A good sign that a startup has permanently made its way into our culture: its name becomes a verb that fits easily into conversations. The other day at work, a coworker tried to reference a place to stay upstate New York -- trying to talk about his desire to stay in a Bed & Breakfast, he kept saying 'Airbnb' instead of the actual shorthand term, B&B. Congrats, Brian Chesky, you've really made it.
Most of us, by now, have at the very least heard of Airbnb, much less used them to book somewhere to stay on a trip. I've hosted a few times, but most of my experiences are as a guest on the app. I used Airbnb to book a place to stay on occasional weekend trips and even a work trip—but always in a very pre-planned, well-researched way.
So when we decided to go the spontaneous route for our two-week trip to Italy, I was hesitant. Using Airbnb requires too much advance effort, I thought. How could I trust a place when I haven't read all 88 comments about it and extensively compared it to other options? Nevertheless, we arrived in Sicily with only a few nights of our 14-day stay planned. I envisioned chaotic evening spent begging hosts to let us stay with them, or nights spent in expensive hotels when we couldn't find anything on the site.
Spoiler alert: everything went perfectly well.
Turns out, this site has become so full of postings that you can (and maybe even should!) book a few days in advance and find a wonderful place to stay. I say this with a caveat: it isn't always the nicest for hosts to get such little notice, so be sure to proceed with extra consideration when going the spontaneous route.
After the first few times booking our last-minute Airbnbs, we had come up with a bit of a structure to make the process as efficient as possible: each place we stayed had to check a certain amount of boxes to even make the cut. Thus, much less time considering places that ended up eliminated anyways. Our qualifications:
- Fully complete profiles—with ample photos
- One picture can't possibly show an entire room / apartment, so when a host shares minimal representation of their space, it's a red flag.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is—unless you have firsthand confirmation
- We skipped past multiple places where pictures seemed like stock images, knowing they probably were.
- Tip: if you're planning ahead enough to see a listing and check back in 12 hours later, you'll find that 'fake' postings are often removed pretty quickly.
- Take the time to read reviews—and trust them
- One of my favorite parts of Airbnb is their system to help encourage reviews. I'm not a common online reviewer, but being incentivized to leave a review in return for reading mine is brilliant! And when you're looking to find a place trustworthy enough to leave your things while exploring on vacation, it's important to know that others before you sign off on a place.
- Prioritize communication
- Being able to connect with your host is major—some places have complicated check-in/check-out policies, and that doesn't work for traveling spontaneously. You don't want to be stuck waiting around for someone or finding that your check-out time was a miscommunication. Look for flexible hosts who understand that travelers often need to get in/out quickly.
- Plan for a way to get in touch quickly. Multiple times we had trouble finding our Airbnbs due to Google Maps confusion or arriving late at night. Being prepared with contact info of the host saved our lives more than once—the worst thing is trying to figure out the best way to get in touch as you're driving around a strange place. I know from experience.
Last but not lease, if you happen to be traveling to Sicily anytime soon, let me know and I'll share a few of our favorite places that we stayed. Ciao!
This place was GORGEOUS — a full guest house in a private estate. The amenities were en point (even though we locked our clothes in the washing machine for an hour before figuring it out) and the hosts were beyond kind.