Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to choose a vacation rental or an AirBNB home

Since I booked my first vacation rental in Honolulu six or so years ago, I’ve become a fan of this type of accommodation. Online, I chanced upon a dreamy place in Waikiki that had plantation-style architecture and a partial view of the beach, and at $150 a night, it was a steal. I was a bit disconcerted upon arrival when I saw that work was being done in the hallway but when I stepped inside the unit, I was relieved to find the studio as I had imagined it to be—perhaps even
better, because the owners were thoughtful enough to leave a basket of Hawaii-made goodies on the table and stock up the cabinets with helpful guidebooks and DVDs of movies shot in Hawaii (50 First Dates!). When I opened the closet, there were foldable beach chairs, snorkeling gear, beach towels and toys—things you’ll most likely need if you were to spend a family holiday in Hawaii with kids in tow.

Since then, I made it a point to check out apartment rentals whenever I have an extended trip (i.e. longer than five days). Hotel rooms are worth the splurge for short stays where I can’t be bothered to carry my own luggage or I expect to spend days in bed in blissful languor sustained by room service and in-room massage. Otherwise, rentals are a practical choice, and some are so lovely you’d wish you lived in them.

Good rentals are not easy to find. I remember spending hours of research on the computer before finding something worth shortlisting. This was years before AirBNB came into the scene and changed everything.

I used AirBNB for the first time last September when I went to France and Italy for a vacation. As a first-time user, I didn’t know if I was getting the real deal but I found the registration process reassuring. You can’t fake your identity because you have to submit an official identification, which is
authenticated by a software.

Of course I still had to scour thousands of listings, especially in Paris, which is a big city. But there were filter tools that made the process more manageable. In Paris, for instance, I knew I wanted to stay at the Left Bank, in the area of St Germain de Pres. So I applied the filter and used the map to
check out every listing in the area. I also filtered the price and number of rooms to cut the list down further.

Model and blogger Kim Jones stayed at the above AirBNB rental in Paris. Isn’t it a dream?

I am obsessive about getting my accommodations right so even with all the helpful tools of AirBNB, it still took me a while to decide which apartment to book.

There were plenty of things to consider—location being the most important for me (If it’s a walkable city like Aix-en-Provence or Florence, then it’s easier).

Then there are the amenities. Will I be needing a washer and dryer? A washer is fairly common, a dryer less so. Is the flat located in a high floor? Does the building have an elevator? Something to consider when hauling heavy luggage (By the way, unlike here in the Philippines where the ground floor is also referred to as the first floor, in France and Italy, the first floor is the one above the ground floor).

Read everything—the description, the amenities list, the house rules. There you might find extra fees that are not paid through AirBNB. I stayed at an apartment in Nice where I had to pay 50 euros directly to the property manager as cleaning fee (This isn’t standard because cleaning fees are usually declared as a line item in your AirBNB payment).

Most importantly, read ALL of the reviews. Maybe the owner failed to mention that the walls are so thin that you can hear the conversation next door. Maybe the property owners on the ground floor are cranky old ladies who will give you a verbal beating if you come home late at night and accidentally disturb their sleep. Maybe there’s a construction nearby that you need to be aware of. Any suggestion that the apartment is not clean, I scratch it off my list. I have severe rhinitis and skin asthma so I have to take extra precautions. I look for mentions of the bed (it has to be a full bed, not a sofa bed, and it has to be comfortable, not lumpy). And there has to be Wi-Fi. I can live without cable.

I consult Google maps AND Google street view to see the exact location of the apartment. I try to avoid places that are dark and isolated.

Of course, I look at the pictures. I mean, I pore over them. I check out the curtains (I prefer heavy drapes because I have a hard time sleeping and staying asleep). I check out the bath and see if there are telltale signs of molds.

It’s still a hit-or-miss but these steps have kept my misses from being absolute fails. And my hits? Sometimes, they simply blew me away.

In my next post, I’ll be sharing my best AirBNB finds.

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