RULE NO.1: READ THE REVIEWS
From a bamboo tree house in Ubud to an apartment overlooking Table Mountain in Cape Town, I’ve slept in countless strangers’ homes on my travels. And I’m not the only one dabbling in the homesharing market as an alternative to hotels. Last year, online portal Airbnb reported that it accommodated more than 100 million guest arrivals and the company is growing so fast, it’s now worth more than some of the world’s major hotel chains including IHG and Hilton.
I don’t always choose Airbnb over hotels, but when I do, I make sure I’ve done my research. And there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
CHECK THE FEEDBACK
Number one rule in the Airbnb handbook: always read reviews about the host and property from previous guests and avoid listings that have never been reviewed. The feedback, which is made public, is a good way to gauge what people have liked or disliked about the stay and will give you first-hand insight into the host’s personality, hospitality style and the convenience and vibe of the location.
OPT FOR SMALL COMFORTS
Past reviews are a good way to find out about any thoughtful touches or exclusions that can make or break your stay. In South Africa, it’s common for hosts to leave a complimentary bottle of wine for guests, while elsewhere, tea, coffee, milk, bread and orange juice are more standard. Many also do neither.
TAKE THE RIGHT KIND OF RISKS
According to the online portal, Airbnb now has more than five million listings worldwide and a handful of them include unique spaces such as castles, tree houses, tents, ryokans, yurts and caravans. Stay somewhere you normally wouldn’t (as long as it has glowing reviews, of course).
RESEARCH THE LOCATION
Once you’ve decided on an area, contact the prospective host to ask for the address of the property and enter it into Google Maps. This will give you an idea of how far it is to transport and the approximate distance to landmarks and supermarkets. If you plan on hiring a car, ask your host whether they have a car space for you to use or easy street parking.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Work out how to get into the property with the host before you arrive. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, get a SIM card at the airport so you can communicate while you’re on the way. It also pays to have the host’s phone number and the property address written down on a piece of paper in case your phone runs out of battery. If you’re renting a room in a house, ask who else is living there and make sure the room locks.
BE AWARE OF SCAMS
Scams are not common, but they do happen. Ask yourself if it’s too good to be true. Often the photos will be more generic and feature an ultra-luxury property, but the price doesn’t seem to match. It’s not always the case, but the most obvious sign of a scam is if neither the host nor property have previous reviews.
Airbnb offers access to out-of-the-ordinary accommodation such as this treehouse in Atlanta, Georgia.