As Britain’s favourite holiday destination, Spain, now reports more private rentals than hotel accommodation, it’s an excellent time to think about stepping away from the Costa resorts, and into… well, what, exactly?
That’s the difficulty with Airbnb, there are just so many options. Room or whole apartment? Rural farmhouse or urban studio? Beach or mountains? Quirky or mainstream?
I’ve done my fair share of Airbnb in the last few years. While each experience has been very different, they’ve all been positive – and have completely shaped the my time in each destination – from beachside to city centre to tumbleweed-filled village. So here are my top five tips for finding the perfect room on Airbnb.
- Do you want company?
Airbnb lists both rooms and entire homes. The rooms are generally, of course, cheaper – but you’ll be sharing with the host, and in some cases other guests. For some, this is unthinkable on their holiday. If you’re looking for a romantic retreat, or are planning to party, crashing back into the flat in the wee small hours – this is probably not the ideal situation. But there are some big advantages. My first Airbnb experience was in Florence – a tiny, cold single room, the cheapest in the city. As I was travelling alone and without plans, I liked the idea that the host was a girl my age, with similar interests – but figured I’d just ask her for a few insider tips, and get on with it myself. As it was, we hit it off. She took me out to gigs and bars, introduced me to her friends and showed me round the city, eating in hole in the wall cafes. And I was sold on Airbnb for life.
2. Do you want to be around other tourists?
Unlike most hotels, chalets and B&Bs, Airbnb hosts aren’t tied to being in established tourist areas. They’re in the centre of town, sure, but they’re also in the quiet suburbs, where few foreigners tread. They face onto picturesque beaches, but are also tucked into remote villages, miles from the nearest bus or train route. If you’re keen to stay in the touristy areas, AirBnB can be an economical way of doing this – as well as providing you with more privacy and space than a hotel room, and the option for self catering. And if you decide to stay waaay out in the sticks, as I managed in Lanzarote, then this is the perfect option.
3. Parli italiano…?
Oh we all dream on holiday of how we’ll sit in la piazza, ordering pappardelle ai porcini with a crisp vino bianco. We sit on the plane, contorted into an economy seat, reading out loud from the phrasebook. The we uncoil ourselves, stagger into the airport, can’t remember whether it’s gracias or grazie – and what’s the word for toilet…?
Airbnb can be the language equivalent of learning to swim by jumping into the deep end. If you find a host with little or no English, or are staying in a little-visited region, you’re going to have to grasp a few basics – even if it’s just to avoid causing offence. If you really are keen to learn a new language, this is a brilliant way to do it. If not – double check the languages section just to make sure, and see how their responses are to your emails. It’s easy enough to get a friend to write a passable description of the room in English; this doesn’t mean they’re fluent.
4. Are there any hidden costs?
The listed room rate may be for one person only, or outside the main holiday period. It won’t include the service fee either (paid to Airbnb) or the cleaning fee – so make sure you fill in the dates and number of guests to get an accurate figure, rather than just comparing room rates. Check the cancellation policy too – depending on how strict it is, you may be able to get a total or partial refund if you cancel (and how far in advance) – or your payment may be non refundable.
5. Read the reviews
Everyone’s tastes and expectations differ, so I usually read reviews as merely opinions. However, there is often important information to be gleaned from them which, while it may not put you off staying somewhere, can make your stay a lot comfier if you pay attention to them. A review of an apartment I stayed at in Portugal mentioned the lack of bedding – a fairly important piece of information to have if the main reason you’re booking a room is because you want to sleep there. I questioned the host, she confirmed this and apologised for not mentioning this in the listing and offered me a discount. And I packed my sleeping bag. But warnings about chilly rooms may mean you can pack pjs, or earplugs for noise. And never assume there will be wifi. On the plus side, you may also find out that you don’t need to go out for breakfast, as your host bakes excellent orange cake for his guests.
Assuming you’ve followed all of the above tips, you’re hopefully about to wake up in your dream room. Which reminds me of one more little piece of advice – pack a postcard for your hosts. I’ve wanted to thank everyone I’ve stayed with, and have ended up scribbling down thank you notes on the kitchen table before dashing out to catch a train or flight. But may regular hosts have proud pinboards filled with personalised messages from guests. You can, of course, buy a card when you’re there – but as part of the beauty of Airbnb is getting to meet – and live – with people from all round the world, a postcard from your hometown would be a much nicer reminder.