Since I've been traveling full-time for a while now, I've had my fair share of ups and downs when it comes to furnished rentals. Usually, I'll do some research on various neighborhoods, sift through endless photos, and go with my gut on which apartment will serve us best.
One site that had proved itself vital this way of life is Airbnb. By providing a safety net in the peer-to-peer rental market, it gives me a certain piece of mind. However, Airbnb can't possibly fully vet all of the rentals before guests arrive, so here are my tips to ensure a fantastic stay before you pack your bags.
1. Have a back and forth exchange with your host before you book. Since you're staying in someone else's property, it's nice to get to know their personality before you make a commitment. Do they answer your questions in a timely fashion? Those that are slow to respond before you book may be reluctant to fix any issues you might have once you move in. Do they have specific and thorough responses to questions about wifi speed, public transportation and quality of neighborhood? If they don't, perhaps they have something to hide, or they're not investing in providing a stellar experience. Also, this process can weed out those who might seem a little shady, so trust your spidey sense! I've walked away from several transactions where the host wanted to take the payment process off of the Airbnb site.
2. Scour the photos and reviews with a keen eye. There are certain aspects of a property like noise level and smell that you can't decipher from a photo. Check for a general cleanliness, decent appliances and even neatness in the shots. If someone didn't bother to pick up their gym shoes before shooting photos, they might not give the bathroom a hearty scrubbing before you arrive. Look through reviews to see if others mentioned how well they slept, if the bed was comfortable or if they were kept awake from loud neighbors. Also, check out street view of the neighborhood and plug the location into Walk Score to see what's nearby.
3. One reason I prefer Airbnb to some of its competitors is its customer service team. However, when contacting concierge or the help desk, keep in mind that you probably know the area where you are better than they do. Come to them with a specific solution to your problem and they'll be able to help you more quickly. Once, after a big storm in a rural area, I lost internet connectivity, and so did the entire region. I spoke with Airbnb and asked that they call a local hotel to see if I could work from their lobby. They made the call and worked out the details, but I had to have the solution at the ready.
Booking properties on Airbnb and other home stay sites is a bit more work than reserving a hotel or hostel, but the payoffs can be huge. For me, it's really worth it to have accommodations that feel a bit like home when traveling domestically or abroad.
(Images: Smith Schwartz, taken at Airbnb properties in Texas and Argentina)