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How to Tell if Your Airbnb Host is a Cult Leader and Other Vital Lessons in Rentals

In the past year alone, Mike and I have stayed in a whopping 45 Airbnb rental units. Trust us–we’ve seen it all. From the good–when a host in Lincoln City, Oregon treated us to a Dungeness crab fishing expedition, and even cooked the crabs for us at no extra charge, to the bad–when an AWOL host accidentally sent another guest our room code info and we were awakened in the middle of the night by a man standing in our doorway, insisting that we were sleeping in “his room.” Yep, that was the worst.

Well, there actually was another time when we stayed with a couple in rural Washington who maybe (definitely) were cult leaders of some sort. Pro tip: If a rental’s description includes information about other homes and residents that sit on “the compound,” maybe rethink it! You may just end up sharing a home with a self-professed guru who makes a bit TOO much eye contact when he talks to you, if you catch my drift…

But bizarre outliers aside, we have truly found Airbnb to be a fundamental tool that has allowed us to thrive as digital nomads.

Now, don’t get us wrong, we love to camp in our converted Transit Connect van as much as possible, however, we do have to find quiet, comfortable spots to get in our work time. This means that about 5 days a week we will book an Airbnb. And, because we rely so heavily on the site, we’ve become pretty, damn good at weeding out the bad apples. Here’s how you can do it, too:

Consider your budget

Of course, everyone wants total and complete privacy while they travel, but we’ve found that renting entire homes on a regular basis is, sadly, cost-prohibitive to us at this point. That’s why, more often than not, we select the ‘Private Room’ option.

Airbnb
Image via Airbnb

By renting a private room in a shared home, we’ve been able to keep our accommodation budget down to well under 50 bucks/day through North America and parts of Asia.

At first, we were a bit nervous about sharing a house with a complete stranger, but we’ve actually found the experience to be, by in large, a warm and fuzzy one. Most nights, you can find us chatting it up with our host, sharing a glass of wine or having dinner. We’ve met so many wonderful people, some of whom we still keep in touch with long past check-out time.

 

Select your host wisely

One of the things that I feel Airbnb does best as a company is that it requires each and every user to write detailed reviews, whether they’re the host or the guest. Of course, this is not a perfect system by any means–reviewers are often a little too nice.

Having said that, there are some surefire ways to ensure that your host and their home are a good fit for you…

  1. Check for the ‘Superhost’ seal

Airbnb
Image Credit: Airbnb

Airbnb only awards the Superhost title to the best of the bunch. We’ve found that these folks generally run their homes like proper BnBs. Many leave detailed guidebooks and some will even provide breakfast and snacks. Bonus!

  1. Check the review count

Airbnb
Image Credit: Airbnb

While there’s nothing wrong with newer Airbnb hosts, I tend to feel most comfortable with ones who have had quite a bit of experience with the site. Unless we’re totally desperate for accommodations, as a rule of thumb, we only stay with hosts who have at least 10 or more 5-star reviews. Call us high-maintenance, but we like to play it safe!

  1. Take a look at their cancellation record

Airbnb
Image Credit: Airbnb

One of the biggest downsides of using Airbnb is that hosts can cancel on guests at any time. It’s only happened to us in 2 out of our 45 rentals in the past year, but it can be unnerving. To safeguard yourself from this, do your due diligence and take a look at their cancellation record which appears as an automated message in the host’s ‘review’ section. If there are more than two in there, I would look into another option.

 

Confirm the location

We’ve stayed in all types of Airbnbs, from city flats to farmhouses, but the one thing that we always do is check the location and its surrounding neighborhood first. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, people are a bit skittish when it comes to giving an honest description of an area.

In the beginning, we had a couple of instances where, though the Airbnb was nice, the area was simply not safe. Now, I always take a look at Area Vibes if I’m unfamiliar with the town. This is an especially important step in Airbnbs, especially for those of us who travel with cars and valuables.

 

Parking and Transportation

In general, hosts do a pretty decent job of describing transportation options in their areas, as they are normally main selling points for the properties. Having said that, don’t rely on a vague “20-minute walk to the subway” claim. Instead, take a close look at the surrounding areas of the home. If it’s on a busy street or in a city center, you will want to ensure that the ‘Parking on Premises’ option is included. If you’re relying on public transportation or Uber, be sure that you have some options that work well for you before you book.

 

Stay in an RV

Some of our best and most cost-efficient experiences have been RV or trailer rentals in which hosts park an RV on their property and rent it out as their Airbnb. These tend to be just a tad bit more expensive than private rooms, but there is way more privacy, and usually a private kitchen and bathroom. What a deal!

Airbnb
Image Credit: Pxhere

Always stay in contact with Airbnb during your stay

If something–anything!–seems to be awry with either the listing or the host, don’t hesitate to call Airbnb.

There was one instance (the AWOL host that I described at the beginning of this post) that prompted me to make a phone call to the company, and I’m happy to say that they handled the situation extremely well. Long story short, even though the mix-up was entirely on the fault of the host, Airbnb offered us a full refund and was sure to make a detailed report to ensure that something like that wouldn’t happen in the future. I’ve also called them on various occasions when I’ve encountered glitches on the app, and each and every time, they’ve solved my problem almost immediately, and have even offered credits for my trouble.

Can’t beat stellar customer service and super rad rental options!

Airbnb
Image Credit: Airbnb

Let us know how you land the best Airbnbs! Are we missing anything? Do you have a nightmare rental story to share? Tell us in the comments section below.

Deanna is a freelance writer, editor, and educator currently contributing to the sites TipHero and The Dyrt.  She is a writer and editor here at Alt-Nomad and spends her time on the road in North America as a digital nomad.

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