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A Beginner’s Guide to Airbnb

by Sam
Rooftop pool in Santiago. Find out how to stay in similar properties with this beginner's guide to Airbnb.

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In recent years, Airbnb has changed the way many of us travel. Compared to more conventional accommodation options like hotels, Airbnb has the advantage of the personal touch in the form of staying in someone else’s property. This gives your stay a homely feel, as opposed to the sometimes minimal and repetitive hotel style.With over 3 million listings, you’ll find great accommodation options for any budget almost anywhere you travel. We even stayed in an Airbnb in the middle of Chile’s Atacama Desert! Find out everything you need to know about the site with this beginner’s guide to Airbnb.

Why use Airbnb?

If you’re looking to make your trip extra special, Airbnb is the way forward.  With so much choice, many properties offer unique experiences you wouldn’t get from standard accommodation. Thanks to the site we’ve had spectacular views of Rio de Janeiro from the top of a favela, taken advantage of a rooftop pool looking out towards the Andes in Santiago and stayed in one of Buenos Aires’ most upscale neighbourhoods. While doing this, we’ve paid a fraction of the price a hotel in these cities would cost, but with unique benefits that hotels could never offer.

In comparison to hotels, we find we can book more spacious yet homely accommodation for a cheaper price. Why would you pay more for less? You’ll also find that Airbnb hosts are an invaluable source of information. They’ll know all about the area and give great tips you wouldn’t get from a hotel. Whether it’s how to avoid crowds at attractions or just the best restaurants nearby, it will make a huge difference to your trip.

When booking your next trip, make sure to at least consider using Airbnb when arranging accommodation. If you’re ready to give it a go yourself, you’ll get £25 off your first stay by signing up via this link!

Sunset over a favela in Rio - a unique view from our Airbnb. Find out how to stay in amazing places like this with our beginner's guide to Airbnb.

Having found accommodation on the site in 3 different continents so far, we’re always finding new ways to ensure we pick the best properties. Here’s our advice on how to do exactly that:


Be as specific as you like. Depending on your preference you can search for entire flats/homes, private rooms or shared rooms. You can also specify the amenities and facilities you desire. Some of the options available include swimming pools, hot tubs, free parking at the property, wifi, air conditioning and kitchen access. You can tailor the property to your exact wants and needs, meaning luxury is available if you want to treat yourself but there’s also great options when you have a tight budget!


Photos will always give you the clearest indication of what you’ll get at a property. With properties that have multiple good quality photos of each room, it’s normally a case of what you see is what you get. However, not all hosts are so transparent with their images. If certain rooms aren’t included, then it’s something to be sceptical about. While it may be they simply chose not to upload a picture of the bathroom, it could also be that the bathroom is in poor condition. It’s definitely something to be aware of before committing to staying at a property.


Airbnb will never disclose the exact address of a property until you book it. Until then you’ll be shown a rough location of the property on a map – giving you a good idea of the immediate surroundings. From here, use google maps to check how far away the property is from the city/town centre and any transport links nearby. You can then see exactly how long it would take each time you walk to and from the centre, which could influence whether you decide to book the property. If you’re staying for more than a couple of days, long walks can become tiring and it may be worth paying extra for a better located property.

You may also want to check if there’s a supermarket, restaurants and bars nearby. Another consideration is the safety of the neighbourhood you’re looking at. Every city has good and bad neighbourhoods and it pays to do your research in advance. You don’t want to spend your evenings feeling intimidated when leaving your accommodation.

View of Alfama neighbourhood in Lisbon. Bigger cities with have more listings - find out how to get the best deal with this beginner's guide to Airbnb.


Never book a property without reading the reviews. Even if the property looks amazing and seems to have everything you want, the reviews may sway your decision. If people are consistently mentioning the same problems – such as bad Internet or poor location – then you need to consider if this is important to you. If so, then you’re probably best looking elsewhere. That being said, even at the best of properties some people will have a negative experience. If the majority of reviews are positive then you can normally ignore the one or two negative ones. If most people were happy with their stay, you likely will be too.

