The Art of Airbnb: Tips for Getting an Awesome Place to Stay, Dirt Cheap.

June 20, 2016

We stay at a lot of Airbnb’s.  Let’s be honest, we are both women in our  30’s.  Living in a tent on the roof of our car is fun and we love to do it, but, not every single day for months at a time.  Not us, no thank you.   We figured this out very early into our trip.  What we also figured out early on is that camping is far cheaper than getting a hotel or an Airbnb and we are on a tight budget.  Campgrounds cost us between 5-and 30$ US.  Most are around 10$ Thats an average of 18.50 per day we have allotted for a roof over our heads - but we almost always come in under that amount.
 As its gotten super hot outside everywhere we are,  we have decided we are willing to pay 25% more than our daily allotment, 50% of the time, for air conditioning and living space.  That adds roughly 4.75 to our daily budget,  bringing our daily lodging budget to 23.00 for up to 15 days per month.  Think you can't get a nice place for that amount? Think Again. We do it all of the time.  Here is h0w. 

(Click on the gallery images of some of our airbnb's for info on the original listing price vs. the price we got)

 I. GETTING WHAT YOU WANT.  (How to land a place that will make you happy)
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS. More than you think you should have to - especially in other countries where the standards and regular conditions may be a bit different than what Americans are accustomed to.
Examples of Questions you should ask:
1. When the listing says there is air conditioning:  ask specifically if it is house wide or just in one room.  We learned this the hard way. We have been in southern Mexico for the last couple of months – where it is HOT. DAMN HOT.  Three different times now, the listing has said air conditioning but it’s only been a small unit in the bedroom, not in other areas of the house.  That’s fine, except when the bedroom isn’t the only place you want to hang out or the bathroom is so hot that you are pouring with sweat just trying to get ready. 
2. If this matters to you - it does to us:  Is there a mirror in the house, what is its size and where is it located?  We have had a few now, even in the states – that either had no mirror, had a mirror the size of a deck of cards or had it mounted so high that for girls like us, both under the height of 5’5”, was totally useless.
3. If noise is a concern to you, ask  specifics about the buildings, homes and animals around the house.  Usually, prior reviews will speak to things like this.  For example, the apartment we rented in Cancun was over a karaoke bar.  Several reviews mentioned this so we were aware of it and are so used to noise at this point so it didn’t phase us (it was nothing short of hilarious, really) but if you are someone that needs quiet to sleep, don’t ignore these types of comments – ASK if the issue still exists.  Some owners do try and fix noise problems that are within their control but many things, like the neighbors owning roosters or the local church shooting off canons every 15 minutes (I’m looking at you, Guanajuato) are out of their control. 
4. VERY important if one  you has allergies or are sensitive to mildew or mold.  Ask if there has been water damage.  In the states, this would likely be less of an issue because other reviews would definitely mention it – but here, in the land of the rainy season and poor drainage systems, its so common that most people don’t seem phased by it.  Our last place was so mildewy smelling that we both had instant allergic  reactions to it and had to relocate.  
  5.  If you are traveling with a pet, ask if there is a park or grassy areas around to walk your dog to let them use the      bathroom.  Nothing is worse than a concrete jungle or place with no sidewalks.  After 8 months on the road, our dog has  adapted and can go almost anywhere but it’s good to know in advance.
   6. If you drove and the Airbnb says they have parking available, ask specific questions about that. Is it on the street, in a driveway or a garage? If it matters to you, ASK about the height, not only of the parking area but also of the entrance.  A couple of times someone has told us our vehicle would fit in the parking area, which was true, except that the entrance turned out to be one or two feet lower than the actual parking spot.  No go.  Is there a street light? Are other cars parked on the street?
7. If you need these things, ask if the kitchen is equipped – if there are utensils, a microwave, a stove, etc.
8. If in a place where drinking or cooking with tap water is not recommended, ask if purified water will be provided.  If not, you can easily pick up some before you go but it’s annoying to not know in advance.
9. Ask the name of the specific neighborhood the place is in. What is it near? Do taxis come by often? Does it have an actual street address (in other countries, many do not – you may just have to go past the donkey cart, then go 10 meters up a hill to the 3rd left)? Can you get pizza delivered there?
10. Sometimes these questions will make you realize a place is EVEN BETTER than the listing made it seem – sometimes there are bicycles you can use or beach gear – or Netflix and a movie library – details that can really contribute to a nice stay but the owner didn’t think to include in their listing.
