17 Essential Tips for Finding the Perfect Airbnb

Road Trip Southern US - Smoky Mountains
Our Airbnb cabin near the Smoky Mountains

As you know I’m a big fan of Airbnb, as both a guest and host. I love being able to experience a slice of local life while also having more space and cooking facilities than you tend to get in a hotel. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a hotel is exactly what I’m looking for, but Airbnb tends to be my first choice, especially when travelling as a family.

We’ve been using the site for around nine years so have picked up plenty of tips along the way for finding the best Airbnbs out there. That’s why I create blog posts about my favourite Airbnbs around the world – they’re a good shortcut if you don’t fancy doing the hunt yourself.

But if I don’t have a post on the place you’re going, or you like the idea of looking yourself, this post is a collection of my top Airbnb tips for guests and how to choose the perfect Airbnb.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you book them (at no extra cost to you). It’s one of the ways I keep this website going. I have marked affiliate links with an asterix *. Read more about my affiliate policy here.

Airbnb tips for guests: How to find the perfect Airbnb

How to find the perfect Airbnb
We stayed at the gorgeous Moon Cabin in Joshua Tree

1. Think carefully about what you need

The number one thing to do is think carefully about what you want and need out of your Airbnb. Do you want to rent an entire place to yourself or stay in someone’s shared home? How many bedrooms? What cooking facilities? Will you be eating out lots and a kitchenette will do, or would you prefer a full kitchen? Is there a specific area of a city you’d like to stay in? Do you want outdoor space?  And do you need a proper bedroom for your kids or is open-plan living okay? Do you have any accessibility needs? A parking space? Washing machine? And what’s your budget? Think about all of these things and make a list of what you need.

I’m currently making a handy checklist, which I’ll be sure to upload soon.

How to find the perfect Airbnb - Search filters
Example of some of Airbnb’s search filters

2. Make good use of the search filters

Once you have your list, make good use of the search filters to find what you need. The most important ones to set are the dates (if you have them), price range, the number of people you’re travelling with, including children and infants, and whether or not you want to stay in a shared home or rent an entire place. You can also specify the number of bedrooms, beds, bathrooms, and all the specific amenities and facilities you need, from a kitchen to a hot tub to a hair dryer. And you can choose the type of property, for example a cabin, bed and breakfast, house flat, barn, castle(!) etc.. And also tick if you’re bring pets or want to be able to smoke, or if you require that the hosts speak a specific language.

Some other useful filters are the ability to search by superhosts or Airbnb Plus/Luxe properties, but there’s more on that below.

If you don’t use our checklist, looking at the search filter options can be a useful way to hone in on exactly what you want/need from your stay.

Not that the filters only show options that are available, so you won’t always see a checkbox for castle, hot tub etc on there!

Airbnb San Diego - Secret Garden Guesthouse
A lovely little guesthouse we stayed at in San Diego. Read our round up of the best San Diego Airbnbs.

3. Choose the area you want to stay in

It’s a good idea to have an idea in mind about what area of a city or location you want to stay in. For example, if you’re going to Santa Cruz, do you want to be right by the beach or would you prefer to be near the forest or downtown? Do a little research into the areas that match your vibe – for example Steve and I tend to look up the most creative areas in a city or places with the most beautiful nature.

If you have no idea where to start, you could do a city-wide search and then have a look at where there are clusters of Airbnbs as these tend to be the most popular areas. Then look at the location description in the listing and that will give you an idea about what to expect and might help you to refine your search

How to find the perfect Airbnb - Map tool
Airbnb’s map search tool

4. Make good use of the map tool

Once you’ve chosen the area you want to stay in, you can use the search filters to select specific areas within a city-wide search, or even just type in a specific area (e.g ‘Alberta Arts, Portland) into the search box. But it’s also really helpful to use the map tool, which searches a specific area that you choose on the map to the right of the search results. This allows you to hone in even more on specific areas, for example if you want to be really close to a particular attraction or to a family or friend’s house.  

