In a few short years, vacation rental site Airbnb has become a major player in the travel accommodations world—and will soon book more rooms than some of the planet’s largest hotel brands. Travelers are opting for creative homestays in Parisian apartments and Portland yurts over the staid (and reliable) rooms available at traditional hotels.
There are many benefits of staying in Airbnb, from personal relationships forged with knowledgeable locals to more space for cooking and kicking back in a new city. There are also some downsides—awkwardness and horror stories.
Below, tips to help ensure your dream vacation doesn’t turn into a travel disaster:
Pick Up the Phone!
You can book Airbnb without ever messaging the host, but we recommend taking the extra time to contact him or her to set up a phone chat as an important safety precaution. A phone call first confirms that a host can be reached directly should anything happen during your stay, and also gives you a chance to ask questions and build a relationship before your arrival. If you can, set up a FaceTime or Skype call so you can actually see and hear the host—and confirm they are indeed who they say they are.
A good rule of thumb is to only stay with hosts with three or more positive reviews. Airbnb founder Brian Chesky has said that as many as 72 percent of guests leave a review for hosts and you’ll find the best hosts have dozens of reviews from happy guests.
Hosts can also read reviews on guests!
Check for Verified ID
Airbnb introduced Verified ID in 2013 to highlight those hosts that provide extra information when signing up. All verified hosts provide a photo ID to Airbnb to confirm they are indeed who they say they are. Hosts that make the extra effort are usually serious about creating a safe and enjoyable experience for their guests.
Check Out Their Social Channels
Not to sound like an overattached ex, but do some digging! Try to look up your host on Facebook and Instagram. Scoping out their online presence doesn’t by any means mean you know everything about them, but it does give you a better sence of who the host is, and confirm they are who they represent in their online profile.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Airbnb users often complain of last-minute cancellations. The best way to avoid being stuck without lodging is to locate a nearby hotel and call to see if it’s likely they’ll have a room on that night. If your host bails, at least you’ve already scoped out the alternative.