Are you considering booking a a vacation rental instead of a hotel? Sites like Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, VacationRentals or Homestay are likely some of your top choices.
If you’re an Airbnb beginner or first-time user of other vacation rental services, you might be a little apprehensive. This is totally normal!
Like any traveler, I’ve come across my fair share of hiccups and challenges.
So I’ve compiled my experiences into my top tips and travel hacks to help you have the smoothest experience possible when booking a vacation rental on sites like Airbnb.
This post contains affiliate links. Meaning, on some links, if you make a purchase I may receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you and I only share platforms and services that I use, trust and love.
Advantages of Using Sites Like Airbnb Instead of A Hotel
I’ve traveled extensively using vacation rentals.
Using sites like Airbnb and VRBO are my preferred way to travel.
Lots of people are still hesitant about booking an Airbnb or a similar vacation rental, but there are many advantages to booking this type of accommodation.
Often, they’re a way to save money, especially if you’re travelling in a popular tourist destination.
For example, some listings are private rooms within a home and these can be great if you’re traveling on budget.
Sometimes, however, you’ll find that they’re the same price as a hotel room.
The benefit here is that you often have many more choices of where to stay.
Not only do you have more choices, often these choices are in the high demand areas, or in the heart of a city.
Think of amazing cities like Paris.
Staying at a boutique hotel could be cool, but have you ever woke up in a posh 4th floor Parisian apartment, made yourself an espresso and admired the Eiffel tower in the distance from your patio while your listen to your neighbors banter en Francais?
Staying at someone’s apartment or house can be a great way to really immerse yourself in the destination you’re visiting.
You will feel more like a traveler and less like a tourist.
Many times the hosts have great tips to help make your stay and your visit to their city a great one.
If it’s a popular listing in a high-demand city, like Paris, London or New York City, there are often guide books, brochures and maps that you can take with you on your adventures as you roam around.
Booking accommodation on sites like Airbnb or VRBO does require a little more planning and some gut instincts, but after dozens of experiences at Airbnbs, homestays and other similar properties, I’ve learned a lot.
There are a few key tips that I’ve picked up along the way to share with you. So, let’s dive in!
In This Post, You Will Find My Best Tips For:
- How to choose and book your vacation rental
- How to guarantee your check-in experience goes smoothly
- How to find other vacation properties for even more options to choose from
- How to save money and get discounts on vacation rentals on sites like Airbnb
- Finding Airbnb alternatives based on your traveling preferences
Best Tips for Booking Your Vacation Rental When Using Sites Like Airbnb
Read the Reviews | Don’t Just Skim
You’ll find a variation of this tip on many other websites as well. But it’s because this step is important!
Only book properties with at least 5 well written reviews, ideally as many as possible.
Read through as many as you can. Chances are, if there are more than 20 reviews, it’s likely a popular one and you should have no problem.
Also make sure that the reviews are recent. If there hasn’t been a review for over a year, contact the host first before booking.
Make sure they’re still accepting reservations.
I have booked accommodations without reviews before, however, I contact the host with a few questions beforehand to ensure they are prepared to welcome guests.
I ask things like proximity to certain attractions, or which metro or subway station is closest, etc.
This can also be a way to save money on your holiday accommodation! More on that tip later on in the post.
Know That Some Vacation Rentals Are Managed By A Property Management Firm
Be aware that in some large cities, you may book an Airbnb that is managed through a property management firm.
If you are booking a vacation rental like this, you may have to pick up your keys at one location but your actual apartment will be in a different building.
If this is the case, they do have to disclose this in the listing description.
So, if you come across it, don’t be afraid to send the host a message to clarify any details you’d like to know.
I came across this experience in Nice, France and Berlin, Germany.
In both cases the key pickup and the actual apartment only a few blocks away from each other.
But it did start to get tiring hauling my suitcase around. Probably not a big deal if you’re only carrying a travel backpack, but something to consider.
In Nice, it was a rental agency in which they provided the keys to use and then we found the building and let ourselves in. In Berlin, we had to find a local pub and ask the bartender for the keys.
This seems somewhat common as there were other apartment keys we could see, so don’t be too alarmed.
For your very first Airbnb or other vacation rental experience, I would recommend booking with someone who will greet you on your arrival and show you around first.
You Might Also Like: What It’s Like Staying at the Coziest Eco Resort in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
Be As Precise As Possible With Your Arrival Time
This can be difficult if you’re on a longer trip in which you’re traveling from place to place.