1. Read the reviews!!  All or a lot of them! And while one, or even two, bad reviews shouldn’t completely rule a place out – because, you know, people are strange, and something offensive to one person else may not be offensive to you – but common themes throughout several reviews should tell you something.   Also, don’t rule out a place just because it hasn’t had any reviews – especially if the owner has more than one property – look at reviews for the other properties.   ASK the owner about comments in reviews – if a review says the internet is sketchy, ask the owner if they have taken any steps to improve it.  We have found the owner, more than the property itself, influences how nice your experience will be. 
2. Once you find out the neighborhood, a world of information opens up to you via Google.  Is the neighborhood generally considered safe, are there restaurants and bars around, are there strip clubs or casinos nearby (we tend to avoid these areas), are there any parks nearby, police stations, hospitals – whatever may matter to you.  Restaurants and bars can often mean more safety if you need to walk around at night – to walk your dog, get stuff out of the car, whatever it may be.
3. Find out if UBER or Lyft operates in the town where you are staying.   Do a google search for taxi companies in that area.   Pull up a map of the neighborhood on google maps and see what’s there – are there paid parking lots, grocery stores.  If you have a pet, Go to  or yelp or tripadvisor and see if there are pet friendly restaurants, parks or beaches in the neighborhood.
Remember that more often than not nowadays, Airbnb has sent out a professional photographer to take the listing pictures.While, I wouldn’t say the photos aren’t “honest” they are definitely well-designed to present the unit in the most favorable light – literally, and figuratively.
What you are seeing are the BEST features of the place.  If there are important rooms left out, like the bedroom or the bathroom, ask for pictures of those areas from the owner.  If parking is important to you, ask for pictures of the parking.
We have learned to ask for a picture of or at the very least, a description of what’s in front of and around the building.If there is something in the picture that you aren’t sure about, ASK.
One easy question that will help you evaluate the pictures is asking the approximate square footage. We recently booked a place that had what looked like a normal dining room table in a large living room but we weren’t completely sure bc it only showed a small corner of the table – it turned out to be a very large, plastic, outdoor picnic table that took up the entire living room space.
Also, the adjoining house ours, literally sharing a wall, was a falling down, flooded out, shack.  We didn’t see that in the exterior photos because a 7 ft hedge blocked the view and was purposely left out of the picture.  (This was the same place that had the overwhelming mildew smell and the neighboring house may easily have been the cause). On the same note, but less common, some pictures don’t do a place justice.  Not much you can do to anticipate that other than reading the reviews.  We have been very pleasantly surprised with some places.
1. Leave good reviews for places you stay and ALWAYS leave a review. Remember, that when you leave reviews, people can see them in your profile.  Owners of listings generally don’t want to help people out who have done a lot of bitching about previous places.  Reviews are their life’s blood.   It is okay to be honest about a couple of things that are important for people to know but be kind and be fair.  Say as many positive things as you can.  If your suggestions for improvement are small or easy to fix, just send a private message to the owner with them. 
2. This is obvious – but leave places that you stay in good condition and communicate well with the owner.  Ask for specific review points. Remember, Airbnb isn’t a hotel.  The owner isn’t required to be a concierge and you shouldn’t leave the place a disaster.  We try to always do our dishes and if its easy, take out our trash.  We put dirty towels in an orderly pile in the bathroom or in a hamper if one is provided.  We feel lucky to find places that take dogs so often.  Be respectful; don’t let your dog sleep on their beds or couches.  If you MUST, then at least put down a blanket or towel (belonging to you, not to them) for the dog to lay on.  If your dog uses the restroom in their yard or on the sidewalk in front of their house, clean it up.  If you do have a pet, asking the owner to specifically comment on how well-behaved your dog was in your review. 
