I’m a big fan of Airbnb. It’s our go-to for family travel accommodations.
Over the last seven years, I’ve spent roughly seven months living in other people’s places through the Airbnb platform alone.
We’ve also used other platforms like VRBO, and of course, we stay in hotels at times, but the majority of our travels, especially the slow travel variety, involves a stay at a home listed on the Airbnb platform.
Over the course of dozens of stays, I’ve taken mental notes on the best and worst aspects of the experiences we’ve had on various trips around the world.
Why I Prefer Airbnb
When visiting any place for more than a day or two, it’s really helpful to have the amenities of an apartment or house. A kitchen or kitchenette. Separate bedrooms for the grownups and kids. A second bathroom doesn’t hurt, either, when you’re traveling as a family of four (and occasionally welcoming visitors).
Usually, I only look at Airbnb. Why?
The search function works really well. You can set up filters to weed out places you don’t want. The pricing is consistent. You’ll know upfront, on the map and search results, how much you’ll be paying per night.
I have not found that consistency with its biggest competitor in the short-term rental space, VRBO, and it’s lame to find a surprise fee at checkout after taking the time to find the “perfect” place.
Also, most Airbnb listings will automatically apply a discount when your stay is 7 days or longer and a stay of 28 days or more typically gives you a greater discount, which can often be 30% to 50% off the nightly rate. I’ve heard of people privately negotiating further discounts, but I haven’t done so, personally.
I can assure you I’m not recommending Airbnb because of any advertising or referral relationship. They used to let users recruit other users with a nominal bonus for both parties, but the program ended some time ago. I just like using Airbnb, and with a few exceptions, I’ve had great travel experiences staying at places on the platform.
It’s important to remember that Airbnb is just a platform; it doesn’t own the properties. They provide the search engine, booking, and payment mechanism, plus some customer support and mediation if necessary. Your experience in a place is largely dependent on the person managing that particular short-term rental property and of course, the property itself.
Room For Improvement
Before I get all whiny, I’m going to preface my first-world-problems rant with the fact that I actually consider myself to be pretty easy to please, at least for a somewhat wealthy American. I don’t need five-star treatment or a mint on every pillow (but I’ll take the mints, thank you).
I’ve slept in many a tent, plenty of couches, and some
hotels motels that will never earn a 3rd star, let alone a 4th or 5th. I’ve also stayed at 5-star resorts and everything in between.
At this stage in my life, in my mid-forties, I want a comfortable place to sleep and some basic amenities that a traveler needs. Location is key, too.
With Airbnb, specifically, I’ve learned to pay attention to the Star ratings. They don’t match up with hotel ratings at all, even if 5 is the top for both. The average rating is 4.7, and more than 90% are above a 4.5.
If a property has less than about 4.4 stars, there are probably some serious problems with the place or the people running it. It’s not worth your consideration.
If the place is rated less than 4.6 stars, I’m going to be hesitant. Maybe it’s a newer listing and they had some issues early on that have been fixed. It could. If it’s a 4.6 and half the price of a comparable 4.8 in the same neighborhood, I’ll check the reviews and look for the reasons it was given a lower rating. It might be something I can live with like the need to walk up a couple of flights of stairs or city noise that I can drown out with white noise from my phone.
Generally, though, I look for places with a 4.6 rating or higher. Still, most places leave some room for improvement. I’ll share my top pet peeves and what I think a good host should do. I really think every host should spend a week living in their place before listing it. If they would, many of the issues would probably be fixed before their first arrival and sub-5-star review.
Airbnb Pet Peever #1: Poor Sleeping Conditions
Do you know why it’s called Airbnb? It started as a way for budget travelers to find a place to crash on someone’s air mattress.
Given that, maybe I should temper my expectations, but the platform has obviously evolved tremendously since then, and I expect to have a comfortable place to sleep.
Pillows are the number one culprit. Too many places offer one flat or lumpy pillow per person. Please, if you’re an Airbnb host, take a cue from the hotel industry and offer decent pillows. Ideally, two per person. I don’t want to use your throw pillows in bed, but I’ve been a knee-pillow person my entire life, and everyone in my family likes at least two pillows to get a good night’s sleep.
Along those lines, threadbare 150-count sheets have no place on an Airbnb bed. Although, I’d take that over the European tradition of having no top sheet. Are those duvet covers really getting washed after each and every guest?
Regarding mattresses, I don’t expect the 4-inch memory foam topper that I have on my own bed at home, but if I can feel each individual coil, something needs to change. This has only been an issue in Mexico; I addressed it by buying a mattress topper and leaving it behind.
