Traveling with your family? First book a suite (hey, we are on vacay we need some space from the kids), then get the over-priced breakfast at the hotel (are those really eggs?) and then have to rent a car because the hotel right in the middle of the city was way out of budget. OR just make your life easier and book an Airbnb: wallet and sanity intact.
Today, there are more lodging options than ever before, especially thanks to platforms such as Airbnb. And we’re here to tell you that, even if you’ve got kids in tow, Airbnb can make your travels much easier and more pleasant.
Quick background: On our most recent trip, we had roughly 100 different destinations, and we used Airbnb for about 85 of them. On the whole, it was an incredibly positive experience, not least because we learned so much about how to use Airbnb effectively.
And we’re going to share a little bit of what we learned in this post.
Booking Your Airbnb
Let’s start at the beginning—with actually booking your rental.
First and foremost, we’d recommend always looking at reviews. We generally didn’t book any Airbnb without making sure it had plenty of reviews, and that those reviews were fairly positive. When we did take a chance and book lesser-reviewed lodgings, we frankly regretted it. Practical advice here: Whenever possible, get a place that has at least eight or nine reviews, ideally all five-star reviews. And if there’s a place that seems great but isn’t as well reviewed, read the comments; we’ve generally found that people’s reviews, whether positive or negative, are trustworthy.
The exception to all of this: In our experience, those designated as Airbnb Super Hosts really deliver—regardless of how many reviews they have.
Another note about booking: Generally speaking, rentals that are in the heart of the city will be pricier; those on the outskirts or in the suburbs will be cheaper. The thing is, when you stay in the heart of the city, you can save on transportation costs and have more time available to see the sights—so for us, it’s totally worth it.
One more tip: It’s a little risky, but if you can wait until the eleventh hour to book, you can save some serious money. We often booked just a day or two in advance, and got 10 to 15 percent off the normal rates. (This is something Airbnb hosts do to help deal with excess inventory or with cancellations; indeed, it’s worth noting that many people cancel their rentals at the last minute, and great units can suddenly become available a day or two in advance.) You can minimize the risk of not having a place by making a favorites list and checking it every few days leading up to your trip, just making sure there’s enough inventory that hasn’t yet been claimed. (To be totally candid, we only had exactly one time—in San Francisco—where this approach backfired and we had to settle on our Airbnb accommodation.)
Staying at an Airbnb
Now let’s talk a little bit about staying at an Airbnb and getting the most out of the experience.
One of the reasons we like Airbnb so much is that it lets us find places that really have a home-like feel—which can be comforting when you’re on the road for long stretches of time. We had great luck getting accommodations with two bedrooms, kitchen areas, and outdoor play areas for our son to run around.
Another great aspect of Airbnb is that a great host can really help you acclimate to the area—for instance, in Argentina we asked our host how the locals drink their tea, and were able to soak up some local customs and cultures through that casual question. And, in other instances, where we were arriving at the rental late at night, we were able to message our host in advance to make sure the fridge was stocked with milk for in the morning, another nice perk.
It also helps to spend time going through the rental with your host, just making sure everything works as advertised. We even have a 12-point checklist we developed that can be helpful in this regard (we typically go over this when we first check in to the Airbnb).
The 2 Idiots Airbnb 12-point check-in checklist
- Ensure home locks & keys or codes work as expected
- Ensure you have appropriate keys, codes to enter the building and parking garage
- Connect to internet and make sure it’s working by going to Google
- Check thermostat and AC/heater
- Check fridge is cold and working
- Check TV and TV channels are working as expected
- If place has washing machine/dryer, check on them OR ensure there is a hanging rack
- If place has microwave, check on microwave
- If place has dishwasher, check on dishwasher
- Check for all detergents (dish and clothes)
- Check for broom, vacuum cleaner for cleaning
- Check for dishes, cups and silverware
Something else to consider: When you have a great host, you may wish to ask them to connect you with a local babysitter so that you can go out with your spouse/co-parent and have some fun sans children. Some hosts will even offer babysitting themselves. Obviously, you want to go with your instincts here, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, then don’t do it. But know that it’s an option, and one that worked out well for us a few times (we used baby sitters referred by Airbnb hosts in Rome, Bali, Lima and Santiago). (If you do take this route, invite the babysitter to come over and spend some time with you before you go, just getting to know them and develop that comfort.)
What About Safety?
To close, allow us to make just a comment or two about safety. We’re often asked whether Airbnb is really a safe option. This is where we’d point you back to the reviews. Generally, reviewers will give you a good sense of whether or not they felt safe in a particular part of town, whether they were comfortable walking at night, etc. That can be an invaluable resource to you as you make your travel plans.
And so long as you do that homework—reading reviews, planning appropriately—we think you’ll agree with us that Airbnb is wonderfully flexible and accommodating, no matter which part of the world you’re in.