Close to Perfect

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.

Our studio apartment in Strasbourg was less than 300 square feet, but was very comfortable and in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa hid the most comfortable mattress we slept on during our travels.

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!
The view from our kitchen in Paris . . .
  • 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.
. . . and later in Florence.
  • 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.

11 thoughts on “Close to Perfect

  1. We have had a more mixed bag of success than you- we’ve had a couple of places that were fairly awful but that was a few years ago when there weren’t so many ratings up. We’ve also had some really fun places- an antique cabin cruiser on dry land in the Olympic peninsula, for instance.
    But there is a dark side to the AirBnb/VRBO market and it’s really hit this year in our town. We have a short tourist season- Memorial Day to Labor Day mostly. Lots of college kids come to town to work in hotels, restaurants, fishing charters, ecotourism and there used to be plenty of housing for them. Mostly MIL type apartments and dry cabins. Now everyone has put those on Airbnb and short term workers can’t find a place to live…..and businesses can’t find short term workers. This has already happened all down the coast of Oregon and really changed the flavor of many of those small towns. Some large cities like Paris and Madrid are limiting how many/ how long apartments can be rented as short term places in the central areas.
    And our borough (county) has begun cracking down on VRBO renters who are not paying the appropriate sales tax.
    It’s so interesting to see how society changes as adapts as so many more folks travel!

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    1. I so agree there is a “dark side” to the popularity of Airbnb and I have no problem with communities/cities/countries cracking down on licensing, number of rentals, length of stays, etc. The proliferation of rentals (whether Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) has all but driven most of the locals out of Venice, Italy – they can’t afford to stay there any more. On the positive side of things, I believe homesharing provides a great alternative to hotel stays, allows travelers to experience their locale in a more authentic way, has the potential to bring people together, and provides homeowners/property owners with a way to bring in income. On the down side, a lack of regulation has led to speculators buying up properties which can then no longer be rented to locals (or short-term workers), which also ends up driving up prices. It also can create situations where neighborhood residents have no idea who is coming and going or staying in their building or neighborhood (which was one of the big issues in Japan, and why they now require licensing, even for Airbnb). I think Airbnb is getting better about this, but there is still work to do. VRBO has nothing to do with taxes, etc. – they’re strictly a clearinghouse for rentals. Usually in those cases the county or whoever have to do the work to collect unpaid taxes.

      We’ve never tried one of Airbnb’s “unusual” listings (like living on a boat, or in a tree house) – we tend to be fairly conservative with our rentals, but we’d like to try something “different” one of these days.

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  2. We’ve had great experiences with our AirBnB places too. I always read the reviews and look for proximity to sights. Our next trip will be to Germany and as we are travelling by train, I looked for distance to the station.

    I was stymied by a French washing machine. It had a drier all in one. Not sure if we washed our clothes once or three times.

    I won’t pick a sofa bed as I’ve been nearly crippled by them. Strange that your experience gave you the best bed! As you do, I like a firm mattress. Seems most people like a fluffy, soft one. If I’m in one I always wake with a sore back.

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    1. I think we had that same washer in Bordeaux. The clothes came out of the dryer still wet, although they were quite warm. Plus, the cycle took nearly 3 hours!

      When I first realized I had rented a place with only sofa bed I was terrified as we would be sleeping on for three weeks. But it was wonderful – the host said she did a lot of research and bought the best on the market. It’s apparently a mattress that higher end hotels use for their sleeper sofas.

      The memory foam mattress in our current location is lovely and comfortable, but I wake up with a sore back several mornings a week – the bed is just too soft. I have a hard time turning over in the bed as well. We had planned to buy a memory foam mattress whenever we settle down, but are now rethinking that, or at least going with nothing less than 14 inches (35.5 cm).

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      1. I sort of agree about memory foam; in fact, we heard not to bring it or buy it when we lived in Hawai’i because we would probably find it too hot. We’ll probably go with a nice, firm traditional mattress again.

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  3. We just stayed at a Vrbo in Paris (sadly the week Notre dame burned), ….the beds were great but we were warned via reviews that the washing machine would take alllllllll day. Thankfully they had a drying rack so we washed ( for like three hours ) and our clothes dried in less time hanging! Ha. We have had good experiences in Hawaii and now Paris at Vrbo (now they own Airbnb as well I believe) and I so appreciate your experiences!!! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. That was our experience in Bordeaux – a three-hour cycle and we still had wet (but hot) clothes. They dried in a couple of hours on a rack. I think VRBO and Airbnb are still different entities although I know people on Kaua’i listed their house with both businesses (not sure how that worked though).

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  4. I’ve only used Airbnb four times, but I have two more reservations this summer and fall so far. Most have been wonderful, but I just had a fairly questionable experience and left my first iffy review. I agree that people are turning anything available into Airbnb rentals, and I will be smarter next time. Normally, I have great luck reading reviews and choosing that way. I search for “clean” and “bed” to see what people have to say about those, as they’re usually my top priorities. It’s kind of amazing that your most comfortable bed was a sofa bed, and lucky it worked out that way. Like you, I would have been skeptical.

    Our very favorite was the casita in Sedona, and I hope to go back there at some point. The hostess was charming and the privacy and views were amazing.

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    1. We were dreading sleeping on that sofa bed and were amazed how comfortable it was and how well we slept while we were there. I’m finding the worst mattresses are 10″ – 12″ memory foam. They’re initially comfortable and I go right to sleep, but wake up with an aching back in the morning.

      If we ever get back to Sedona I will be in contact and find out where you stayed – it sounds lovely.

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      1. Happy to share it. But now that I think about it, it did have a memory foam mattress. 🙁

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