Finally, “Let there be light” was never meant to be applied to your bedrooms at night. I should not be able to read by the glow of the streetlights when the “blinds” are drawn.
Airbnb Pet Peeve #2: How Does This Work?
Please tell me what I need to know. Ideally, there will be a written manual in the apartment with the same information available in the app, viewable by those who have booked the stay.
Too often, there’s neither.
Where does the garbage go when it’s full? Is recycling an option?
Why are there 4 keys on the keychain in the lockbox and what doors do they open?
What do I do when the hot water goes out? Don’t tell me it’s never happened before; it’s happened to us three times this week!
Regarding the washing machine with 11 settings and no words, what’s the simplest way to get a load of laundry washed in this contraption? Does the combo washer/dryer actually dry the clothes after the wash cycle? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Can I at least have a fan to blow at my clothes when they’re hanging on the rack or line?
I’d also love any recommendations for nearby grocery stores, restaurants, and attractions if you have any favorites the guidebooks and Yelp might not feature.
A simple manual, preferably laminated rather than frayed and covered in coffee stains, is always appreciated.
Airbnb Pet Peeve #3: Knives Out
Maybe you’re more skilled than I am, but I have a hard time cutting fruits, vegetables, and raw meats with a butter knife.
Sometimes, that’s all you get.
When you do actually have something resembling a paring knife or chef’s knife, it’s often duller than the collective IQ of a QAnon chatroom.
I’m sorry, but if you’re advertising the place as having a full kitchen, you need to provide something more than a micro-serrated steak knife or two. If I’m going to prepare meals here, I need the ability to cut stuff. If I’m ever an Airbnb host, I’ll probably call the place “Quality Knives.” That would really set the place apart from the rest.
As long as we’re in the kitchen, I’ll also request at least one plate, bowl, fork, knife, and spoon for each person the place supposedly sleeps. Can I also have a frying pan? The last place we stayed had a stovetop and some stock pots, but no pans whatsoever. Oh, and provide a cutting board. They’re like two dollars.
For less than the price of a night’s stay, I could outfit just about any Airbnb kitchen with the basics it’s lacking. If a host isn’t going to spend a trial week in their place, they should at least be required to prepare a few basic meals in their “full” kitchens.
It also annoys me when the fridge and cupboards are completely emptied between every stay. I don’t necessarily want a refrigerator full of half-empty and expired condiments, but it would be nice to have some cooking oil, salt and pepper, and maybe some other basic seasonings. We often leave ours behind nearly full when we buy them out of necessity, but it’s clear that some hosts take everything away between each guest.
Airbnb Pet Peeve #4: I Have to Buy My Own Toilet Paper?
At a minimum, I believe an Airbnb stay should provide what a hotel would provide: enough TP, soap, shampoo, and conditioner to last for the number of days you’ve booked the place.
Additionally, since this is meant to be a home-away-from-home, and we might only be staying for a weekend, please don’t make me have to go out and buy napkins or paper towels, laundry detergent to wash a load or two, or a spare garbage bag.
I think the main reason some of these things are not routinely provided is that an infrequent guest will help themselves to far more than they need, taking home with them whatever’s not bolted down.
The answer shouldn’t be to provide nothing, but rather to keep a limited supply available to each guest. A few spare garbage bags, a handful of laundry pods, a 6-pack of toilet paper. People can’t take what you don’t leave out, but I honestly think it’s a rare guest that’s going to back the truck up and treat your supply closet like a Costco run.
Airbnb Pet Peeve #5: One Bedroom, One Bathroom. Sleeps 14.
Why is this couch so uncomfortable?
Oh, that’s why. It’s a Transformers couch that also serves as an uncomfortable bed, and yes, I can sense those coils beneath the cushions when it’s posing as a couch. Maybe I’ll be more comfortable sitting on that futon over there…
I understand that the ability to sleep more people opens your place up to larger groups, but is that what you really want? More wear and tear per stay and can’t-get-comfy dual-purpose furniture?
I also think this is an excellent way to attract negative reviews. The places we stay as a family of four almost always claim to sleep at least 6 to 8. And they have enough hot water for maybe 2 or 3 hot showers in the morning if we’re lucky.
I already covered the kitchen woes of some of these places that aren’t equipped for a family of four, let alone six or eight, and the same is often true of the dining arrangements. You shouldn’t say that eight can stay when all you provide is a fold-out card table and four matching church-basement chairs.
