The AirBnb experience: what makes a magical space

From London to Lisbon, Saigon to Saumur: the best AirBnb properties offer the sort of experiential living hotel chains can but dream of.

There’s a moment of trepidation that ought to be familiar to anyone who’s ever used AirBnb to book holiday accommodation. You’ve filtered, analysed and scrutinised the selection of properties for your vacation dates. You’ve conversed with your travel partner(s). You’ve contacted the host – and, now, you’ve clicked the “book” button.

Cue: panic. What if they’re a kidnapper? A psychopath? What if all the reviews are fake, and you’re set to spend a miserable fortnight holed up in some horrid hostel?

Modern Traveller knows those feelings well – as well as the relief, turned joy, turned downright ecstasy provided by the properly perfect properties which reside on AirBnb.

Certainly, there are less-than-great options on there, and it’s no easy task sifting through comments from reviewers who accept a squat as par for the course, and class a couple of cushions strewn on a concrete floor as “comfortable sleeping conditions“.

But, more often than you might imagine, one can unearth a true jewel, a haven of cleanliness, comfort and culture, sitting alongside every other listing, just waiting for you to click that big red button.

It’s tough to say what makes the perfect listing, mind. Sure, a beautifully luxurious four-poster can put you in a good mood, and a magnificent morning view is no bad way to start your faraway day.

As ever, though, there’s no accounting for taste – and wallpaper preferences continue to astound MT across the globe. So, too, location: what is “local” for some is back-street bedlam for others.

So, is there a single metric by which a prospective booker can measure the majesty of an AirBnb apartment? Well, the approach of the host goes a long way. AirBnb doles out nifty “Superhost” badges to those who go above and beyond, and that tends to be a fairly foolproof measure.

But there are non-Super super-hosts out there: MT has spent many a blissful day and night in apartments reviewed just a handful of times. Tellingly, each one of those reviewers was at pains to emphasise just how excellent the host was.

Like a well-written novel, the perfect AirBnb experience feels effortless: whether joining a family dinner in the host’s converted Loire Valley barn, or being greeted by a bottle of wine and an info pack to rival Rough Guides in Lisbon, superb service often seals the deal – and that’s down to the host.

Unfortunately, AirBnb guests are largely encouraged to rate the property itself, rather than the host – and any feedback in the comments is a result of guest proactivity.

What’s more, while listings do have star ratings, they’re a product of several criteria, and certainly can’t tell you exactly which property will have the ‘wow’ factor for your particular trip.

What, then, is one to do? As awfully obvious as it might sound, make the most of AirBnb’s integrated contact system. Whilst certain properties do offer instant booking, MT encourages you to always reach out before you shell out.

Of course, the effort a host expels on their property description can tell you a lot: “two beds; nice rooms; can use the fridge” somewhat pales in comparison to “a pair of recently renovated attic bedrooms, complete with cool, clean en-suite bathrooms. Access to the refrigerator is permitted, and a selection of local produce will be available for lunch on most days.”

Nevertheless, there’s no substitute for starting a conversation with your would-be landlord: be honest, open and chatty – and see how they respond. It’s amazing how much you can learn from the enthusiasm, helpfulness and happiness of a host, even in 200 characters.

Better still, express the purpose of your trip, and see what they have to say. If you’re heading to Copenhagen for a concert, or Rome for a romantic weekend, let them know. With whom would you rather stay – the host who types “sure, you’re welcome“, or the one who enthuses “wonderful! I’m sure you’ll love it here – I have plenty of suggestions, and can help you with bookings and how to get around.”

OK, so this still isn’t infallible. There remains every reason to study the snaps on the site, as well as the map, the comments and the price. But, if it’s a dead-heat between two supposedly stellar places, it should always be the owner’s attitude that tips the scales.


WORDS BY CHRIS ROWLANDS | IMAGES COURTESY OF AIRBNB, INC.

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