Podcast Ep.19 Airbnb Tips: the Good, Bad and Ugly

Accommodations is one of the most important decisions that travelers make. Airbnb and other home rental websites like Vrbo offer an alternative to standard hotel stays. Are they better? What do travelers need to know before they book one? We’ve got a few Airbnb tips to share.

In this episode Rob is joined by Jocelyn Wolters. She is a member of the Wolters World traveling family. Keep up with their travels on YouTube, Facebook and their website. Or follow Jocelyn and husband Mark on Instagram.

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Airbnb Tips Show Notes:

Airbnb and home rentals give travelers a chance to stay in unique accommodations, explore neighborhoods that don’t have many hotels, and maybe even save some money. But it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. We are sharing our Airbnb tips for travelers because it’s important to know the good, as well as the bad and the ugly. We hope no one ever experiences the ugly side of home rentals, but information is power, so it’s good to prepare.

Airbnb: the Good

Airbnb accommodations are unique, at least compared to hotels. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so when you pick a home rental on your trip, you kind of feel like you live there. That is pretty cool. For example, Capitol Hill in Washington, DC doesn’t have many hotels, but there are a lot of historic homes. Visitors might like to stay in the Capitol Hill neighborhood to get a more local feel for the city.

Home rentals are usually more spacious than a hotel room as well. A hotel room is usually just that – a single bedroom. For a solo traveler or couple, that’s typically fine, but for a family, the extra square footage makes all the difference.

Sometimes Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel. Rob and Jocelyn both noticed that price of Airbnb rentals is creeping up. Where you really find value is when the choice is between a single home rental or multiple hotel rooms. When multiple hotel rooms are involved, the Airbnb will almost always come out ahead.

Jocelyn looks for home rentals that have a washing machine a kitchen. Since the Wolters are on the road a lot, a washing machine helps them pack more efficiently and the kitchen helps them save money. Jocelyn loves to cook and prepares meals for the family. One of Rob’s Airbnb tips is to be honest with yourself about the kitchen. He thinks cooking is a chore and doesn’t want to do it on his vacation, even if the money savings sound good in theory.

Airbnb: the Bad

Airbnb apartments are unique, and that sometimes can be a negative. Hotel rooms have standards and most of them look and feel generally the same. There is some comfort in knowing that if you book a Hampton Inn, whether in the city, suburbs or out near the airport, you know what to expect. Home rentals, on the other hand, can be anything. They could be dirty or dark or lacking towels (yes, really). Rob notes that many travel agents dislike putting their clients in them for this reason.

Location is another factor that cat fall in both the good and the bad category. While Airbnb gives you a chance to stay in areas without a lot of hotels, like Capitol Hill, it also opens up lots of other areas that aren’t necessarily great for visitors. If you want to stay in a home rental, you need to do the extra work and research areas to make sure you feel comfortable there. If you don’t want to do the research, stick with one of our 11 recommended areas to stay.

One of Rob’s top Airbnb tips is to verify any listing that makes a claim about its proximity to Metro. If the listing says it is “5 minutes to Metro” make sure that they mean five minutes walking and that there is a safe pedestrian route to get there.

Both Jocelyn and Rob agree that their Airbnb tips include a healthy dose of skepticism about photos. A good photographer with Photoshop can make any apartment look great. If traveler submitted photos are available, look at those instead. They are a much more honest perspective about what the home rental is really like.

Airbnb: the Ugly

Hopefully our Airbnb tips help your find a great place to stay on your trip, but things don’t always go smoothly. Major problems don’t come up frequently, but they are worth knowing about because anything you can do to avoid an ugly situation is worth it.

Unlike a hotel, there is no check-in desk at an Airbnb. Sometimes the host will meet you in-person to hand off the keys. Other times there is a lock box or key code access. What happens if you show up and the code doesn’t work? Jocelyn advises to keep calm and start contacting everyone who could possibly help, by phone, email and text. The more potential contacts you put out there, the better.

Another ugly situation can arise when you pick an Airbnb that’s not legal. In this sense, it’s not necessarily illegal in the eyes of the law, but it means a host who doesn’t have permission from their landlord or HOA to rent their home as an Airbnb. If the host gets in trouble with their landlord or condo board before you stay, they might cancel your reservation and leave you stranded.

Hosts might cancel if can get a better price for their rental from someone else. If you find a home rental for an amazing deal over Super Bowl weekend because the host didn’t realize the significance of the dates, they might cancel on your when someone else offers them significantly more. Yes, Airbnb penalizes hosts who cancel, but that only offers to much protection for renters.

Look for red flags in the description and the house rules. If something feels fishy, pick another place. Potential Airbnb red flags include instructions such as:

  • Don’t speak to the front desk
  • Use a back door or side door rather than the main door
  • Lie about visiting a relative who lives in the building
  • “Keep to yourself” or ignore the neighbors

For example, if one of the “most important” house rules is to not mention your Airbnb to the neighbors, the host is not legally renting it.

Airbnb rules: red flag example

Airbnb got a lot of hear in 2019. A reporter for Vice wrote about a nationwide scam that she suggests Airbnb allowed to flourish because they do little to no vetting of hosts. In response Airbnb promised to verify all of their listings. But with millions of apartments on the platform it is unclear how quick or successful this effort will be.

For even more Airbnb tips, check out our questions to ask before you book blog post and the Wolters World YouTube playlist on this topic.

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Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

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