If I Ran the Zoo
If I ever host an Airbnb, I’ll give you a comfortable, dark place to sleep with at least two pillows per person.
There will be a house manual that explains any quirks the place may have, what the keys do (although it will probably have an electronic entry), what to do with garbage and recycling (which will be an option), and where to go for groceries, drinks, or a bite to eat.
The kitchen will be well stocked with at least two bowls, plates, and utensils per person, and there will be pots, pans, a cutting board, and yes, knives that can actually cut meats and produce.
You won’t have to run out just after you arrive to buy canola oil or seasonings, toilet paper, napkins, or laundry soap. We’ll even provide dryer sheets and a dryer that actually dries your clothes, not one of those combo machines that take three hours and don’t even dry as well as a standard spin cycle.
I won’t pretend you can comfortably squeeze your entire extended family into the place, and there will be someplace reasonably comfortable to sit.
How to Be a Good Airbnb Host
In addition to avoiding my pet peeves, here are some additional things that I’ve seen that can help make a good Airbnb experience a great one.
If GPS can lead someone astray, give detailed directions to find the place. Have pictures of the home, the door, the lock box, or whatever the person needs to find. If parking can be difficult, tell people where to find free or paid parking nearby.
If the wifi SSID or password has changed, make sure the new information is available. If you’ve made restaurant recommendations, make sure those places are still operating and update the manual as needed.
A Welcome Gift:
It doesn’t have to be expensive, but leaving a snack or a sweet treat with a bottle of water or wine waiting for the guests upon arrival is a nice touch.
When we arrived in Mexico after a long travel day in December, there were juice boxes, six little beers (Coronitas), and a variety of fruit and snacks waiting for us in the kitchen. The total cost was probably under $10, and it made us feel very welcome.
Airbnb has a convenient chat feature built into your reservation. There’s a translate button that allows both the host and the guest to communicate in their native language. It works well, and if you do have significant issues that are not addressed, Airbnb has a record of it.
I appreciate it when hosts are quick to respond, and they usually are. I am usually suspect when they want to move communication over to text messaging or Whatsapp. Is there something you don’t want Airbnb to know about?
With so many people working “from home” or doing the digital nomad thing, functioning internet is a necessity for many. Online schooling and homeschooling also require a reliable digital connection.
In two of our last four Airnbnb stays (all were in Europe), there was no router in our flat. The signal was clearly shared with a neighbor or two. If the internet goes out and the router needs to be reset in this situation, you may be out of luck for a while.
I also think that if you’re advertising free wifi, it should work throughout the home. I like my lazy mornings getting work done from bed, and if the only room that has a reliable signal is the living room, you may be forcing me to get my work done from your futon or Transformers couch, which I clearly am not happy about.
I’ve only had one sort-of-negative review of me as an Airbnb guest (surprising, I know!), and it was mainly due to the host and I having very different expectations.
We were staying in Mexico City, and apparently, a cleaning woman would come through daily to tidy up. That wasn’t clear to us beforehand. It also wasn’t clear that we were expected to keep even packaged food in plastic bins that they had in the kitchen.
Another thing we didn’t expect was that a door leading to the kitchen from the common courtyard would be left open by the cleaners, apparently to air the place out. There was a locked gate to this complex, but with at least a half-dozen apartments sharing a courtyard, a lot of people could have walked right in to the apartment where my computer, camera equipment, passports, etc. were all kept while we were out sightseeing.
His review said that our kids left their toys everywhere and that we invited critters and bugs in leaving food out all over the place. In my view, the kids’ belongings shouldn’t have been in anyone’s way but ours, and the unemptied garbage bags were much more likely to attract critters than our bags of unopened chips, bread, and the like.
The lack of clear expectations up front made it a suboptimal stay for both of us. It didn’t help that his place was listed as a three bedroom when one bedroom was the living room and another was smaller than most walk-in closets. Again, please be accurate!
So Fresh and So Clean
A top-notch cleaning crew will help you get those coveted 5-star reviews. This is an area where we haven’t really had any major issues, but one can tell the difference between a wipe-down job and a thorough deep clean.
If there are dust bunnies under every bed and sofa or the place has a smell that’s not quite right, it’s time to change up your cleaning routine.
I’m just looking for a decent night’s sleep, a kitchen where I can cook for my family, and a comfortable spot to sit my butt down after a day of sightseeing or fun in the sun. Can you help me out, Airbnb hosts?
What are your biggest Airbnb pet peeves? What have been your worst experiences or nicest touches from short-term rental stays?
Airbnb hosts: What are your pet peeves with guests or your most outrageous stories?