Airbnb can be a great way to not only make travel less expensive, but to stay in some unique places that meet your accommodation needs!
My husband and I decided to take a short trip over spring break. We wanted to head south, but we didn’t want to fly or drive too far. We also wanted to take our two German Shepherd Dogs, Remo and Zoey, with us.
If you’ve ever traveled with pets, you know it can sometimes be difficult to find accommodations that are pet friendly. It’s especially difficult if your pets are large breed, like our GSDs. My husband actually came up with the idea of giving Airbnb a try. So, we did!
Just so you know, all the pictures were taken by me and are the actual photos of the cottage we stayed in on our recent trip to Tennessee.
Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links for products or services I think you’ll like. This means if you make a purchase from one of these links, The Birch Cottage will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.
What is Airbnb?
Before I get into the details about our first experience staying in an Airbnb house, you might be wondering just what Airbnb is. Maybe you’ve never heard of it or maybe you’ve heard about it but just never looked into it. Or maybe, like my husband and I, you were skeptics and hesitant. Hopefully, our positive experience and helpful tips will encourage you!
First, Airbnb is an accommodation sharing site. Airbnb simply offers you “someone’s home” to stay in when you’re traveling instead of a hotel. However, “someone’s home” can be a room in their home, an apartment, a condo, a camping porch, a cottage, a camping spot or an entire house. Really, there are a lot of options!
People who have a home or space that they want to offer up for people to rent as travel accommodation, list their “home” and all its amenities. Really, the best way for you to see what I’m talking about is to go visit the Airbnb website and just browse around.
Using Airbnb is free. You simply sign up using your email address and you can browse their extensive listings.
Tips for Using Airbnb
This was our very first time actually booking accommodations through Airbnb. As you could imagine, it was a little unnerving and put us way out of our comfort zone. Obviously, being a one-time user, I’m not an expert by any means, but I do have some tips that I think will help you to make your first or next experience using Airbnb a good one!
Tip #1 – Define Your Needs
When my husband and I booked our first Airbnb cottage, we knew we wanted to travel with our two dogs, stay in Tennessee and book a house with a kitchen.
If you have special needs or requirements – smoke free, no stairs, near the beach, etc., be sure to make a list and have that handy as you begin your search. By defining your needs, it will not only help you to keep focused, but to more quickly identify potential properties.
Tip #2 – Read the Reviews
Once you start searching and identifying potential Airbnb accommodations, be sure to read the reviews – all the reviews. If there’s anything that concerns you, you can ask the property owner about those concerns or eliminate that property from your list of possibilities.
Reviews are made by validated users and the opinions expressed are 100% their own. Reviewers often times bring up issues (like a flooded road) that the owner never mentions in their listing. Of course, the owner is going to list all the positives and make their property seem like it’s just amazing. The reviewer gives you a behind the scenes look.
Of course, you’ll sometimes run across some “off” reviews and discover that if the reviewer had followed tip #3 below, they wouldn’t be expressing an issue about not having cable TV (or whatever their problem was). Just do the due diligence and read the reviews! You’ll be glad you did and they will help you make an informed decision.
Tip #3 – Read the Entire Listing
If you find accommodations that catch your eye, be sure to read through the entire listing. Sometimes, pictures are a little misleading. Make sure you pay special attention to the amenities and that the listing meets your needs that you defined in tip#1 above.
What amenities are included? What amenities aren’t included? What are the house rules? Where is the property located? Is it a room in a shared house or the entire house? Do they allow pets? Do they have Wi-Fi?
Once you’ve read through the fine print, you can ask the host any questions you might have. The devil really is in the details!
Speaking of asking the host or owner questions, Airbnb provides a messaging system through their website where you can communicate via email with the host. We had questions for our host and she responded very promptly.
Tip #4 – Look at the Photos
It seems like it might be an obvious statement, but be sure to look at all the photos in the listing. Do the photos match the listing description? Anything look odd or raise questions?
There should be lots of pictures of the home. If a listing only has a couple of photos, skip that listing. Are the pictures blurry, dark or hard to make out the details? Skip that listing, too. The best properties have tons of pictures where you can clearly see all the rooms and all the amenities.
I wonder if there’s a microwave in the kitchen? Yep! It’s in the listing and it’s clearly depicted in the pictures.
Tip #5 – Use Google Street View
Want another view of the outside of the home or the area the property is located? Use Google Street View to take a look at the structure, street and surrounding area.
Tip #6 – Verify the Price
At some Airbnb properties, the price is dependent upon the number of occupants. So, be sure to verify the price based on your number of occupants.
Also, some listings have additional fees, like cleaning, pets, VAT, extra guest, local taxes, Airbnb service fee, per night, etc. Again, it’s all in the details!
