How to Airbnb - Part 1
Dennis Rettke
September 5, 2017

The first time we used Airbnb was in 2015. We only heard it through other people that we knew and that had used the service on their holidays. One of the main reasons they had used it (and one of the main ones we did for the first time too), was the amount of money that could be saved compared to staying at a hotel. This is especially so for large, popular cities, like New York and Paris, where "traditional" accommodation is very expensive. 

If you're reading this and considering using Airbnb for the first time, this may very well be one of the reasons you want to use it too. In fact, there may be several reasons why you want to use it and these may generate a number of questions too, like it did with us. When we first started to use Airbnb, we honestly did not know that much about it
and we are still learning things every time we check into a new property. A search on the Internet will not show you answers to some important questions you will want to consider, like how to identify what level of privacy you will get, or how the check in/out process works, and even when and where to use Airbnb for the best experience.
Because there are so many topics that could be covered here, we thought we will split it up into a few articles. This is the first part and we'll start off with the basics. It's great for people who are new to Airbnb, either thinking about using it or have stayed in one or two places and are still getting used to the format. In this part, we will discuss the following:

  • What to expect (and what not to expect) when staying in an Airbnb
  • How to locate the place you want to be
  • The differences between "entire apartment", "private room", and "shared room"

Keep in mind that all of this is from OUR experience. It is not a tutorial or instruction, but instead we are pointing out what we have learned and want to present to you, the reader and fellow traveler. We want to share this so that you can be better equipped and more confident in using Airbnb or any other similar service. 
What to expect (and not to expect) when staying in an Airbnb

The first thing to remember is that the concept of Airbnb is where people privately rent out a space that they own. Regardless of the type of space, it is NOT a hotel. 99% of them do not have a reception desk, dedicated travel center, tour desk, all that type of thing that you may be familiar with when staying at a hotel.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in general, every space has a distinctive style that reflects the owner's personality. For first time users (especially those that are using it to save money on a hotel), this can be uncomfortable. That's right, the bathroom will be like your bathroom at home, there will be decorations that you may or may not like, the AC/heating system will be subject to the owner's maintenance level, there will usually be locals around and not other travelers, the kitchen (if there is one) might be missing an item which you think is important, or on the other hand it might have something you've never thought of! What we're saying is not to expect a "hotel" standard. We don't mean to say it is low quality, it means that straight-line perfection is not guaranteed and you can expect a lack of refinement in details.
How to Airbnb Part 1 personality
Airbnb owners often let their personality flow into the space
Of course, for some of you, it is something you're already aware of and is one of the reasons you want to stay in an Airbnb. We can say from our experience that it is definitely one of the advantages over hotels, and that staying in a place where the owner's personality shines through can be inspiring and make it feel really homey. Having said that, there is an increasing amount of places that are geared towards investment. These are designed and kitted out more as you see in a hotel, and are becoming more common.
Initially it can take some getting some used to and it's important to identify which places will be "in tune" with your thoughts on a home as well as what you want to see on vacation. Ultimately, it is something to be aware of, especially for first time users. If you're expecting a hotel service, then you will likely be disappointed. 
How to locate the place you want to be

