It’s no secret that high on many resolution lists is the desire to travel more. Many of us are making the choice to save our dollars and spend them on experiences instead of material things. I’m totally on board with that. We used AirBnB for the first time three years ago on a trip to Palm Springs. I had a read a blog post about a group of women that rented a beautiful mid-century home for a getaway, and since we were planning a trip with some friends, we decided to give it a try.
It was fantastic. At the time, the 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home with a pool, firepit and complete privacy was $235 a night. I discovered that we had so much more space, and more freedom to relax and unwind, for close to what we would have spend for a smaller room in a nice hotel. We were hooked.
Since then, we’ve rented apartments in Paris & Amsterdam, and they’ve been fabulous. One thing about us when we travel: we do not do the tourist thing. We like to live among the locals, and shop for food where they shop, and find all the little hole-in-wall restaurants & shops that are off the path. We walk nearly everywhere, or take the metro. We view traveling as an adventure and want to experience all it has to offer.
I realize that staying in a private apartment, or house, may not be everyones cup of tea. If you view your vacation as a time for pampering, or want daily bed and towel service, this is not for you. If you love to explore and you view your travels as an adventure, you may really enjoy this option.
We are returning to Amsterdam in April, and have already booked two apartments for our 14 day stay. With a few rental experiences under our belt, we’ve definitely amassed some criteria when looking at accommodations. The tips below are geared toward major urban areas, but you can easily modify them for any location.
Where to you want to go?
This would seem a no-brainer, but most cities are large, and have distinct neighborhoods and areas. Open Google Maps and take a look at your desired city. Notice the location of monuments, parks, museums and restaurants. Check TripAdvisor for more information and reviews of certain neighborhoods and districts. The users there are very honest about noise, traffic, residential vs. commercial.
Narrow your choices.
Open AirBnB (login or join), and type your destination city into the search bar – remember to include check in and check out dates! This is important, because first, you want to make sure what you are seeing is available; and second, because sometimes the price of an accommodation changes depending on the date! You’ll be taken to a page that looks like this:
I chose Reykjavik as my imaginary destination. At the top, the dates are listed. To the right of that, choose the number of guests from the dropdown menu. Again, this is important because the price may change depending on the number of guests. You can then tick the box for Room Type – entire home/apartment is the way to go! You can slide the ticker below that to set the price range for your stay. Then, click ‘more filters’ to specify more details.
Again, tick the entire home/apartment box and set your price range. Then, you can choose your bedroom/bathroom specifications. We have stayed away from studios, but that’s just us. If you are traveling with children, you may want a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom and 2 beds (sofa bed). You can also click on the ‘Neighborhood’ tab to filter by neighborhood – this is especially helpful if you’ve done your homework and know exactly where you want to stay. Click the ‘Amenities’ tab to specify details that are important to you to have, like wireless internet, a kitchen, washer/dryer, elevator, etc. You can further filter by the type of property.
Things to keep in mind.
Look at the photos carefully. Many hosts are renting out their primary residence, so the photos will look like someone lives there (because they do!). We prefer rental properties. They are clean, uncluttered and it’s easier to feel at home when I don’t have to look at someone elses belongings.
Also, when looking at the photos: I’ve found many European apartments count any room that is used for sleeping as a bedroom in the bedroom count. This is really important to notice! So it might be a 1 bedroom with a sleeper sofa that the host is listing as a two bedroom!
Read the reviews. People are very honest in the reviews and will mention such things as street noise, house noise, proximity to restaurants, shopping, markets, transportation. They will also mention the ease of contact with the host, which is important for your check in, check out and if anything should arise during your stay that needs attention.
Scroll to the end of the listing to see the general area. You may have set your filter for a certain neighborhood, but the location of the apartment might be adjacent to, or nearby, that area.
Read the listing in its’ entirety, including the house rules! Remember, these are residences and they have neighbors. You want to know what you can and cannot do during your stay (like wearing heels on a wood floor).
Feel free to contact the host and ask questions! Tell them about yourself, that you are considering a stay in their apartment and have some questions. You can ask about the area, traffic, noise, what direction do the windows face (it may be on a busy street, but faces an interior courtyard). You can even ask what street it is on or if they will give you the exact address.
Then, Google the address. This will give you a ton of information about the location. You can even go to street view to see the exact surroundings.
Start a Wishlist for your destination, and add several homes. You can make notes on your list to keep track of amenities you like, locations you adore and I always include the nightly price and total for the entire stay so I can review it at a glance.
You will need to add a credit card to your profile as they will charge the entire stay immediately. Your host will likely get in touch with you right away to thank you and give you some preliminary information.
About a week prior to your trip your host will contact you for information on your arrival time and likely either let you know they will meet you on site, or will give you information on how to access the apartment if they are not able to. If you won’t be seeing them upon check in, you can ask about some tips on shopping, restaurants, bike rentals, and tours if you want.
Over to you: have you stayed in an apartment on your vacation? Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again?
images via unsplash & airbnb