But, the more precise you are, the better the experience will be.
I’ve run into several occasions where we showed up late from either being lost, not knowing how long it would actually take us to get there or getting sidetracked from checking something else out along the way.
This isn’t usually a problem if you have a working phone, but if you’re travelling to a different country and only relying on WiFi, plan as much ahead as possible and stick to the plan.
For instance, we arrived at the door to our apartment in Nice about 30 minutes late and there was no doorbell to ring.
We wandered around for 15 minutes, and then were lucky enough to find a local shopkeeper who knew the host.
They phoned her and turns out she was just around the corner waiting for a phone call from us.
But since we’re from Canada, we didn’t want to use our phones to avoid the crazy international long distance charges.
Travel pro tip: if you don’t want to be without WiFi, there’s an easy solution. Consider a ‘pocket WiFi’ device, like Skyroam. You can either buy or rent one and have access to WiFi all day wherever you are. And you only pay for what you use. Perfect for when you’re driving around trying to find your place!
The next time this happened was in Dieppe, France.
We arrived at our apartment, but upon arrival we noticed there were 4 doorbells to choose from and they had different last names.
I checked my booking information on the app and it didn’t match any of the names I saw on the doorbell.
We ended up knocking a couple of times and a gentleman on the second floor opened the window to ask who we were looking for.
Fortunately, he knew his neighbors on the 3rd floor and went and knocked on their door for us.
Make Sure There Are Photos of the Exterior
If there is no photo of the exterior of the building on the listing, ask the host for a description of it or if they could send you a photo.
Why? If you’re in an unfamiliar city or a new country, sometimes an accommodation description will be different from what you’re familiar with.
For example, when I was traveling through rural Germany I was expecting a small apartment building based on the listing description.
But when I pulled up to the property it was more of duplex style complex coupled with houses and small guest houses.
It actually made me question whether I was in the right place or not because I hadn’t seen a photo of the exterior.
I was late for my check-in time (again) so I had a little trouble getting a hold of the hosts.
Eventually I did, and had a wonderful stay. But it’s nice knowing what you’ll be looking for as you pull up to your vacation rental, especially if you’ll be arriving in the dark.
You Might Also Like: Fuel Your Wanderlust With These Stunning Views from the Pool or Hot Tub
Double Check Your Must-Have Amenities
A great thing about renting on sites like Airbnb or VRBO compared to a hotel, is that you usually get all the great amenities you would at home.
If you have particular items that are essential to your daily routine (ahem, coffee) don’t be afraid to ask what will be available for your use.
For instance, coffee is super important to me when I travel.
As in, I can’t even get ready without half a cup of the nectar of the gods, so I now always inquire about what’s available.
Some have Keurigs or Nespressos. Some have a french press or mokapot. Some have drip machines and some have nothing, or just a kettle.
In a lot of cases, the whole point of booking an apartment or a vacation home on sites like Airbnb is to make use of the kitchen.
So if you’re a little type A and a planner, it’s nice to know what you’ll be working with.
Last Minute Bookings
It’s very possible to book as you go, only days or hours in advance.
This is why sites like Airbnb are a great option. I’ve done this many times and it’s helped my travel experience tremendously.
By keeping an open schedule, your possibilities are endless.
Just know that if you are booking last minute, the regular host may not be around, so it may be a friend or a family member who steps in to help occasionally.
They may not know as much or be able to answer as many questions, so just be courteous and appreciate that they were able to still help you out.
I ran into this situation in Normandy, France. It was a last minute decision to head to the beautiful French countryside and I wanted to book a cute guest house on the homeowner’s property.
Since we were only booking a few hours in advance, the host informed me that they were going to be away at the hospital for the evening.
But that we were welcome to find the hidden key and let ourselves in. Her 14 year old son was in the main house if we were to need anything.
Everything worked out great as you’re able to message the host through the app as well.
Use Google Maps
When choosing an Airbnb or VRBO to book, use the map feature instead of the list feature. This way you can really hone in on an area.
Sometimes I actually pin point a place that I like and then check it out on google map view to get a better idea of walkability and what else is in the neighborhood.
Building on this, if you’ve found an area or neighborhood that you’d like to stay in, head over to google maps.
Then zoom in on that area and do a couple searches like “homestay” or “vacation rental” or “vacation home.”
You might expand your options of other places to stay not listed on the traditional sites like Homeaway, VRBO or other independent rental sites.