5. Look out for Superhosts

Superhosts are people who Airbnb have identified as providing outstanding hospitality. To be a superhost you have to have hosted at least 10 people, have an average of 4.8 or above for reviews, a 90% response rate and a less than 1% cancellation rate. When searching listings, you can filter the results to only show superhosts, which can be a handy way of honing in on quality listings. That said, there are lots of excellent Airbnbs out there without superhost status.

AirBnB Plus Porto
This is an Airbnb Plus home we stayed in during our trip to Porto

6. Consider using Airbnb Plus

In 2018, Airbnb launched Airbnb Plus, which is a curated collection of Airbnbs that have been chosen for their exceptional design and great hospitality. I’ve written a post all about it called ‘What’s Airbnb Plus? And why we love it’. As a lover of great design, I really appreciate Airbnb Plus as a good shortcut to finding exceptionally stylish places to stay. That said, there are plenty of non-Airbnb Plus properties that are just as beautiful (if not more beautiful) as those in the collection, so it’s not an essential. But if you’re short on time and keen to find somewhere with A+ style and hospitiality, it’s worth clicking the ‘Airbnb Plus’ search filter.

There is also Airbnb Luxe, which is similar but instead focuses on the most luxury Airbnb offerings.

Not all areas have Airbnb Plus or Luxe, so the search option will only show when they’re available in the area.

There was nothing misleading about this image – it was just as a cute as it looks! It’s this cabin in Iceland.

7. Remember pictures can be misleading

One of the most important things on an Airbnb listing is the photos, but do bear in mind that these can be misleading ­– in both directions. You’ll soon notice that some listings have professional looking photos while others are clearly homemade and will vary wildly depending on the photography skills of the owner. Airbnb offers a photography service to hosts, but not everyone can or has taken them up on it.

Don’t immediately discard the properties with bad photos as sometimes you find the best gems or bargains within these listings. When this is an issue, I tend to hop straight to the reviews to see what people have to say –you’ll often find comments along the lines of “The photos don’t do this justice at all”.

Likewise, sometimes professional photos can be misleading as they naturally focus on and bring out the best in a place, which can bedazzle you into overlooking its faults. For example, a room might look a lot bigger than it really is. Try to look at the photos carefully so you can notice details such as whether you’re looking at angles of the same room, or if they’re separate – this can help you to get a better idea of scale. Again, look at the reviews to see if anyone comments on inaccuracy in the photos.

Joshua Tree Airstream: Joshua Tree Acres
Joshua Tree has some amazing Airbnb cabins

8. Read the description carefully

Make sure to read the description of the property carefully. Some descriptions are very short while others go into a lot of detail. It’s in here that you might find hosts warning you of the properties quirks and explaining the kind of traveler it’s suitable for – for example lots of eco homes warn that the toilets are outside and compostable, and that people should expect to encounter a few bugs or other discomforts. And while we enjoy those kinds of places, other people don’t, so it’s worth making sure you know what type of place you’re booking. In the descriptions, hosts also tend to point out what areas are shared, if the road is noisy, what parking is available, and other practicalities like that. And they’ll also highlight the property’s strengths, which might not be immediately obvious from the photos.

9. Read the reviews in detail

There’s probably nothing more important than reading the reviews on an Airbnb listing. They’ll give you a good idea of the quality and feel of a place, and alert you to any issues that aren’t highlighted in the listing – for example, if it’s on a very noisy street or if there are currently building works going on.

Other things to look out for are comments on the cleanliness of a place, its location, and the hospitality and communication of the owners. Remember that everyone has different standards, so if one person in 100 has complained about something, it might not be as bad as they say. Hosts have the option to respond to reviews, so it’s also worth looking at their replies.

How to find the perfect Airbnb-4
Remember to check the house rules

10. Check the rules

Each listing has a section called ‘Things to know’, which details the house rules, including the check-in and out policies, whether children, infants and pets are allowed, and any other specific rules for the property. It’s really important to check this section, so you don’t get any unwelcome surprises. The list of specific rules can be especially important as they’ll highlight what’s expected of you – for example doing your own dishes, taking out the rubbish, not playing loud music, not doing photoshoots etc… I also always skip down to this section to make sure children are allowed as sometimes the search filters don’t pick up on this.