Location is a prime consideration when we are traveling. It goes deeper than what city or region to stay in, but also extends to exactly where in that particular place. As with any travel, whether you stay in a hotel or not, this is largely dependent on the purpose of your visit. If you're on business and in a city for a meeting, then proximity to the meeting place will be the focus. If you're looking for activities and tours, then you'll want to be in a place with good connections to these. Or, when you need some peace and quiet, then you'll be looking to be as far away from those previously mentioned things as possible!
This all goes for where you choose your Airbnb place. Now, with that in mind, remember the first point about the fact that Airbnb places are not hotels. Again this extends to what you'll see around. Keep in mind that you might be further away from amenities you are used to when staying in a hotel. The fundamental reason is that Airbnb homes are private and therefore usually in a residential area. Or they may be in an apartment close to, but not right in the centre of the city. 
​​There is another way to look at this. Unless you need to be in the middle of Times Square in New York, for example, this is an advantage. Remember that Airbnb are essentially 1 room hotels and with that, comes an immense amount of flexibility. This is particularly so when you like to be in a quiet area, or are looking to live in a place for a while to get inspiration. Think a quiet valley in the forest, or a quirky neighborhood that is not commercialized. 
How to Airbnb Part 1 Oregon Airbnb
Our latest Airbnb in Oregon was our own cabin on several acres.
There is no way we could have had the same experience in a hotel.
On a practical note, when browsing available homes, you will notice they never give you the exact location/address until you book it. This is for security of the host but it can be misleading for the traveler because it is up to the host to place the circle on the map. What we do is to use Google maps to check out the neighborhood and try to find the street by using cues in photos, the description and reviews. Also, it helps to study the reviews and see what others say about their experience. Was it quiet, were there loud neighbours, how close is it to a place of interest? Read what the host says too as they sometimes tell you how far it is to walk to a landmark, for example.
More importantly, it has to be located in an area you will feel comfortable and only you can determine that from your own experience. At the end of the day, don't be afraid to write to the host and ask them questions. Remember that the "decentralised" nature of the Airbnb place can be an advantage. It was one of the reasons that the whole concept was started - to live as a local. As people that are location independent, we truly value our own space and the inspiration that comes from being located in a nondescript locale.
The differences between "Entire apartment", "Private room", and "Shared room"​

This might seem obvious on the surface, but unfortunately the categorization of each property can be ambiguous and is determined by the owner's interpretation. The general concept is:

Entire apartment - Completely you own space, usually with bathroom, sleeping area and kitchen. 
Private room - Your own room, usually in the owner's house, but may be shared with other guests. Bathroom may be private or shared.
Shared room - Same as private room, except obviously you (may) share with another person.

For the most part, we are going to talk about "Entire apartment", because that is the one we primarily use and also noticed has the largest scope for... "imagination". We want to be clear from the outset - an "Entire apartment" is often shared inside, or part of, the owner's house. We have seen it take form as a large room with ensuite and a table with a basic kitchen setup through to entire multi-room cabins on large acreages all to ourselves.

Some owners can be sneaky and use the former setting and call it an "entire apartment", and we've also seen trailers/caravans and tents described as such. Or they might be in the basement or in the form of a studio apartment attached to the owner's house. Your detective skills really kick in when trying to determine what you will actually get. Studying the reviews, looking at photos and carefully reading the owner's description will give you clues as to the status of the property. If you're really not sure and you want to find out, then don't be afraid to contact the owner and ask them. If they have something to hide or are offended, then it's probably best you're not staying there!
Privacy is really important and that is why it can be disturbing to have the owners all around you. It really depends on the owner and how they've set up their Airbnb place. On a few occasions, we have been absolutely undisturbed by the owner, despite them being around. The reasons for this have included having your own private entry/exit, and the way the house is designed, to prevent noise and the general feeling of their presence. We have also been in a couple of "Private rooms" where we had our own entry/exit as well as the feeling of privacy. Therefore, the lines can sometimes be blurred and we wish Airbnb and other platforms made the owners be more specific in their descriptions.
Private rooms can be great for one or two night stops. The owner will usually make it clear as to the bathroom arrangements, including whether you will have your own designated bathroom or a shared one, where the bathroom is and if you can expect to see other guests. They will also let you know if you can use the kitchen and washing machine if they have one. Some will stay out of your way, while others prepare breakfast for you! Those arrangements are pretty flexible and usually up to you as the guest. In fact, sometimes the host is not there at all and you will share the space with other travelers. Overall, we have found it can be uncomfortable to share with a host or other guests for an extended period of time. More than two days and we recommend you look for your an "Entire apartment", especially as a couple.
Conclusion to Part 1

This is our introduction to how to use Airbnb. Very soon, we will publish Part II where we will cover the following topics:

  • How the check in/out process works
  • 5 mistakes to avoid
  • The weekly and monthly discounts
  • Wi-Fi, free parking, washing machine and other amenities

We look forward to presenting this next part for you and are sure that by sharing our knowledge, your Airbnb experience will be fantastic!