Traveling with a Group? Read This: 14 Important Considerations Before You Travel With Friends
How to Save Money On Booking an Airbnb or Vacation Rental
Find a Discount Link
There’s also many travel sites that occasionally run discounts. Run a google search for a discount link, something like airbnb + month + year that you are searching.
For example, “AirBnb discount code February 2022.”
Be Strategic With Your Travel Dates
Book as far in advance as you can for the best price. The rates will usually be the lowest and you’ll have the most options to choose from.
However, you can also snag some last minute deals as well. Keep reading!
You Can Negotiate
Speaking of last minute, most people aren’t aware of this, but you can actually do some negotiating when considering Airbnb.
I usually only recommend this if you’re booking last minute and the rental would go otherwise unused.
Or if you’re planning a longer term stay (one week or more) and the listed price doesn’t offer a discount.
Yes, not many people know this!
How to Negotiate on Sites Like Airbnb
Before you request to book, click the contact host button. Reach out and send them a message.
Introduce yourself and your travel plans and why you’re interested in this particular rental.
Once the host has pre-approved you and you’ve let them know you’re interested and serious, politely ask if they would consider giving you a lower price.
Airbnb and VRBO hosts are able to provide a ‘special offer/price’ to guests who have messaged them or have a pending booking request.
Since many Airbnb/VRBO hosts are usually locals who are supplementing their income, you should be courteous and not too greedy.
If there are many places to choose from in the same neighborhood, you could ask for 10-20% off.
If there aren’t many other options, I wouldn’t push asking for more than 10% discount.
Of course, there’s the chance they will decline your request for a discount, so be polite and decide if you still want to book it or not.
Take a Chance on New Rentals
I know, this totally contradicts one of my first points above, but as long as you’re smart about it, this can work out for you.
Some hosts offer deep discounts to their first few bookings as an incentive to try it out.
If there’s a thorough description of the property and plenty of photos, send a message to the host before booking or requesting to book.
Introduce yourself, and the reason for your visit to the area and ask a couple questions about what the check-in process will be like.
If they answer your questions confidently, you should be okay. But always go with your gut instinct!
Sometimes It’s Cheaper to Pay for More Nights Than You Need
You might have to do a little math, but it could save you money.
Worth a shot, right! If you’re planning to stay somewhere for 4 nights or longer, check the weekly rate. Sometimes it works out to be less expensive to book 7 nights instead of 5.
Take Advantage of the Payment Methods
While this last tip isn’t necessarily a way to save money, it still helps with budgeting.
Recently, Airbnb launched a payment plan, in which users can pay less upfront and the remainder closer to their check in date.
If you’re travelling with a group you can now split payments between friends directly through the app.
What’s the Best Vacation Rental Site Like Airbnb For You?
Tripping sorts through all vacation rental websites so that you don’t have to search them all individually.
HomeStay is a great experience to consider. You can find a room to rent anywhere in the world where you stay with a local host in their home.
Couchsurfing is another great choice for solo travelers. You can stay for free (usually one or two nights) with a local host who can show you around or introduce you to other locals.
Solo Female Traveler
In addition to the sites above, TalkBnB is a growing network of hosts around the world who welcome visitors into their home.
What’s different about this homes sharing site is that both hosts and travelers are looking to practice a language. This site also has a female only section!
Budget and Mid Range Travel
Airbnb has lots of options. You can rent a shared or private room within a home for the most savings, all the way to renting an entire apartment or house to yourself.
Booking.com now has a huge inventory of guest houses, furnished apartments and villas that have all the amenities of home.
Trusted Housesitters is where you stay for free in someone’s home and take care of the owner’s pet(s) while they’re away!
VRBO offer entire vacation rentals, so you’ll be renting the entire unit.
Luxury and High End Travel
OneFineStay is a vacation rental site to help you find the finest homes around the world.
Airbnb has a new Plus program to help you select high quality homes.
Remember to Pack the Essentials
Many vacation rentals and other properties on sites like Airbnb do a great job of ensuring small travel essentials that you would also find at a hotel.
But there are a few things I recommend packing to make your stay that much more comfortable and convenient.
I know that for me, I have so many things to plug-in when I’m on vacation (phone, camera, GoPro, smart watch, etc) and there are never enough outlets!
A WiFi range extender always comes in handy.
Nightlights are helpful when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
More Accommodation Posts You Might Like:
Save a pin for all your trip planning needs!