Two years ago, on my first solo adventure, I opted for a combination of planning and improvisation. The extent of my planning was to purchase tickets to three Shakespeare plays and a lecture at the Globe Theater in London; a three-day stay at Hever Castle in Hever, Kent for when my mom joined me; and a three-day stay at Disneyland Paris/Half-Marathon package. For my first lodgings, I went with what I knew, a hotel, the Hyatt Place in Hayes, London. I think of hotels as relatively safe, a place where I could hide when I felt like hiding, fade into the scenery as needed, recharge my introverted batteries.
I didn’t, however, know where I was heading next. I was considering but was relatively nervous about Airbnb, having read an article about a young man whose host had locked him into the apartment, refusing to let him leave. Even though I had done my research on Airbnb, learning its history, familiarizing myself with its policies, and reading people’s stories of the wonders of Airbnb, the one horror story I read made me anxious. Leave it to me to focus on the negative.
The paranoia I felt had me being extra careful in choosing my first Airbnb experience.
Nearly two years later and I’m here to share with you the four steps I used to successfully reserve my first Airbnb. Indeed, these steps have worked for me ever since in successfully reserving ten additional Airbnbs in both the UK and the US (I will tell you about some of these soon).
Step One: Importance of Activities and Scenery
When I am visiting a place for the first time, there is usually something I have in mind, something I want to do or something I want to see.
Do I want to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe in London, run a beach-side trail on the English coast, stay on a horse farm, have a water-front view, visit with a friend in Northampton, attend a Jane Austen Festival in Bath, see where William Wordsworth wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” in The Lake District, shop and dine in historic St. Augustine, or stay in a Yurt in Central Florida?
For my first Airbnb in August 2016, I wanted to visit with The Doctor at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, Wales.
Using this destination in mind, let’s see what happens now when I type in Cardiff Bay, Cardiff in the Airbnb search engine… looks like it currently elicits 126 offerings.
Whatever you are interested in doing or seeing, I bet there is an Airbnb nearby. Type in the area you are seeking to see the possibilities.
Step Two: Set Your Dates
Before going any further with my search, I need to enter my dates.
69 rentals are currently available for August 12-August 18, the same date range I had stayed in Cardiff Bay nearly two years ago.
There is little sense in researching and going through all the steps for places unavailable to you when you need them. Weed these out.
Step Three: Choosing Home Type (or making friends and being influenced by people)
Solo travel can be a great way to meet people. As I mentioned in my post about Cabs and Uber, I interact beautifully, comfortably, with smaller groups. Because I have difficulty meeting people in the typical meeting places like bars/pubs and gyms, I opt to stay with my host(s).
Under the “Home Type” tab, I have two choices, “Private Room” and “Entire Place.” I choose “Private Room.”
I have now narrowed my search to 43 homes in Cardiff Bay.
Staying with a host offers you interaction with someone who knows the area and can give you recommendations about what to see and do during your stay. If you enjoy wandering around on your own but like having someone to chat with when you get up in the morning and someone there when you come home in the evening after a day of sight-seeing, definitely choose “Private Room.”
Step Four: Narrowing Your Search Further (or Location, Location, Location)
If you are solo traveling like myself and afraid of driving on the left-hand side of the road (UK traveling for instance), then you want to stay somewhere relatively close to public transportation.
Dayle’s place, “Cardiff Bay. Views across the waterfront and city” is available, is a private room in an apartment, comes complete with the gorgeous views of the Quay, and seems to be close to both The Doctor Who Experience (less than a mile) and the train station (about a mile).
Having a map with train routes open can help you gauge how close your Airbnb might be to the train station (or bus stop/station). This will help you narrow your search. If you prefer walking, then staying too far from transportation will necessitate a complex combination of buses and trains or lengthy cab/uber rides instead.
If you also want to be close to the activity/scenery that drew you to this area in the first place (step one), be sure to check the proximity of the Airbnb to this place as well.
Step Five: Check the reviews
I have a hard time believing all the horror stories I have since read about Airbnbs…bugs, hot room temperatures, cleanliness…seems to me reading the reviews would fix this?
I never choose a brand new Airbnb–one with no reviews. I’m adventurous, but I’m also cautious. Let someone else be your test subject, Mr/Ms Airbnb Host, I’ll wait.
Uh oh, Dayle’s place is a new place, so no reviews.
Looks like Dayle has reviews from other properties on Airbnb, so you could always check those out.
Or…if you’re feeling adventurous and ready to throw caution to the wind, try Dayle’s place without reading any reviews at all. Let me know how that goes. 🙂
Special Trick: Reviews can also be useful for gauging location of Airbnb to public transportation. While you can not know the exact address of an Airbnb until after you have reserved it, often people mention such detail in their reviews.
Airbnb, please and thank you very much
I finally settled on a listing, the “Friendly and Luxury Bay View” apartment, hosted by Nathan in Cardiff Bay but only after having read through Nathan’s reviews. I was unsure about staying in a place alone with a man but Nathan had 28 reviews, six of the reviews mentioned how close The Doctor Who Experience is to Nathan’s apartment and, more importantly to my nervous disposition, three reviews mentioned Nathan’s partner, Melissa. I felt more comfortable knowing how close my chosen activity would be and that I would not be alone with my host. Both helped me take the plunge.
You can read about the tiny transportation issue I encountered once I arrived in Cardiff Bay here:
Cardiff Bay: Come Here for The Doctor, Stay for the Natural Remedies.
Nothing an inexpensive cab ride to the Airbnb didn’t solve and a great time ultimately had, all thanks to Airbnb.
And here’s an added bonus, remember Nathan’s partner Melissa? Well, as fate would have it, like me, Melissa was a teacher, too, and she was off for the summer. While Nathan was at work, Melissa and I spent hours watching the 2016 Summer Olympics. She taught me about Dressage and had me rooting for the Brits (Usain Bolt was pretty terrific).
And the stories she told me about her colleagues/administration and her students/their parents had me laughing until…well, I was laughing a lot. Seriously, she cracked me up but also made me realize how experiences in education are the same whether in the UK or the US, whether an elementary school teacher or a college professor.
Sadly, Nathan’s place is no longer an active listing on Airbnb and The Doctor Who Experience is now closed.
Awww, you’re sweet to worry, but fret not, I can still keep in touch with Melissa as we are now Facebook friends.
As for Doctor Who, you can still catch a Dr. Who tour as both Torchwood and Dr. Who have been shot in Cardiff Bay. In addition, the Wales Millennium Centre and Mermaid Quay as well as nearby St. Fagans make the visit to Cardiff Bay well worth the trip. Hey, I just might join you!
Have you had horror stories with Airbnb? Do you prefer staying with your host or having a place to yourself? Do you have a similar process or perhaps have tips for me? I’m open to adjusting my five steps.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.