House rules

It’s important to remember that what may be acceptable to you, won’t necessarily be acceptable to your host. Read the house rules listed online carefully. Even if they don’t specify that you aren’t allowed to have friends over, it’s common courtesy to check before inviting anyone to their property. Some properties won’t allow drinking or smoking and if this isn’t compatible with what you want you’ll have to find somewhere else. If upon arrival the host specifies rules you were not previously made aware of, Airbnb have a notoriously good resolution centre. They will help you find an alternative property the same day if a solution cannot be reached with the current host.

 Weekly/monthly discounts

Some properties offer discounts for longer stays. We’ve found that booking a property for longer can sometimes work out as cheaper – even if you won’t stay for the full length of booking. There’s no point paying more – so check to see if you’d save money by booking for longer.

View from an Airbnb in Valparaiso - amazing views aren't always expensive!

Contacting your host

It’s always a good idea to contact your host in advance. That way you can agree a check in time, as well as ensure you both have the same expectations for your stay. If you plan to cook every night and are sharing the property, you may need to confirm that you’ll have access to the kitchen when you want. We’ve never had any issues with this, but we always confirm in advance if we’re able to use the facilities whenever we want. While most hosts will be accommodating, it’s always best to be sure before arrival!

Instant booking

Unfortunately not all properties can be instantly booked. However, if you prefer you can search specifically for properties that do allow instant booking. This prevents waiting for a host to respond regarding your reservation enquiry, which at times can be frustrating – especially as some hosts are slower at replying than others. Generally though, you’ll have a response within 24 hours as to whether your stay at the property has been approved.

Check in

Unlike many hotels and hostels, you won’t have the luxury of 24-hour check in. You’ll need to inform your host of the time you expect to arrive, so they can make themselves available to meet you. If you’re catching a flight it’s a good idea to provide your host with the details, in case of any delays. Many hosts are flexible, and the ones that aren’t will show check in times on the property listing. That way you can immediately see if it fits with your plans before you book.

A property in central Buenos Aires - find out how to get great properties for a fraction of the price hotels charge with this beginner's guide to Airbnb.


With any trip, you may have a change of plans and if that’s the case you’ll need to pay particular attention to a hosts cancellation policy. There are 3 general cancellation policies:

Flexible – Full refund if you cancel at least 24 hours before the listed check in time.

Moderate – Full refund if you cancel at least 5 days in advance of the listed check in time.

Strict – 50% refund if you cancel at least 1 week in advance of the listed check in time.

Personally, we prefer to avoid booking anywhere with a strict cancellation policy. That way you have more flexibility in case your plans change and don’t need to worry about losing money. It just offers more peace of mind.

If you need to cancel due to extenuating circumstances you may find the cancellation policy does not apply. For example, if you cancel your trip due to a family member falling seriously ill, you can contact the host to see if they are willing to make an exception. If they are not, you can go via the Airbnb resolution centre. If you can prove your extenuating circumstance, then they likely will offer a full refund.

View of the Lagoa, Rio. Being in a residential area doesn't necessarily mean being far away from the attractions. Everything you need to know is in this beginner's guide to Airbnb.

Cleaning fee

Properties often charge a cleaning fee – and some will charge a greater amount than others. While this is factored into the total price quoted by Airbnb, we would generally avoid properties charging excessive fees. It’s good practice to always leave the room/property free of mess when checking out, however if they’re charging a cleaning fee they should not expect it to be immaculate. One host complained that we left the room messy despite it being relatively tidy and the fact they charged a cleaning fee. If your host does charge a cleaning fee, then you’re not obliged to go the extra mile in terms of keeping the room clean.

Secure payment

Never pay through any other means than the Airbnb website. They have a secure payment system and so you will never need to pay another way. If you are ever asked by a host to pay cash in hand or by an alternative method, you should question their motives and consider contacting Airbnb about the issue.

Please note that some links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase we make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This money is used to support this website and cover the costs of keeping it online and free to access!

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