3. Wait until the last minute: This tip only works in areas or at times when there is nothing major going on in the area you are trying to book.  If it’s a popular tourist season or there is a convention or festival going on, don’t try this.   During the week, rather than weekend travels, it works GREAT.   By last minute, I still mean at least a couple of hours in advance. I find 4-6 hours in advance is best but we have done it successfully even when we needed to find a place within half an hour.  WHY wait for the last minute?  For both of the next tips: 
4. If you see a place you like, don’t rely on the price shown in the initial search. If it’s the same day you need a place or during a low season or if you look at the listing’s calendar and its not very booked – the owners will often lower the price for those days.   The initial search will not show the adjusted price.  You have to put in your travel dates and go to booking to get the most updated price.  Something is better than nothing and they want the place booked.  For example, the airbnb we were in last week, in Cancun came up at 44.00 per night in the search.  The actual price for our dates turned out to be 19.00 per night.  The gorgeous condo we are in right now was listed for 66.00 a night plus a 33.00 cleaning fee and the usual airbnb fee.  It is an incredibly nice place, but this all added up to way out of our current budget.  However, when I added our exact dates and then again, when I went to the actual booking step – the price had dropped to 27.00 per night.   The cleaning fee was still pretty high for airnb, though, and still took us out of our budget range.  We needed a place for six days, and although our first two days were on a weekend, the rest was during the week.   This brings me to my next, and most important airbnb tip:
5. NEGOTIATE, NEGOTIATE, NEGOTIATE.  I contacted the owner, told him his place looked great and that we really want to stay there but asked him if he would lower the cleaning fee.  I pointed out  all of our previous reviews noted how clean we left places we have stayed.  I made sure the listing calendar showed the place as available for the whole time we needed it but started out by only requesting it for the first two days, the days of the weekend since that is the most likely time for us to lose the booking to someone else and I wanted us locked in.  In our case, I think it helps that we have a story to tell – we usually explain what we are doing, how long we have been traveling and talk a little about ourselves.  I also point the owner to our facebook page and website in order to give us some legitimacy. He agreed to our terms. 
After we saw, in person, how nice it is and determined it ia definitely where we wanted to stay the rest of the week, I contacted the owner again.I laid the compliments about his place on pretty thick and made my offer. I said something to the effect of,
“Hi ______. your place is awesome! You’ve thought of every detail.Thank you so much.After seeing it, there is nowhere else we would prefer to stay more for the next few days we are in town.Would you consider giving it to us until Friday at the rate of 25 per day? Also, would you consider waiving any further cleaning fees?It would really help us out.You can see from our reviews that we always leave places in excellent condition. We are happy to put down a small refundable deposit in lieu of the cleaning fee if that makes you more comfortable.” (I offer that because we have a dog and that, understandably, makes some people nervous).
I had a feeling he would accept because he had already lowered the price once on a weekend, so he was likely to go a little further for the security of knowing it was booked the rest of the week.
When you travel the way we do, every dollar counts.  In this case, after a couple of days of staying at this place, booked officially through Airbnb, for the remainder of our stay, we made a deal with the owner, that we memorialized in an email, to pay him directly and not go through Airbnb for the extension.  This is RISKY because, if anything goes wrong, it is on you.  Airbnb won’t help you out for anything that happens if it isn’t booked through them.  We don’t do this very often because its just not good practice, but for us, not paying the Airbnb fee, however small, made it affordable.
On this same note, if you do want to extend your trip, the listing is available, and you want to do it through airbnb, ask the owner to adjust the reservation dates thru the website rather than just doing another booking.  Airbnb will automatically adjust your fees so that you don’t pay another cleaning fee or deposit, if one was originally requested.
Having flexible travel dates can really help an owner work with you.  Maybe they can’t lower the price for Friday night but they can for Saturday.  Also, even if a place is booked, if you notice they have a flexible cancellation policy, ask them to let you know if it becomes available. 
Don’t be afraid of the private room option (especially if you have your own bathroom).  Usually, we rent entire homes.  We are a couple, we have a dog, and we are over the age of 30.  Renting out a room is just not what we tend to want.  However, every time we have done it, out of budgetary necessity, lack of availability, etc., its ended up being a fantastic experience.
In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, all of the “entire home” listings we looked at were either out of our price range, didn’t take dogs or were booked.We took a chance and rented a private room of a gorgeous condo owned and lived in by two guys.It was, to this day, one of the best experiences we have had.We became close friends with the two guys and they even invited us to stay with them for another week after our Airbnb reservation had ended.It is definitely a more personal, social experience doing it this way but isn’t that what traveling is all about?
We LOVE Airbnb and have come to rely it on for those times we just don’t feel like living in a tent on top of our car.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you should – and if you do sign up, we hope you use the link below to sign up.  It will give you a 25.00= credit on your first stay and will give
us a 20.00 credit on our next stay.  Enjoy!