So you want to book an Airbnb for the first time, but not sure where to start? Airbnb has been one my favourite forms of travel accommodation since I first gave it a whirl on a trip to Europe a couple years ago. You get all the perks of staying home, while at the same being in a new country. Airbnb first time users like yourself are going to discover like I did that with this resource, you can save tons of money and stay in amazing locations.

I’ll be honest, I’ve had a couple of booking blunders with Airbnb, too. But, I learned from my mistakes and am passing all of that hard-earned wisdom on to you! By the end of this post, you’ll know everything there is to know about Airbnb, and be on your way to a trendy loft somewhere abroad.

This post is very detailed, and we’ll get in to everything you need to know about using Airbnb when you’re travelling. Plus, some of my favourite tips for finding a good Airbnb in a great locations!


Airbnb First Time Booking Guide

Why Stay at an Airbnb?

You’re probably familiar with the basic idea of Airbnb by now. Regular people can put their spare rooms or entire apartments up, and travellers like you and I can book them and stay there- yay! It’s been around for a while now, but booking an Airbnb for the first time I’m excited can’t still seem a bit overwhelming. First, the fun part – why book an Airbnb?

Here are just a few great reasons to book an Airbnb when you’re travelling:

  • Save money: Unless you book a castle or a treehouse (yep, they have those) Airbnb is often cheaper than hotels and other accommodation options.
  • Cook for yourself: this is my favourite part. I love cooking my own food when I’m travelling. Even more money savings!
  • Stay with locals: booking accommodations with someone who lives in and knows the area has tons of advantages. The airbnb hosts that I’ve stayed with have all had fantastic recommendations for things to see and do in the area.
  • Rest and relax: Airbnb’s have this awesome, comfy, night at home vibe that just feels so relaxing after a long day of exploring.

How to Find a Great Airbnb Host

Airbnb is constantly working to make it easier to identify great hosts and properties. These are a few of the stamps of approval that you can look for directly on the site:

  • Airbnb Plus: The Airbnb Plus listings are a guaranteed way to find an exceptional place. These are homes that are known for great hosts, amazing reviews, and beautiful interiors. Airbnb’s that make it on to this list have been visited in person by Airbnb’s team. They come with the promise of full equipped kitchens, ease of check in, and good communication with the host.

The crazy part is… theses listings aren’t much more expensive than a non-plus property.  

  • Superhost: superhost is someone that made it on to Airbnb’s radar for being an incredible host. These people receive fantastic reviews and are known for going above and beyond for their guests.
  • 100% Response Rate + Great Reviews: there are lots of awesome people operating beautiful Airbnb’s that simply haven’t yet made it to the big leagues of super host or Airbnb plus. There are a few ways to find these listings. 100% response rate means that this host is answering all messages and inquires from potential guests. And of course, great reviews are always a good sign!

No reviews available? Research your host. Many Airbnb hosts operate multiple listings. The one you’re looking at might not have any reviews, but their other listings could. 

Save Your Favourite Places in Wishlist

Airbnb has a feature called Wishlist, where you can save properties that you’re interested. This is really useful because finding properties on the maps again be difficult. Show your travel partner(s) the booking from your wish list, and only request to book when you’re sure.

Research the Location and Public Transit Options

Make sure the Airbnb you’re staying at is in an area that you want to be in. Or, that you can easily access other places from. An Airbnb doesn’t have to be right downtown have easy access to the downtown! You can often save money by booking a place outside the city centre, too.

I like to take a couple of places in the city that I already know I’ll be going, and map out the route from these places to my Airbnb. Proximity doesn’t always mean great transportation routes. Getting on to a major transit route is, in my experience, more important than being right down the street from a castle. Can you bus to the castle easily? That’s the critical question.

Most importantly, plan out your arrival and departure routes and back up routes! There are few things more annoying than being exhausted and jet-lagged and not being able to find your Airbnb. Back up routes are a must too, because sometimes transit closes unexpectedly. 

Airbnb Review Patterns to Watch For

When you’re reading few reviews, there are a few phrases that are total red flags if they come up repeatedly. Everyone’s got a different opinions, so one or two unfavourable reviews out of many is often not a big deal. If it’s a trend… you might what to find a new spot.

