Airbnb has been the subject of many debates from the major conglomerates that are annoyed that their profits are deflating to local policy makers who see it as the culprit for inflated rental costs within the communities.

And then there are the travellers who love it.

Airbnb does its best to provide home-like, peer-to-peer, short-term accommodations and rentals for travellers. It is advertised as a more "budget friendly" option to hotels but its services do not much resemble anything close to a hotel. It's a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Or Lyft to a limo.

As one of the many pioneering companies of the sharing economy Airbnb allows for those with the extra space or supplementary properties to earn an income while testing the waters as amateurs in the hospitality biz.  It's a match made in heaven - people with cool houses have the space and you want to stay in cool spaces.

With curated access both on and offline to unique accommodations worldwide, it satisfies all of your voyeuristic needs almost immediately. When the right conditions are met, you can book quite simply with the click of your mouse or a tap on the app.

Ever wanted to sleep on a sailboat in Seattle? Airbnb can make that happen. Do you dream of dozing off amidst billowing canopies in a Pinterest-perfect treehouse in Tuscany? Consider it done. There are even glamping options galore!

That being said, booking your first 'bnb can be a bit overwhelming so there a few things that first-timers should note before forging ahead. We have compiled what we deem to be, the 20 most important things to note here:

20 1. You Might Be Talking To A Bot

No one likes a bot. When you uncover that you've been interacting with one, it can feel like a violation of the worst kind! It's important to snoop around for clues that may indicate you've been spammed from the get-go to avoid disappointment.

Firstly, if there are zero reviews it's a red flag across the board so that makes the process of elimination easy enough.  Secondly, if you see there are only 2 or 3 pictures that look like they were screenshots from a real estate listing or are fuzzy and strange, this should set off sirens. Automated messages that seem odd or are sent in triplicates can be screaming, hey this isn't a real deal person, keep moving!

19 2. Asking For What You Need Before Booking is a Good Idea

Alternately titled: Don't be shy!

Standards vary so let's get specific. After all, you are going to be staying a stranger's home, it doesn't get much more intimate than that so you may as well know exactly what to expect.

Don't forget that you will be navigating and coordinating with this person on a number of things like arrival time, key drop and simple stuff like where do you keep the spoons? Honest and direct communication is a great place to start from the get-go.

Please keep in mind that Airbnb likes to advertise itself as a cheaper alternative to hotels but it is by no means a hotel. So, your host may not tick all of your boxes and that can be a bummer. Knowing what your non-negotiables are before you start your search will help you to avoid wasting time with incompatible options.

18 3. Superhosts Are A Safe Bet But They're not Super Human

Airbnb has hopped on the band-wagon with most other social platforms and awarded some hosts with the 'superhost' badge once they have achieved a certain level of 'targets.'

All superhosts will have hosted at least 10 trips, maintained at least a 90% response rate with 80% of them being 5-star reviews and confirmed all reservations without cancelling.

To be fair, these are some lofty metrics which can make superhosts a natural choice for a newbie but there are plenty of awesome hosts out there that don't don this badge of honour and that's okay too. While it's nice to know that a host is reliable, if you are sharing a communal space (like the kitchen!) the chemistry, natural flow of messages and written reviews can be more telling about your compatibility.

17 4. Have a Plan B

Speaking of reliability, know that a host can cancel your booking right up until the very day with little to no warning. While it will generate a notice on their page to let future guests know (and potentially avoid the same fate) it doesn't leave you in an optimal position when its done last minute. No matter how sure it seems, always have a plan b lined up.

Whether it's messaging a few other hosts to take the temperature or scoping out your top choice hostel just in case, it can be a whole lot better to do this legwork up front than scrambling at the last minute.

16 5. It's Not Always Cheap or Convenient

Airbnb has done a fantastic job of branding the service as a cheaper, more convenient option for bookings but it's not always the case. You will notice when perusing the many listings at your disposal that the daily rate looks pretty good until you adjust a few details and see that tab quickly growing!

Some hosts increase the rate by nearly double for additional people even when the listing is advertising double occupancy - the rate only changes when you manually add them in. Then tack on the service fee and cleaning fee and you can find yourself feeling a bit bamboozled by the math. Remember that your hosts can decide their pricing as they see fit and there's no real barometer.

So if you're a stickler for precision and pricing transparency, you might be better off booking a hotel / hostel.

