We booked a few Airbnbs last night. This used to take me a long time. I’d pour over listings, make lists, add, eliminate, and sleep on it. But last night we booked three vacation rentals in about 30 minutes, and I realized that we pretty much have choosing the best Airbnb for our family down to a science.
It definitely doesn’t have to be Airbnb, we make reservations through booking.com as well. I’ve used other websites like homeaway.com and vacasa.com, too. But we almost always, hands-down, prefer apartment, or home stays over hotels when we travel together as a family. Having room to spread out, play, prepare a hanger-prevention meal, close a bedroom door and head out to the living room or outdoor patio at the end of the day can take the experience from good-to-great, for everyone on the trip. Whether you want to be in the middle of, or away from it all, there’s something out there for you and yours.
Of course, there’s a little more risk in choosing a private vacation rental stay. When you stay at the Marriott, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. When you’re traveling with your children you have even less room for error than if you were traveling without them. But with a little more risk, comes a little more reward and we’ve stayed in some amazing, unique places traveling this way. The ability to easily book, and stay in apartments and stand-alone homes, is a game changer for family travel. I recommend it hands-down, even if you’re only staying a night, or two. So today I’m writing out my process for finding the perfect Airbnb for your next family trip.
Choose your dates and plug them in. Add your people and then, turn on your filters. The filters can be quite detailed and really help narrow it down. I suggest not adding too many filters at first. I always choose “entire place”, then add at least one or, two bedrooms, and parking on premises. Parking isn’t always a given, especially in old-town areas of cities in Europe. We learned this the hard way. Always double check parking or, ask the host for recommended parking nearby if none is listed and the place looks like a real winner otherwise. That way you can weigh your options and make the best choice based on other pros and cons that arise.
Do not add your budget in this step. Wait until you have mapped out options, so that you can see where you get the most bang for your buck…good locations that might be in your range, great locations that are surprisingly affordable, versus neighborhoods that are out.
Know where you want to stay and look at the map. I never-ever-ever look at the list of places. I always go straight to the map. Heaven forbid I fall in love with a spot outside our walking zone. It just wouldn’t work out. We generally like to stay in a centrally located place that we can walk or easily take public transport to get to where we want to go. Traveling as a family means some of us need more down time than others. It’s nice for my husband or I to be able to head back out one-at-a-time during naps, or after bedtime, while the other holds down the fort. Being in the middle of it makes that easy.
Every so often we aren’t able to find a place to stay, in a location we would prefer. When this happens we’ll research areas nearby that might be a little off-the-beaten-path, but still have something to offer, and are accessible by public transit. The silver lining is that we get a taste of an additional area, that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. We stayed in the town of Zaandam, just outside of Amsterdam. With its own canals and Dutch charm, and a 10 minute train ride in to the city. It was well-worth the cost savings.
Read the rules and note from the host. Scrutinize the photos. Check amenities and the reviews. This is where you get into the gritty details. Once you’ve eyeballed a few places, click on the highest rated one first. Generally, I don’t like to go below 4.7 stars and this usually isn’t hard these days. Then, check the rules to make sure that the property doesn’t prohibit children or infants. Some do. I totally respect that. I don’t want to bring my children into a not kid-friendly environment, and I appreciate the heads up. On the flip side, some properties will be listed as “good for families”, which always catches my eye.
Next, look at the photos. For me, this is the fun part. It’s tempting to window shop through photos, but you’ll find this wastes time in the long run if you discover a property isn’t suited to you anyway. It’s better to wait until you know it’s in your realm of possibility. Make sure you squint through any shiny photo filters, or strategically placed props (that plate of donuts on the bed will not actually be there when you wake up in the morning). You do not want to arrive in a place and realize you’ve been fooled.
Then I check amenities. We’ve already set our filters to include the necessaries, but this is where you’ll be able to weigh the pros and cons of one property, over another. This step is especially important for traveling families with little kids and babies. Hosts will list things like infant crib and high chair in the amenities. We’ll generally always choose a place with a washing machine, over a place without one. Our kids are at little messy ages and one of them tends to throw up in the car on road trips. A washing machine can turn into a major bonus. Plus, you might discover the rental comes with a fun perk, like a sauna, bikes, kids toys, or playground!
Lastly, you already have an idea of the reviews through the rating you eyeballed before clicking on the property, but it’s time to skim through them. If there are consistencies in complaints, that might be a red flag. However, my favorite part of reading the reviews is to discover what other travelers have recommended or, noted about the property and area nearby. It’s a great way to get a feel for the location and you’ll often get insider info that might not already be listed in the property details.
Look for Superhosts and Airbnb Plus rentals. Superhosts are highly rated, experienced hosts. You can generally trust that your stay at their place will be a good one. Airbnb Plus have been inspected and recommended by Airbnb for their quality, attention to detail, and hospitality. AND they also have special listings for family stays.
Book! Weigh your pros and cons. You know what’s most important to you. Then make that reservation. There “instant book” options, where you can instantly pay for, and make your reservation. There are also “request to book” options, where your reservation request is sent to the host and they have 24 hours to approve, or deny, your request. Once approved, your payment is processed automatically, and the reservation is made. These options are set by the property owners, but you can add “instant book” in the filters if you prefer.
Read the payment options and cancellation policies before booking. They vary across the board and you don’t want to be caught off guard if you’re locked in and need more flexibility.
Get ready to go! You’ll be prompted to send the owner a message after you book. Ask your questions, or make any requests (“Hi, I see your property is highly rated by families, are you by chance able to provide an infant travel crib?”). You’ll likely get a few specific check-in details, like the exact address, parking details, and whether, or not, the owner will meet you at the property when you arrive, in the reservation confirmation. But often the owner will wait until the day of check-in to send access codes to the door and lock box for keys. Right now, most places are set up for contactless check-in/out. It will be interesting to see if this sticks post-pandemic. Honestly, it’s less fuss anyway. The Airbnb app has a messaging feature, so you can easily be in touch with the owner. If they prefer another mode of communication, they’ll let you know.
Language barriers aren’t a problem, as the website offers instant translation.
If you’re a seasoned Airbnb/vacation rental traveler, what are some of your tips for making sure you pick a winner? Share them with us below! If you’re a first-timer, or hesitant, let me encourage you! Maybe it’s practice, but I feel like the process for checking in and out, as well as communicating with your host, has improved over the past few years. The listings of properties only continue to grow and compete, raising standards across the board. Airbnb is relatively new in the game, but they’re constantly improving. This is in no way an advertisement for Airbnb. You can also try booking.com or another vacation rental site and apply these five steps to choosing the best vacation rental for your next family vacation!