Traveling as a family of five is a whole new ballgame. We have officially outgrown the days of grabbing a cheap hotel room, and officially need more space even for a quick weekend getaway.
Interested in Airbnb? Sign up using my referral link in this post and you’ll get $40 in travel credit! I’ll get a credit after you complete your first trip, too. Win win!
We’ve stayed at some of the chain hotels that offer suites, but the best kept secret I had no idea about is Airbnb. We’ve recently had an awesome Airbnb experience that I can’t wait to share with you, but first, some thoughts on Airbnb safety because I know I was a big skeptic.
There are so many amazing positives about Airbnb, but the risks cannot be overlooked. Read this cautionary tale and learn what NOT to do when you’re staying at an Airbnb and how hosts and guests can make Airbnb safety a priority.
Our first time using Airbnb was for a trip last Spring when my daughter needed specialized medical treatment for selective mutism only available in New York City. We’re from Texas, and I know things are more expensive in NYC. But holy cow, hotel prices were a shocker. Suites with enough room for us in the area we needed to be were nearly $500/night. Ouch.
We were going to be in NYC for a week, and my sister was joining us to help care for the younger kids during our therapy sessions. When I started adding up the cost of two hotel rooms plus eating out for three meals a day for three adults and two children things shot up fast. There would be no way we could afford it.
I took a Facebook poll about experiences with Airbnb and received and overwhelming positive response. I decided it was worth a try so I started looking for apartments in midtown Manhattan.
I found an awesome three-bedroom apartment just a few blocks from the office where my daughter would be in therapy every day. The price was a steal at $250/night.
This apartment did not have any reviews, but the host did have other properties in Europe that had great reviews. I messaged with the host about a few things, felt comfortable with his answers, and booked the apartment for the week.
Real Life vs Online
We arrived in New York City, and received a text to meet on the corner in front of a church and wait for someone to meet us with the key. With Airbnb, you don’t know the actual address of the property you’re renting until the day of your reservation which is a little strange, but it worked out.
Someone met us, took us up to the apartment, and they were still cleaning it. It was a bit annoying, but I’d rather have a clean apartment so we dealt with it. The apartment itself was fantastic, though not exactly what was advertised.
It was listed as a three-bedroom apartment, but there were actually only two bedrooms. There was one extra bed in a little hallway and another bed in the living room, so we ended up with plenty of room, but the lack of a third bedroom was a surprise.
Besides that, the apartment was clean, well-stocked, huge even for our Texas standards, and had a great location. It was up three flights of stairs with no elevator which wasn’t disclosed on the listing either. We made it work, but carrying a baby, a toddler, a stroller, and all of our gear up and down was quite the adventure.
Where Things Got Fishy
Our stay was uneventful until the day before we left when I got a text from the owner about the checkout time. One of the questions I had asked before booking was about checking out late. My daughter had therapy on the last day of our trip, and then we were catching a 6 p.m. flight so we planned to leave at 3 p.m.
Pre-booking, the host said that was no problem, but the day before checkout he said we needed to be out by 10 a.m. because another family was checking in early that day.
I was pretty upset because obviously we had no place to go with all of our luggage and babies in the middle of Manhattan. I reminded him of the conversation we had. After a lot of back and forth he told me we could pay $200 extra and stay until 3. I was desperate so I said OK, but then he told me to leave a check at the apartment when we left.
I knew that Airbnb has a policy that all payments should go through Airbnb. When I told him I would only pay through Airbnb he got agitated, and so did I. I ended up emailing Airbnb through their Resolution Center to help settle the dispute. When I informed the host that I was pulling in Airbnb, he immediately gave up and said we didn’t need to pay and we could stay until 3 p.m.
While our first Airbnb experience wasn’t completely seamless, I realized that many of my frustrations could have been avoided. Airbnb says this about their network of rental listings:
Booking an Airbnb definitely requires trust in the system and the host. The system is proven to work, but following the system is key.
Airbnb has guidelines in place aimed to keep hosts and guests safe through the whole process from start to finish.
Before booking any location, I recommend the following:
- Communicate with hosts only via Airbnb. When all communication is within the Airbnb framework, you’ll have a paper trail that is easily accessed should a dispute ever arise.
- Look at the photos with a discerning eye. Hosts are obviously putting their best foot forward in their photos. But verify that the information in the listing matches what you’re seeing. We rented a beach house last summer and realized that what we thought was a spacious beach house was really a tiny house. The photos showed a living room, dining table, and kitchen, but we didn’t realize that the living room had to be cleared out for the dining table to be set up. Talk about false advertising!
- Ask questions. Most misconceptions and misunderstandings can be cleared up by asking questions beforehand. Ask questions about everything from the location, the layout, check-in/check out, special circumstances, and anything else ambiguous in the listing.
- Don’t book a listing without reviews. I know there has to be someone that takes a chance and books a new listing- but don’t let that be you! I took a chance on our NYC listing, but it could have been much worse. Now 8 months later, that listing has a slew of negative reviews confirming the poor communication and shady practices of the host. You can always expect a disgruntled review or two, but I look for listings with an overall positive vibe.
- Handle all payments only through Airbnb. Never make any payments outside of Airbnb. You will no longer be protected by Airbnb, and have no recourse should something go wrong.
Airbnb Is Doing Its Part
I had no idea Airbnb did so much to protect its guests and hosts, but after reading about all they do, I feel even better about booking with them! Some things I didn’t know:
- Every Airbnb reservation is scored for risk before it’s confirmed. They use predictive analytics and machine learning to instantly evaluate hundreds of signals that help them flag and investigate suspicious activity before it happens.
- While no screening system is perfect, globally they run hosts and guests against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watchlists. For hosts and guests in the United States, they also conduct background checks.
- Airbnb routinely runs safety workshops with hosts and leading local experts and provide hosts with online safety cards with important local information for their guests. Hosts can also request a free smoke and carbon monoxide detector for their home.
- Their secure platform ensures your money gets to the host—that’s why they ask you to always pay through Airbnb and never wire money or pay someone directly.
- As long as you stay on Airbnb throughout the entire process—from communication, to booking, to payment—you’re protected by their multi-layer defense strategy.
The Only Problem With Airbnb
Now that you see that booking with Airbnb can be a safe and trustworthy way to travel, there’s only one problem- deciding where to go next! Book your next stay using my referral link here.
If you have a favorite Airbnb location and host, share the love in the comments. They just might be my next stop!