts did not speak English we were welcomed into the family, fed like royalty and chauffeured to and from the train station every day – they went above and beyond anything we expected and we will never forget their hospitality and the memories we made there. We aways wrote a review within a couple of days following any stay, and thankfully have never had to write anything negative about a host – all of our reviews have been five-star. We have also always received positives reviews in return from our hosts as well except for two places (Rome and the Portland house we stayed in last December) but they apparently don’t leave reviews for any of their guests. We still stay in touch with some of our hosts!
- A clean and well-equipped kitchen was always a delight, and for the most part all of our kitchens provided everything we needed to prepare most of our own meals. There were of course exceptions now and again and going forward we will take along our own vegetable peeler, corkscrew, and paring knives, just in case. We were pleasantly surprised by how many of the places we stayed in had dishwashers as it was one of the things I never really paid attention to in the listings or reviews – every place we stayed in Europe had one (although we never could figure out the one in Normandy – everything on it was in French that we couldn’t understand). The most wonderful kitchens we encountered were in Paris and Florence – they had everything, from an amazing array of cookware and bakeware to a wide assortment of utensils (sharp knives!), dishes and linens, and storage containers for leftovers, something we came to regard as a sign of a well-equipped kitchen. These two places also had wonderful views from their windows.
- As I wrote above, every place we stayed was spotlessly clean, so the bathrooms were all very nice. Most of them only had a shower, but the bathroom in the home we stayed at in Wellington, New Zealand, was pure luxury with its huge shower, bathtub, and the toiletries available for our use. Our homes in Buenos Aires and Napier had jetted tubs. While our apartment in Florence had a remarkable kitchen, the bathroom was tiny (although clean, stylish and efficient), and we still laugh about how difficult it was to turn around in that shower.
- Except for our apartment in Tokyo, all the places we stayed in were nicely furnished (our Tokyo place was just OK). Some places were furnished better than others, but having a gorgeously decorated space wasn’t a big consideration on our list of expectations, although I was always more impressed by pictures of clean, uncluttered spaces. The exception to that was our Paris apartment, which was actually quite cluttered but it still very charming and comfortable (and clean).
It’s not any sort of a record, and I don’t consider myself an Airbnb expert of any sort, but we’ve stayed in 19 different Airbnbs so far (21 for me – I stayed in two in Japan in 2015 trip). A couple of times the frying pan or saucepans in the kitchens were too small, or the coffee maker didn’t work. Once there were squirrels in the ceiling. A couple of times the bed was a little too soft to our liking. Sometimes we had to climb several flights of stairs at the end of a long day to get to our place and sometimes the shower was too small and lacked someplace to place a bar of soap. But there was never anything we couldn’t live with in any of our Airbnb rentals, that we couldn’t find a way around or adapt to. And thank goodness nothing or no one ever scared us or made us want to leave or question our decision to rent the place. There isn’t a place we’ve ever stayed that was perfect, but all were better than good and some were great. Perfect has never been the goal but we’ve gotten very close, and the experiences we had were better than any hotel we’ve ever stayed at.