Tip #7 – Create a Wishlist
Features and functionality, as well as listings, on the Airbnb website are constantly changing. As of the writing of this post, one of the features they offer is the ability to create a wishlist. You can use this list to identify potential properties that you’re considering or even homes that you might want to consider in the future. You can also view other users wishlists.
Tip #8 – Communicate with the Host
When you find a listing you’re considering, communicate with the host. Ask the host any questions and address any concerns. Your host’s response and response time will give you a good indication of the service and integrity of the person you’re dealing with.
Also, you can ask the host questions about the location, things to do, places to dine, weather, anything that might be of interest to you or impact your stay in their home.
And, don’t forgot to communicate things with the host such as your expected arrival time, any issues that come up during your stay, etc.
Tip #9 – Only Pay through Airbnb
Airbnb provides a secure payment system through their website. For your own safety, don’t pay outside of the Airbnb website. If you pay outside of the Airbnb platform, you will lose whatever Airbnb recourse you might have if things go sour.
In fact, if a host suggests you pay outside of Airbnb, stay somewhere else. It might sound tempting to save a few dollars or service fees, but you lose whatever protection and rights you might have and you violate the agreement with Airbnb.
Tip #10 – Know the Cancellation Policy
You can’t simply cancel your reservation and expect a full refund simply because you changed your mind. Sorry. There is a strict cancellation policy. Make sure you read it. Also, life does have unexpected turns and circumstances beyond our control.
When life throws you a curve and you have a legitimate reason for needing to cancel, reach out to the host and see if they are willing to approve your cancellation request. If not, follow the Airbnb cancellation policy procedure.
Tip #11 – Report Problems Immediately
First, if there is a problem, contact the host immediately. If the host is unable or unwilling to resolve, then contact Airbnb right away, In fact, if you have a problem upon check-in or within 24 hours after you check-in that your host does not resolve, contact Airbnb.
If you contact Airbnb within the 24 hour period, they will place a hold on the host’s payment until the issue is resolved. This will also make potential refunds much easier since the payment hasn’t actually transferred to the host yet.
Even minor problems should be reported right away to the host. Treat issues that come up the way you would want them treated if it were your home.
Bonus tip: Take photos! Photos will help to backup your claim and are invaluable in dispute resolution.
Tip #12 – You are the Housekeeper
For the most part, there is no housekeeping service. No one to pick up after you. No one to bring you fresh towels or turn down your sheets. Be courteous. Be neat. Be tidy and clean up after yourself.
Special Savings for First Time Airbnb Guests
Who doesn’t like to save money? I certainly do! If you’re a first time guest or potential first time guest with Airbnb, you can take advantage of this special discount.
Follow this link to save $40 when you register and book your first stay of $75 or more with Airbnb!
Our Experience with an Airbnb Home
Like I said, we used Airbnb for the first time this past March. One of the great things about using Airbnb is that it makes it more affordable when it comes to travel accommodations.
We knew we wanted to travel to Tennessee, maybe somewhere near Gatlinburg. We also knew we wanted to take our two dogs and that we wanted to stay in a house that we had to ourselves.
I did some research, identified a couple of properties, contacted the hosts and made our decision. The host was great to work with, answered all our questions and our dogs felt right at home!
We were really very leery and didn’t know what to expect. The cottage we rented was exactly as listed and our host always responded to my messages right away. We did make a point to meet our host, but the rest of our stay was simply spent exploring the property (there were trails around the property), relaxing by the fire in the living room and curling up with a good book.
Remo and Zoey got to run and play outside and spend time with their people. My husband and I got to relax (Oh, man! There was an amazing large whirlpool tub!) and do nothing for a few days. We sat on the covered porch and watched the dogs romp in the yard.
Although it rained and was cool and cloudy during most of our stay, we brought plenty of groceries and just snuggled in. My husband did most of the cooking, while I made coffee and oatmeal every morning.
Overall, it was a great experience and I would definitely recommend using Airbnb and plan on using them again!
We love to travel…
My husband and I love to travel. Besides spending time on the French River in northern Ontario, we flew to Mexico for spring break a few years ago and stayed in a little village called Puerto Morelos. It was an amazing vacation!
We also visited Cedar Keys just a year ago. And we took a fun cross country trip from Ohio to San Diego to visit our sailor girl before she left for deployment. We actually towed a little pop-up camper behind us and it worked out better than we ever imagined!
Give Airbnb a Try!
We do plan on giving Airbnb another try. Just think of all the places there are to explore! I hope these tips and our positive experience will motivate you to give Airbnb a try, too! By the way, if you have questions that I might be able to answer, just share them below and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
And, don’t forget to use this link to sign up as a registered user and when you book your first stay, you’ll be able to save $40!
The world awaits! Happy traveling!
Til next time…