11. Message your hosts before you book

If any of your questions aren’t answered in the listing itself, you can always message the host and ask. It’s also a handy thing to do so you can gauge the host’s vibe and hospitality levels. For example, a rude reply might put you off whereas friendliness can make a booking.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Vintage Ranch, Paso Robles
In Paso Robles, we stayed in this famous Airbnb from the Netflix show, Stay Here

12. Know who you’re renting from

It’s also worth reading the host’s profile, so you can see who you’ll be renting from. By doing this, you might find out that the host has other similar properties that you prefer. This is also a good way to see if the property is managed by an individual or a company. There are two main types of companies you might encounter: developers and management companies. A developer will own several of their own properties and have made a business from short-term rentals. Sometime this is done well and responsibly while other times it leads to somewhat soulless properties that are damaging to the locl economy (see ‘Avoid the rule breakers’ below).

On the other hand, a management company is something a host will hire to manage their property – for example if they travel a lot or don’t have time to manage it themselves. Sometimes management companies provide bed linens and toiletries to properties, and write the descriptions, so they all have a similar feel. We used a management company when renting out our home in London when we were travelling. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s a different vibe to renting from an individual. To be honest, my proffered option is always to rent from an individual, especially when it’s an extension of their own home – this has the most authentic and low-impact feel.

How to find the perfect Airbnb-5
Some of the lists I’ve saved on Airbnb

13. Make a favourites list

Once you sign up to Airbnb, you can create lists of your favourite properties. I always do this when searching for somewhere to stay, so I can create a shortlist to choose from. It’s a very handy feature.

With the fees, this listing works out as $195 more than the nightly price

14. Check prices and remember the fees!

If you do a search without dates on Airbnb, then the prices that are listed on the search results will be the lowest price available. This might be misleading as if you want to travel during peak times, the price might be considerably higher. However, if you include dates, you’ll get the correct price for that time period. The only thing is, there are two or three other costs that will be added on top of that: a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee and potentially an occupancy tax and fees, depending on where you’re travelling. These fees vary considerably, especially the cleaning fee. For that reason, be sure to check the final price for your reservation rather than the nightly fee on the listing. I found that the cleaning fee was especially high when travelling in the USA.

15. Negotiate a good price

This won’t always be appropriate, but is worth a try, especially for longer stays of a week or more. You can contact the host directly and negotiate a special price if you feel it’s warranted. We always try this for long-term stays.

Air BnB Plus Melbourne
One of our favourite Airbnb experiences was at Anne’s place in Melbourne. We were her first guests 🙂

16. Look out for new listings

Although reviews are one of the best ways to evaluate an Airbnb, sometimes it’s worth looking at new listing that have minimal or no reviews at all. This is where you’ll likely find the best deals. I’ve done that a number of times and found some real gems for bargain prices. New owners know they don’t have much currency without reviews, so tend to set their prices quite low to begin with. In these cases, you’ll only have photos, the description and your communication with the host to base your decision on, but it may well be worth it.

17. Avoid the rule breakers

There are lots of different laws about how Airbnb hosts can operate in different cities. For example, many places require Airbnb hosts to have a license to operate. If this is the case in a place you’re going to, make sure you go with a legitimate listing that is obeying the rules. For example, in Portland, all Airbnbs must have a permit and every listing that complies with this includes its permit number. The rules for getting a permit in Portland include the host being the primary resident of the rental, living there for at least nine months a year, and not having guest for longer than a 30-day period. These kinds of rules are a good thing as they limit any negative effects of Airbnb on the local economy. You’ll most likely have read about backlashes against Airbnb where local property prices have risen or the amount of rental properties has diminished because developers or second home owners are doing short rentals rather than renting to local people. Measures such as the permit programme in Portland help to limit this and mean you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re not doing harm in the way you travel. I also touch on this in the ‘know who you’re renting from’ section above.

Also have a look at my curated Airbnb guides, including the best Joshua Tree Airbnb cabins, the best Airbnbs in Tokyo, the most stylish Portland Airbnbs and the best Airbnbs in Bristol.

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