  • “Host cancelled reservation…” Airbnb’s are (usually) private residences, and the hosts have their own lives and cancelling the odd listing… it happens. If all you see in the reviews is this message, though, it means that this airbnb host cancels last minute regularly. That’s a problem, and could negatively impact your travel plans.
  • Consistent noise complaints: this one is subjective, but if noise bothers you and there are a lot of noise complaints in the reviews, best to book elsewhere.
  • ANYTHING creepy… If you read anything at all in the reviews that suggests a guest was uncomfortable, or if there’s anything weird… just no.
  • Cleanliness trends: if people are consistently saying that a property is dirty, move on!

Ask Questions About Amenities

I once booked an Airbnb that had checked off “kitchen” under amenities because, well, there was a kitchen in the house. It was there – you just couldn’t cook in it.

Amenities can often be the difference between the Airbnb you want, and the one you don’t. Every now and then, the hosts definition and yours just won’t line up.

If an amenity like laundry, wifi, or kitchen access is going to make or break your trip, contact your host to clarify. Message them with a specific question to make sure the amenity will meet your needs.

Factors that Effect Airbnb Prices

The prices of an Airbnb vary, even within the same listing. Place around with the booking tool and fill in the specific details of your visit, to make sure you get an accurate price.

  • Number of Guests: when researching Airbnb’s, select the accurate number of guests. The price of an Airbnb can vary depending on the number of guests.
  • Holidays + weekends: use the date tool to select the exact check in and check out date of your intended bookings. Prices are often based on day of the week, time of year, and holidays.
  • Cleaning fees: some hosts charge higher cleaning fees than others. If the total for the booking is starting to look a little higher than you expected, this could be the reason.
  • Local taxes and fees: Airbnb fees and applicable taxes are different depending on what country you’re booking in.

Find More Airbnb Options by Adjusting the Map

In cities with a lot of listings, Airbnb will not show you everything that’s available all at once. It will prioritize top rated, and often more expensive (I know, shocker!) listings. There might be property available that doesn’t show up in the list at first, but you can find the perfect one by adjusting your search:

  • Set a minimum and maximum price.
  • Set to “private room,” “whole apartment,” or “shared room.”
  • Zoom in to areas you want to stay in. The moment you zoom in closer, more listings appear.

How Safe is Airbnb?

This is one of the primary concerns of Airbnb first time users – You’re probably wondering how safe a platform that lets people have strangers stay at their home really is. I’m going to give a mixed answer on this – it’s usually pretty safe and awesome. Things can definitely go wrong, though, which is why doing your research, reading reviews, and communicating with your host beforehand is so important.

  • Unsafe homes: in the event that you do end up in an Airbnb that you find to be unsafe (or very unclean) you can contact Airbnb within 24 hours of your arrival and request a refund. If something goes severely wrong during your stay, take photos, document everything, and contact Airbnb. I’ve done this! In what was arguably one of the least fun travel experiences that I have ever had, I did have to contact Airbnb because of dangerous environment. Airbnb was amazing, issued a full refund, and dealt with notifying the host.
  • Pay via Airbnb only: if a host ever asks you to transfer funds outside of Airbnb’s platform, bail. Don’t even respond, just move on. Payments can all be securely made through Airbnb, and anything else is probably a scam.
  • Verified Hosts: look for the Verified! green check mark on host profiles. These hosts have verified their identities with legal documents like their passport. It’s not a perfect system, of course, but it does tell you that they’re really people.

Airbnb First Booking Coupon: $40 Off

As a little bonus to get you started on the road to awesome, affordable travel lodging, here’s $40 off your first stay! When you follow this link and use it to set up your Airbnb account, you will start off with a $40 USD / $45 CAD credit. 

This discount only works if it’s your first time booking Airbnb! 

Airbnb coupon

Communicate With Your Host

It’s always good to get in touch with your host before you visit. I like to send a message whenever requesting a booking, to say who I am, who I’m travelling with, and what kind of trip I’m on.

