Travel with Airbnb: How to Find the Right Place

Finding a place for your family to stay abroad has never been easier now that Airbnb has listings for pretty much every corner of the world. We’ve been able to rent places on Airbnb in five different countries anywhere from one week to five weeks at a time. Each experience was very different and we chose each listing in the particular country to match the experience we desired to have while we were there. Here’s our criteria for choosing the right Airbnb listing for your family travel experience:

  1. Location
  2. Price
  3. Setup & Amenities
  4. Host
  5. Ratings & Comments
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Walking back to our guesthouse in Antigua, Guatemala

LOCATION

The old adage of “location, location, location” is true both in real estate and rentals on Airbnb. We try to find places that have lots of things within walking distance of the apartment like supermarkets, shopping malls, and parks. These are the places we’ll be visiting most often during our trip, so it’s best to be as close as possible to them without having to get into a car, bus, or subway to get there. If you’re traveling to a big city, you’ll also want to make sure you’re walking distance to public transportation. 

Keep in mind that it’s important to find the right balance of location and comfort. For example, in Buenos Aires, we were right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city near the Alto Palermo shopping mall. It was also one of the noisiest condos we’ve stayed at with endless sounds of buses, motor bikes, cars, and people on the main street below our second-floor apartment. Luckily, we brought good earplugs with us, otherwise, we would have been sleepless in Argentina. 

One-bedroom apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina

One-bedroom apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, our condo was located about three blocks from the beach, which also meant being across the street from one of the most popular bars/clubs in the city. Our condo would literally shake from the loud, thumping music from approximately 9pm to 2am every night except Mondays (when the club was closed). Again, we had earplugs to somewhat stifle the constant noise, but it still was an extremely tough condition to sleep in, especially with kids. 

Thus, beware of what a “good” location really is and do your diligent research.

One-bedroom apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico

One-bedroom apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico

PRICE

Once we’ve figured out the best location of a city we’re visiting, we narrow our selections down by price. We don’t travel on a hosteler’s budget since we have kids, but we also don’t travel on a Starwood Platinum member’s budget either. We’re somewhere in between and we’ve found our sweet spot to be anywhere from $30-$50 per night. We’re able to get these low prices on condos, partly because of the cities we’ve stayed in (Miraflores, Buenos Aires, San Juan, Antigua, Taipei) and mostly because we were in places for at least two to five weeks. On Airbnb, most listings have weekly and monthly rates that are substantially lower than the per night rate. You’re also able to negotiate the rate with the host who can send you a “special offer” that would be lower than their advertised rate. A fee that’s unavoidable, but can be likened to taxes on a hotel bill, is the approximately 10-15% fee for booking through Airbnb. 

Set your budget and you’ll be able to narrow your search to exactly what you’re looking for. 

Master bedroom in the guesthouse...enough room for a quadruple bed!

Master bedroom in the Antigua, Guatemala guesthouse…enough room for a quadruple bed!

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The view of the volcano from our room in Antigua, Guatemala

SETUP & AMENITIES

Now that you’ve got location and price determined, you’ll need to set criteria for what you want in the actual property. Besides the must-haves like wifi, cable TV, hot water, and heating/air conditioning, you’ll need to figure out what you need. Common questions would be: How many rooms? How many bathrooms? How many beds? Does it have a kitchen? Does it have a washing machine? Does the owner allow pets? Do you want an entire place rather than just a private room? 

Airbnb does a good job of filtering these things for you with the way their listings are displayed, so you can easily choose what works best for your requirements. 

In Lima, Peru, we chose a place with two bedrooms that had views of the Miraflores ocean. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it allowed me to work remotely in peace while my kids were still in the apartment. 

Living area, home office, and clothes drying area all-in-one in Miraflores, Peru

Living area, home office, and clothes drying area all-in-one in Miraflores, Peru

In Taipei, Taiwan, we weren’t able to find many affordable, centrally-located apartments with a kitchen, which is normally one of our must-haves for apartments. However, since we were in one of the eating capitals of the world, we figured that a kitchen wasn’t a necessity, even for our stay of over four weeks…and this was absolutely true!

Studio apartment in Taipei, Taiwan

Studio apartment in Taipei, Taiwan

HOST

One thing that we really like about Airbnb is that by renting out someone’s apartment or staying at a guesthouse, we are able to find a host/guide for our stay in unfamiliar cities. Hosts not only rent out their places, but they also try to make you feel as much as “home” as possible. Hosts have helped us with things like reserving airport transfers and giving us recommendations for local restaurants and activities. 

We chose to stay in a guesthouse in Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks just so we could enjoy the hospitality that people had raved about on their listing. Not only did we get delicious breakfasts cooked for us each morning, but we also had other great experiences with our hosts, most notably celebrating our daughter’s second birthday in the guesthouse’s courtyard with a pinata, gifts, and cake. We felt at home from the moment we were at this guesthouse all the way until we left, so it’s no wonder why this guesthouse (Taanah Antigua Guesthouse) is one of the top ranked Airbnb rentals in all of Guatemala. 

Celebrating Chloe's 2nd birthday in Antigua, Guatemala, with the help of our amazing host, Evelyn.

Celebrating Chloe’s 2nd birthday in Antigua, Guatemala, with the help of our amazing host, Evelyn.

RATINGS & COMMENTS

What really seals the deal and helps me get over the anxiety of committing to a place by paying via credit card on Airbnb is reviewing the ratings and comments of others who have stayed there in the past. Reading real user feedback is the best way to judge a listing’s validity and a host’s credibility. If everyone is leaving positive reviews, then that means you’ll most likely also have a positive experience. If the reviews are a mixed bag, then think twice before booking. And if there are no reviews, then use extreme caution when booking, as it’s really a coin flip if the listing will meet your expectations. 

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Sunset view from our room in Taipei, Taiwan

I once booked a waterfront property on the beaches of El Salvador. The listing looked great with two bedrooms, a private swimming pool, a location steps away from the beach, and all for a bargain price of about $60 per night. However, there weren’t any comments for the listing which made it look a bit too good to be true. Against my own senses, I booked it hoping for the best. We planned to stay at this beach house for about 5 weeks. Unfortunately, our plans changed and we didn’t make it out to El Salvador after all and the host was gracious enough to refund our reservation in full. 

In hindsight, we were probably lucky to not have stayed there due to safety issues highlighted in the only comment left on the listing after one year of being on Airbnb. One guest started her comment with “DECEPTIVE LISTING” and went on to explain that while the idyllic setting of the house was priceless, the house suffered from major wear and tear issues, as well as major security issues with drunk transients being able to loiter and enter the property from the beach. With two kids, dealing with these kinds of issues wouldn’t have been worth the luxury of waking up to the ocean at our doorstep. (*Note: At last check, it appears the owner has addressed a lot of the issues noted in this comment, and is working to improve the safety and condition of her property.)  Read the comments on the listing that you’ll be committing your time and money on. You’ll be thankful that you did your research first before you book.

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Airbnb has taken off in the past couple of years and we’ve been able to benefit from the growing number of listings on the site. When we visited San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in the summer of 2012, there was one listing for a place in the small town. On my last check in March 2014, there were more than 100 places listed for short-term rentals. Things have changed quickly in the last two years on Airbnb to make the customer experience better than ever. Take advantage of what Airbnb has to offer and enhance your family travel experiences with better accommodation choices in locations all around the world. 

What’s your criteria for finding the right place for your trips? Share it in the comments below. 

*Disclaimer: I am voluntarily sharing my experiences as a paying and happy customer of Airbnb, without compensation from Airbnb. 

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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