15 6. Instant Book Can Be a Lifesaver

Travelling for a while can be a bit overwhelming and sometimes we would prefer to wing it after a series of weeks orchestrating tedious details. If you're in a pinch and waited too long to make your booking in advance, take note of the 'instant book' profiles which don't require any back and forth in order to secure your stay.

Usually, these hosts are experienced and have their homes set up for independent check in with keyless entry or other expedient amenities which can be a lifesaver when you're in a bind. Look for the lightning bolt symbol on profiles and proceed to payment. Click! You've now got a place to crash.

14 7. Reviews Are Key

Both the reviews you write for others as well as the reviews written about you will appear on your profile for potential hosts to view when deciding on whether to accept your booking. Keep that in mind but don't let it be a deterrent to tell the truth about a stay either.

As long as your feedback is honest and not salacious, it can help hosts understand any gaps they might have and ensure some semblance of compatibility between hosts and guests. As we mentioned, the majority of hosts are amateurs so don't rate on a five-star hotel scale, be reasonable as you would expect any hosts reviewing you to be.

Airbnb is currently facing a deficit in the way of true-blue reviews because many people feel it's too awkward to be critical. However, if every venue is listed as 'amazing!' then it saturates the service and makes it difficult to distinguish the really good properties from the rest.

13 8. Not All Cancellations Are Created Equally

It's important to remember that plans can, and often do, change so finding a host that suits your required flexibility can be key. The cancellation options available to hosts to select from by Airbnb ranges from flexible all the way to super strict (30 versus 60 days). That being said, keep in mind that while flexible means you get a full refund within the stated period, Airbnb fees are only refunded up to 3 times per year. So if you're changing your fourth stay, that fee will stay in the pocket of Airbnb.

As with any service you are using for the first time, it helps to read the fine print.

12 9. Flexible Searches Are Your Friend

The whole idea of Airbnb is accessible and quick bookings that suit your travel style but admittedly, the search function is a little bunk. Often times by selecting a narrow date in the filters you are limited from a whole heap of properties that may be available if you depart a day earlier.

It can help to start by casting a wide net and even personally messaging hosts in case they have some flexibility or alternative properties similar to the one you are eyeing.  Also, if you have selected certain 'perks' just for fun like a hot tub, well it will considerably affect your results. Try opting for the bare minimum to start.

11 1o. You'll Probably Have One Bad Experience

There are so many great things about peer-to-peer service sharing that it often outweighs that crummy experience you had that one time. It's true that you could clash with the host on certain things or perhaps leave with expectations unmet (what do you mean there's no coffee, Donna?!) and probably chalk it up to win some, lose some.

However you should never ever accept conditions that feel unsafe or put you in any kind of uncomfortable position. There are a number of people who have sworn off the service because hosts have asked them to 'be discreet' upon check-in to avoid a penalty that goes against their landlord's rules or have discovered other 'pests' upon arrival.

Accepting an Airbnb is supposed to be an enriching experience so while being open-minded will be crucial to your enjoyment, it doesn't mean sacrificing basic decency. Which brings us to our next point...

10 11. Airbnb Has a Resolution Team

To quote the Osmonds, let's not let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, girl!

If you have stumbled across an unsavoury accommodation you have 24 hours to officially launch a complaint with Airbnb's resolution team who will either refund your stay or find you a better option.

There are some stipulations to this and Airbnb will require that you've either tried to resolve with the host directly first and/or can provide photo evidence of any lacking advertised amenities. If you are being treated rudely and it's not documented on your account (via messages) they can call it a he said/she said situation and air on the side of supporting the host (who ultimately makes them money).

This host bias has also been considered a source of angst for disgruntled guests but we'll get to that a little later.

9 12. Imply Nothing.

If it's not listed on the profile, it's probably not included. If they say that their location is 'a few minutes by car' from the train station, clarify what they mean by a few, is it 10 or more like 30? This can make a big difference if you arrive really late at night or are planning to commute to surrounding areas. If you're not sure whether the bathroom is shared or private - ask! Part of the fun of travel is experiencing how other cultures / people live but this can also mean a discrepancy in standards.

Things that would seem obvious to you, may not be so obvious to this host. On the flip-side, by asking it gives them insight into what their guests need and can lead to a better offering. Win-win!

8 13. ALWAYS Read the house rules

This a key indicator to the type of host you are encountering and can help you to narrow down your search almost at once.

