Planning Travel Tips

A Comprehensive Airbnb Guide for First Time Users

On our trip to Hawaii, Logan and I decided to forgo a hotel and book an Airbnb instead. Being first time users of the booking website, we were both a little nervous and overwhelmed. However, it turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and made me completely change the way I travel.

Whether the lower prices or more unique accommodations lured you in, Airbnb definitely has its perks as opposed to staying in hotels. However, as we learned first hand, it can be incredibly overwhelming at first, and as safe and reliable as I think Airbnb is, there are still some ways you can get burned if you’re not familiar with how things work.

I’ve broken down everything you need to know about Airbnb in this comprehensive guide. Starting at the very beginning discussing what Airbnb is, answering your questions about safety and privacy, and if you stick around to the end of the post I’ll even help you save some money off your first Airbnb booking!

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb was founded in 2008 as a marketplace for home owners to share their properties and travellers to experience unique accommodation around the world. It originally gained it’s popularity because of its once in a lifetime accommodations. Travellers are able to book a stay in a castle, or spend a night in a treehouse, or reserve their own private beach villa for a month – anything you can dream, Airbnb has! Since it’s gotten its mark on the map with properties in over 190 countries, Airbnb has attracted all kinds of travellers from around the world for reasons varying from it’s more affordable price points to a more authentic travel experience.

Is Airbnb safe?

In short, yes, Airbnb is incredibly safe and during my experience using it I never had any concerns about my safety either before or during my stay. However, much like Uber, Airbnb is a website based off of trust between the host and the guest. Airbnb also takes several steps to ensure both guest and host safety.

Here are some important things to look for when booking your Airbnb stay:

Verified ID
Both guests and hosts can confirm their identification on Airbnb by providing a scan of their official government ID in addition to their phone number and a few other identifying factors. You can read more about Airbnb’s verification process HERE.

For my own peace of mind I would only book through hosts that have verified ID. Most hosts also require their guests to verify their ID before booking as well, so just keep that in mind. I recommend verifying your identity as soon as you know you’re going to book just to save time during the booking process. Airbnb also does not share any information from your official government ID with your host.

Read the Reviews
This is the step I personally spent the most time on during my booking process and I highly, highly recommend reading through as many reviews as possible before booking your accommodation. Don’t just take the 4 star rating as good, actually sit through and read the comments from other guests who have stayed their. They may provide additional information that’s not outlined in the original listing and some of their concerns may not have been a big deal to them, but may be a deal breaker for you. I also found a lot of the reviews provided additional information on how much privacy to expect during your stay. While it’s outlined in the originally listing how often the host will be around, the review comments gave me a better idea of what to expect.

Communicate with your Host
Before booking your reservation be sure to message your host. This way you can ask any additional questions you may have about the property or the city you’ll be staying in. Even if you think you don’t have any questions, I still recommend messaging your host. Actually having a conversation with them will give you a better idea of what they’re like and give you a better sense of this is the right property for you. It’s also important to message your host so you can arrange what time you’ll be arriving, directions to the property, etc.

Finding your Perfect Property 

Now that you feel confident and safe, you’re ready to go ahead and book your Airbnb stay.

Filter Your Search
With over 2 million properties listed, any basic search is going to bring up an overwhelming amount of results. To avoid being stressed out by all the options, use the search filters when browsing for properties. Even if you don’t necessarily know the exact neighbourhood you want to stay in, or even your exact travel dates, some of the other search filters will help to weed out properties you definitely will not be interested.

To start your search type in the area you’re looking to stay in, whether it’s a specific area like Lanikai beach in Oahu, Hawaii, or something as a broad as just the city of Paris. You have to enter some sort of date range because certain dates will already be booked by other guests, or the host might not have that property available certain dates. You can also check the availability of individual properties on there on property pages; there will be a calendar view that shows you which dates are available and which aren’t.

The next filter you’ll want to utilize is the price range. Airbnb properties can range anywhere from $50 a night to thousands of dollars a night. Be realistic of your budget to eliminate all the properties that exceed it. (However, whenever you have some free time I definitely recommend checking out some of those atrociously expensive properties. It doesn’t hurt to dream right? 😉

The next filter you should use is regarding the amount of privacy you want during your stay. Airbnb users are able to book the entire home for themselves, a private room, or a shared room. Keep in mind in some situations you may be renting out the guest house as an entire home and the hosts may be living in the main house. This was the case when Logan and I booked our Airbnb in Hawaii; we stayed in a house that was attached to the main house that the hosts were in during our stay. We had our own kitchen, bathroom, and key for the house we were staying in.This worked out perfectly as it gave us the perfect amount of privacy while still having the hosts nearby to ask any questions or for directions.

These are the only filters I use, but you can go more specific and filter by amenities, facilities, house rules, and the host language.

Be Familiar with the Hosts Expectations
In each property listing the host will outline their house rules. This will mostly include things like noise, smoking, pets and additional guests. These are just important to keep in mind to ensure you and your host won’t have problems. Many hosts have strict policies on having guests over so keep this in mind if you’re planning to meet up with friends during your travels. The “House Rules” section of the listing will also outline check in and check out times.