As your visit approaches, message your host using Airbnb’s platform to communicate with host about your arrival time. Get details from them about location, directions, and check in. The Airbnb check in process is determined by the host and you, and most hosts are flexible when possible.

Be a Great Guest

This goes without saying, but be respectful and courteous to your host and their home. Clean up after yourself, and keep the volume down. Even if your host isn’t on site, you will probably be in a residential area so think of your neighbours!

Once you leave, your Airbnb host reviews you. That’s right. You should be a good human either way, but just so you know, that does happen and it will effect your ability to book in the future. This is especially important as an Airbnb first time guest!

Leave a Super-Helpful Review

Annnnnd done! Speaking of reviews… when your trip is over and it’s time to pack up, it’s also time to leave a review. If everything went smoothly it can be tempting to write happy, generic things like “this place was the best!” or “[host] was so cool!”

On top of that, think back to the things you were looking for when you booked and included those details. Location, ease of check in, cleanliness, noise, etc. Leave a review that will help someone else decide whether or not to book. 

Ethical Airbnb Bookings

The ethical implications of Airbnb are a hot topic in the travel-sphere. Airbnb, like anything, has pros and cons. While there are a lot of benefits for travellers themselves, some of the not-so-great outcomes are the economic impacts on locals in areas where Airbnb is being misused.

I’m all for using Airbnb. I love supporting people who are making a little extra money on the side, and it saves me money on accommodations. However, I think it’s important to be aware of the ethical side, and minimize your personal impact where possible. Here are some of the main ethical concerns that exist around Airbnb:

  • more lodging options contributes to over tourism. This is a particular problem in places that were already experiencing over tourism. There are cities in the world that have gone so far as to rule that no more hotels can be built, that’s how crowded peak season gets. 
  • Landlords use their properties are Airbnb’s, instead of as long-term rental spaces. There are arguments that, especially in this over tourism areas, landlords may rent their property on Airbnb thereby depriving a family of an apartment they could be living in long term. While I do believe there are some obligations on cities themselves to ensure housing is available, these things can take time to come it to place. 
  • People buy up multiple properties to use for Airbnb, contributing to housing crises. There have been housing crises around the world for a long time. It’s nothing new, and it’s not Airbnb’s fault in any way. However, people buying multiple properties solely for this purpose is just more thing that contributes.

And guys, these subjects are so sensitive and so complicated. On the one hand, I love that people can be proactive and buy multiple properties, host travellers, and make a living at it. On the other hand, over tourism is a real problem for many places in the world, as is affordable housing. This topic will make your head spin, and unless you’re an economist then you rely on mainstream information. It’s impossible to know exactly what’s going.

With all of that in mind… these are a few things you can do which I believe are good ways to support local Airbnb hosts, while being conscious of ethical concerns.

  • Book Private Rooms Instead of Entire Apartment: When choosing an Airbnb you can look for private rooms, entire apartment, or shared rooms. I’ve had the best Airbnb experiences with Private Room bookings; this usually means that you’re renting out one bedroom in someone’s home. 

Often, Private Rooms are cleaner and higher quality than Entire Apartments because the host lives there, too.

Entire Apartments are more private, and it’s nice to have your own space. However, in areas that are suffering economically and pointing at Airbnb as a source, these Entire Apartments are the main culprit.

  • Stay With Locals: Another ethical implication of Airbnb is people buying properties from abroad to use as Airbnb’s. Offshore property buying has been an issue for decades, long before Airbnb. This is just one other reason that it happens.

Whenever possible, stay with local hosts and property owners. These places will be better maintained anyways, and the host will be more available.

  • Verify that Airbnb is Legal/ Permitted Wherever You’re Going: Do a little bit of research on the country you’re planning to visit. Airbnb is banned in some areas, and in others it’s not completely illegal… but if it’s a grey area, don’t do it. Plus, using the service in these areas exempts you from any help if there’s an accident or theft.

That’s everything! You’re all set, and ready to find the perfect place. Hopefully, you’re feeling confident and ready. Go find yourself an awesome treehouse or a funky loft! If you have any other questions about using Airbnb, leave a comment below or send me an e-mail.