Do they have a million rules about folding the linens, does the paragraph start with 'read this first or don't bother messaging me' or other patronizing/unwarranted passive aggressive language? Do they sound scorned and paranoid? This list can go on...

Most hosts will have 'no smoking, no parties' as a standard but we've seen everything from 'absolutely no fingerprints on the cupboards' to ALL CAPS DOs AND DON'Ts that showcase their crazy side.

To be fair, it can totally be frustrating (for both parties) if rules are accidentally broken because this section wasn't thoroughly reviewed. So do yourself a favour and have a look.


Stop talking yourself into that booking - stop it right now!

If something seems too good to be true, or alternatively, a little sketchy it probably is. Is it too cheap for the location? Are there 3 of the same reviews seemingly copy and pasted under the different names? Do you just have a vibe and are having a hard time clicking 'instant book'?

It can be easy to rationalize this as being inexperienced with the platform but if you talk yourself into something that seems 'off' you'll be kicking yourself later when it turns out that you were right. There are plenty of options if you give yourself some time, so there's no need to rush into a potentially brutal booking.

6 15. Poor Response Time is Always a Red Flag

If you sign up to host on Airbnb with a shred of commitment it means that you acknowledge that your phone is going to be going off with messages from curious and needy strangers at all times. It's so true that it should be the official 'host recruiting' slogan or a bullet point in the User Agreement.

But, alas, no one is going to give them the boot from the service simply if they are a poor communicator so there are plenty of hosts on Airbnb who can and will ghost on you at various stages of your interactions with them. If this happens at the start count your blessings and move on to another option. There can be nothing worse than being in a foreign place and relying on someone who is complacent, indifferent or distracted. It can make the difference between a good and bad stay, so it's best to steer clear.

5 16. Compare Cleaning Fees

It's a sneaky charge that you wouldn't necessarily notice until you are in the midst of processing your payment and see that the bill has jumped up. It isn't mandatory that hosts incur a charge but it mostly helps to ensure longer stays and covers any accidents. It can seem a bit rude if you are by all accounts a tidy guest and it's not regulated all that much so hosts can charge pretty much whatever they see as fair.

Do yourself a favour and compare the fee with a few other properties before accepting it as 'standard.' Remember, that this is meant to be a fairer alternative to using a more mainstream option, if it becomes cost prohibitive, it totally defeats the purpose altogether.

4 17. Use A Referral Code

An excellent benefit to signing up with Airbnb is you get hooked up with a discount by using a friend's referral link. It's not a huge amount at less than $40 for you, but the karma points kick butt since they will rack up $23 for every person who uses their link.

Sometimes Airbnb will have promotions too, so it can help to do a quick google for codes on the interwebs before booking for first stay - however medial, it can lead to a couple of free coffees while you're away and that's always an added bonus.

3 18. Be a Sleuth With Photos

If you're flicking through photos on your latest find on the Airbnb app and you notice that there are limited photos or some missing of the kitchen and/or bathroom this can be worth investigating further. Check to make sure that you understand whether it's an independent home or shared living space where you will be living communally.

Make sure you're okay with the outcome and ask for additional photos if you feel it's necessary! The worst a host can say is no. If the photos seem overly 'stock image-y,' are taken at odd angles, or are even just plain bad photos of their place, see this is reason enough to move on. If they aren't willing to put the effort in to showcase their apartment to make money, they likely won't make much more effort once they already have yours.

2 19. Always Research the Neighbourhood

This is an especially key point for our solo travellers in the house! If you happen to know friends or family who have visited the place you plan to stay, it can be helpful to narrow in on their recommendations for neighbourhoods to stay in. If you're staying in a suburb to cut costs, it can be less than ideal to be missioning around late at night and end up being cheaper to stay in an accessible spot. More walking = less money wasted on cabs.

Take into consideration when asking your host questions that while they might truly love their neighbourhood, it may not be what you're after and that's okay.

1 20. Airbnb is the Intermediary

It can be tempting to consider the people at Airbnb as your safety net if something happens like a disagreement with your host, or any other slew of unforeseen issues that can come up when interacting with strangers in intimate circumstances.

The truth is that they tend to side with the hosts when possible since they are the ones who pay their bills. Since Airbnb takes a percentage of the host's earnings, Airbnb is really servicing the host before they service you - they are the intermediary for your host. On the whole, their reputation is pretty hit or miss when it comes to rectifying guest complaints so consider this grey area part and parcel of the risk with using this peer-to-peer service.