I get asked this a lot: How do we pick where we stay? How do we know we aren’t getting scammed or being lied to? The short answer is sometimes you aren’t sure or pictures lie. Just like how we all know our good angles, so do homeowners. After a year and half of traveling, we know a few signs and questions to ask to make sure a place is a fit for us. We use Airbnb for a majority of our accommodation as long-term travelers. You pay more for this service. We are happy to pay that fee though for the added security of the customer service but also not having to deal with bills. Which is what can happen when you short-term lease a place.
Occasionally we will stay in a hotel long-term but rarely. We prefer to spend more for a kitchen then a room. When we stay in a hotel we normally use Booking.com or sometimes we book directly through the hotel website depending on the type of trip it is. That being said, sometimes Airbnb has let us down but now I’m pretty good at reading in-between the photos and lines to know when to avoid and risk it. So here is me, sharing that expertise with ya!
Lovely Pictures But Where Is The INSERT ROOM HERE?
If they don’t have a picture of the bathroom or kitchen or a room mentioned in the amenities then… Take the hint. It is not that nice or be wary. We’ve noticed that if a place looks lovely but there are no images of bathroom or kitchen it’s cause the host knows it’s not the best. Don’t make this an automatic no but, feel free to message the host and ask them about it. Normally the precursor will come out.
“Yes, there is a bathroom. Just so you know the shower is connected to the sink though”
“Yes, a kitchen is there but is across the hall and you have to share it”
“Yes, there’s a bathroom but only cold water in the shower”
I think you get the point… So have a read and then decide if its worth the risk it or not. Personally, if there is no bathroom picture I am no longer staying there. Learned my lesson after Hanoi.
Shared Accommodation VS Private
This is a very personal choice. It also totally depends on what type of experience you want. Bali is the first time we are essentially sharing a house with others with our room and bathroom. It works and has been nice having roommates. Would I want this every time? No thanks, but I think occasionally it can be nice. If you are traveling alone or want a more social aspect than this is a good way to do it without having to stay in a hostel. If, the other rooms are rented out.
You also, of course, run the risk of not getting along with the other people. Figure out what you really want. If you didn’t like living with roommates in the past then you might not like it this time around in a foreign country either. Or you might do… Only you will know if private or shared might be best for you!
What About If Something Goes Wrong?
For the most part, we’ve had pretty responsive hosts and not very serious issues. The biggest Airbnb mess to date was Hanoi but our host was great. Customer Service was prompt and we got a refund and stayed in a hotel. The only other issues have been either something happens to the wifi or hot water. This is the part of Airbnb that can be the hardest but remember it’s not a hotel. If you lose power in the middle of the night don’t expect an immediate fix. You are staying in a house and the chances of them having a backup generator are slim to none. So, if you want that kind of back up then a hotel might be for you.
It Looks Too Good To Be True
Sometimes it can be and you end up with a place that is like a dating profile picture where the person was 30 but is now 50. If a place looks too good to be true, message them. Ask them how old the pictures are and ask a weird specific question about the apartment. See what the answer is and if you still have a weird feeling it is better to go with your gut.
Lately, though, the total opposite side of me has been saying go for it. Worse thing that happens is you go and you get a refund from Airbnb. Or, you end up scoring. Our last two places have been that way and yeah the wifi isn’t that great but it’s nicely decorated. Which when you are staying somewhere a long time makes a difference. Sterile apartments tend to be a dampener but you get what you pay for, remember that!
The Place Has No Reviews
When I first started Airbnb, I never stayed somewhere that wasn’t a Superhost. The last year, I have found myself staying in more and more places that have no reviews at all. The reason why? A lot of hosts, when starting out will do deep discounts. Combine that with a monthly discount and you could find yourself with a very affordable option. In Kuala Lumpur that was how we were able to stay in our 3 bedroom apartment for under $600. We got a 70% discount overall. It was fantastic.
In Bali, they are a new property but the host has hosted other properties. Great reviews from there so check to see if they have hosted other properties as well. Due to this being a new property though, we got a great rate for being one of the first to stay and an additional monthly discount. So far so good. If anything, the place is better than the pictures. There are some other issues but that comes more from the environment or surrounding location of being in Bali. Which means that being a Superhost or having a review is no longer a must-have for me. I will normally just message them and ask them about the surrounding location, easiness of groceries and then ask how long have they been listing for. If they say they are brand new, then go on give it a chance.
Booked A Month. What Can I Expect?
Read the description, read the amenities and understand once again it isn’t a hotel. Some places might be hotels though. In Asia, it is not uncommon for resorts, villas, and hotels to rent out rooms on Airbnb so they might include daily or weekly cleaning and breakfast. This is rare though. Treat it like your own home. Don’t leave the AC on when you’re gone or the lights. This costs the hosts money. Be smart but don’t not use the lights or AC when you need it. You are paying for it and probably paying a slightly inflated price to stay there.
Don’t expect a stocked kitchen, especially with a brand new place. Veteran places though, tend to have lots of spices and whatnot. Mainly because travelers will leave stuff behind. Just look at expiration dates! Sean and I clean the apartments we stay in once a week. Just cause we aren’t animals. We essentially treat it like our own place. Also, it makes it easier on the last day as most places will want you to pick up after yourself. You should also budget for toilet papers, kitchen stuff and a few cleaning supplies like laundry detergent or cooking oils.
I guess I am pretty comfortable with the customer service of Airbnb that if something is really bad that I can get out of there and my money back. The only time that I wanted to leave was in Hanoi but that was more due to the cafe below us playing EDM at all hours of the day AND night. Our host was responsive and understanding so she refunded us quickly. We left a fair but honest review and that was that. We have never been scammed in Airbnb, but it happens. So be aware. If you arrive late a night anywhere, I recommend staying somewhere else the first night. Then go in the morning, sus it out and see if you are comfortable and happy. If not, at least it’s not midnight and you’re in a foreign country with no idea what to do.
If a host asks for payment other than the Airbnb booking website be weary. Even if they offer you a discount. Remember that if you do that it could be a fake listing, but also your protection as an Airbnb guest is gone. That means they won’t have knowledge of your booking and can’t help you. The only time I’ve heard this working in someone’s favor was when they stayed long-term and extended their stay. So instead of paying Airbnb they just paid the host directly. This was after 5 months of living there with no issue though…
Lastly, if you want a hotel experience than stay in a hotel. I think people often forget that this is an extension of someones home and you get what you pay for. If you don’t like what you are seeing in your budget, up it by $50 and you might just be surprised!
Want to know about that one time in Hanoi I got scammed? Read all about it here.
Full Disclosure: All the AIRBNB links above are a referral link. If you are a brand new user and sign up you will get $40 in travel credit and I’ll get $20 in travel credit once you go on your first trip with Airbnb!