Check for Reduced Rates on Extended Stays
Many hosts offer discounts to guests who book extended stays. Some offer discounts on additional days after one week and many offer monthly discounts. If you’re going to be booking a longer reservation check to see if your host offers any discounts, if none are originally mentioned in the listing you can still trying messaging your host about a discounted extended rate.

Booking your Stay

Understand your Host’s Cancellation Policy
Airbnb has three different cancellation policies that hosts can choose to enforce: flexible, moderate, and strict. The flexible cancellation policy allows guests to receive a full refund (except fees) for cancelling as late as one day prior to your arrival. I’ve personally found that very few hosts use this policy. The moderate cancellation policy allows guests to receive a full refund (except fees) for cancelling up to 5 days prior to your arrival. The strict policy allows guests to receive a 50% refund up until 1 week prior to their arrival. The strict policy is by far the most common policy I’ve come across on Airbnb. There is also a long term cancellation policy for bookings longer than 28 days.

Ask Questions
Communicating with your host is an essential part to having a good Airbnb experience. Making sure to talk about the little details will make your stay a lot less stressful for both of you. Message your host before finalizing your booking to ask about parking, where your hosts will be during your stay, and any questions you may have about the surrounding area. You can also take this opportunity to ask about any equipment your guests may available to use relating to your destination. For example, in Hawaii our hosts had beach bikes and snorkelling gear available for us to use during our stay.

Request to Book vs. Instant Booking
There are two different ways to book through Airbnb, instantly or requesting. Those hosts who don’t use instant booking have to invite guests the request to book their property. This means you’ll need to contact the host and they have 24 hours to either accept or decline your reservation. Instant booking is exactly what it sounds like; you can instantly book a property without requiring prior invitation or approval from the host. Without request to book you won’t be charged until your reservation is accepted and with instant book you’ll be charged in full immediately.


As outlined the the “booking” section above, payment is taken immediately during instant bookings and upon approval for requested bookings. One thing to note about payment through Airbnb is that the host doesn’t actually get your money until 24 hours after you’ve checked in. Airbnb holds the funds from the time after you book until 24 hours after you check in to ensure there are no problems upon check in and the property is as it should be.

Additional Fees
It’s important to be aware of the additional fees you’ll incur using Airbnb, these will all be outlined in the original listing under prices, but just in case you missed them and are a little shocked during your checkout, here are some feeds to keep an eye out for:

Cleaning fee: Some hosts charge a one time cleaning fee to help cover the costs of cleaning their space. This fee varies by hosts and not all hosts charge a cleaning fee.

Service fee: This is charged by Airbnb to maintain their costs of operation.

Occupancy Taxes: Certain properties charge extra taxes based on their location. These are specific to certain cities, but aren’t incurred too often.

During your Stay

Once you get to your destination it’s your responsibility to be a respectful guest and follow your hosts house rules for the duration of your stay. Some hosts will have a little welcome note/booklet for you upon arrival outlining the house rules again and providing you with some additional information about the area. Remember, being a good guest is just as important as being a good host in making Airbnb an enjoyable experience.

After your Stay

After your stay both the guest and host have the opportunity to review each other. Reviews are incredibly important on Airbnb, after all it’s what we used in the beginning of this post to help find your perfect property. Your reviews are also important, which is why it’s so important to be a courteous guest and respect the house rules. If you don’t, your host can leave you a negative review and future hosts are less likely to accept you as guests.

In conclusion, I think Airbnb is an incredible tool for booking accommodation while travelling. My favourite part about booking accommodation through Airbnb instead of a hotel is that I get a much more authentic experience. Hotels are catered to tourists and don’t really provide an authentic view of the destination you’re visiting. With Airbnb you can choose from a wide variety of unique accommodations that put you right into the heart of a new city’s charm. Of course another reason I prefer to book through Airbnb is that I save a ton of money. Not only can you find accommodation for less than hotel prices, but you can save a lot of money on food by cooking some of your meals in your Airbnb as opposed to eating out every meal. Having a great host to give you some direction and provide you with some local insight is also one of my favourite parts about booking with Airbnb!

If you enjoyed this post and are ready to go ahead and book your first Airbnb stay, click HERE to save $40 off your first booking!

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  • Reply Laura December 22, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I think this is a really useful guide for those who aren’t too experienced in using Airbnb. I personally LOVE Airbnb and have no idea what I would do without it. Sometimes I get annoyed at the Airbnb service fee, but I feel like it’s totally fair and worth paying as Airbnb makes finding really nice accommodation so easy! And I agree, reading the reviews is super important 🙂

  • Reply Laura December 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Great guide! I’m yet to actually use Air BnB (somehow) but I’m looking forward to doing so in the future!

  • Reply Therie February 16, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Saving this for future reference. Thank you for putting this together, Emily!

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