I’ve spent nearly the last 10 years living in Airbnbs and other short term rentals, but mainly Airbnbs. When I say “lived” I mean long-term stays of at least a month, often multiple.
I’ve lived in Airbnbs literally all over the world–at least two dozen places across 5 continents–and during that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about getting the most out the platform and maximizing stays.
Through trial and error, and some bad decisions, I’ve come to realize that there are a handful of critically important questions you need to ask owners/hosts before parting with what, depending on your budget, could amount to a sizeable amount of money.
Airbnb is no longer the cost-effective alternative to hotels that it originally sold itself as (or was) and the platform is full of some straight up scams at this point. as well as a lot of people playing fast and loose with the definitions of things like “kitchen” and “bed.”
If you want to avoid that awful feeling you get as you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, here are 9 questions to ask hosts on Airbnb before committing to a long-term stay.
Table of Contents
Question 1: Are there any construction projects in the immediate vicinity
One of the biggest motivators for me when I was planning my escape from the corporate world and city living was getting as far away as possible from urban noise pollution–especially large construction projects.
When I first hit the road in 2015, I had spent the four years prior to that living in downtown Toronto, Canada, in the heart of the concrete jungle, surrounded on all sides by condos in various stages of completion. Having grown up in a sleepy suburb on the West Coast of Canada in the 90s, I never got used to the noise.
If you grew up in Mexico City or Bogota or Jakarta, you can probably fall asleep to the sound of jackhammers and ambulances. For me, I need as close to complete silence as possible, for as much as the day as possible, and particularly come bed time.
That’s why one of the questions I always ask hosts while shopping around for places on Airbnb is “are there any ongoing construction projects in the immediate vicinity?”
As I write this, I’m sitting in a quaint little apartment in the obscure but beautiful Spanish seaside town of Barbate, along Cadiz’ Costa de Luz.
Stupidly, I didn’t follow my own rule this time because I figured, “I’m not going to have to worry about construction in this tiny little town.” Wouldn’t you know it, they have been repairing the water main directly in front of my kitchen window for the past three days (which involves a lot of jack-hammering and sawing).
I really fucking hope today is the last day.
I understand that asking about construction isn’t fool-proof.
The place you’re renting might be someone’s investment property or a holiday home that only gets used in the summer. The owner might have no clue what’s going on, especially if they have a local person managing it and/or they use a lock box.
Another possibility is that the owner or property manager might just bullshit you.
I don’t know what the TOS says about hosts deliberately mischaracterizing something that’s outside of their control, but I would imagine it’s not nearly as cut and dried as, say, arriving to broken furniture or a one-bedroom that was advertised as having three. You’re already risking a rage-induced stroke trying to deal with Airbnb’s customer service when things are black and white.
They might tell you whatever construction there is around the house/apartment is not particularly noisy, only for you to arrive, find out the noise is, indeed, awful, only to be met with “well, I don’t find it that bad.”
That said, most of the people I have rented from on Airbnb have been quite honest people (albeit envelope pushers). When I’ve asked about construction, the answer they’ve given me (whether yes or no) has been accurate. I don’t think most people are going to volunteer that information, however.
Location-independent work and construction
I’m such a stickler when it comes to construction noise because I realized, after some unpleasant experiences, that working from home means you are exposed to noise pollution that you might not normally be exposed to working in an office.
The municipal works that are normal in any urban area around the world aren’t much of an issue when you commute to work everyday–other than, perhaps, as an annoying wakeup call in the morning.
People wake up, go to work, the hammering and sawing and beeping happens between 9-5, and by the time they’re back home, it’s done.
A realization it took me far too long to come to. It is for this reason that things like noise-cancelling headphones and a free white noise app are two of the things that I’ve included on my 25 things to travel with list for remote workers.
Question 2: Is it a real oven?
If you’re living somewhere for an extended period of time, odds are, you’re going to be doing at least some cooking. Even in places where dingin out is so cheap and delicious that I’m still well within my budget if I eat out three meals a day, I still like eating at home because I like grocery shopping and I like cooking.
In addition to making sure the place I’m staying has an actual stovetop (not a campstove, not a hotplate, you chancer mfers), I also try to find places with ovens so I can bake and roast.
Airbnb, however, is full of some very cheeky people. In the last few years it has gotten bad–especially in places like Ireland. If a place claims to have a kitchen, you really need to make sure it’s not just a hot plate and a mini-fridge.
Another bit of false-advertising in this vein that people often try and get away with concerns the “oven.”
If a host is advertising their place as featuring an oven, and the oven is a) nowhere in site in any of the photos or b) the only photo of an appliance that could be construed as an oven is a microwave oven or a toaster oven (the kind that plug into the wall and sit on the counter), I always clarify that the “oven” they are referring to is not your classic oven.
Smaller ovens can work well, but I’ve found they tend to hold less heat and heat escape is much more dramatic when you open the door. Cooking things, especially meat, with a counter-top oven takes longer.
Question 3: What is the internet quality like?
I always ask about the internet speed because you need certain speeds in order to do specific things efficiently.
If you’re working from home while traveling, you should know what kind of upload and download speeds you need to do your job well, what kind of internet you need to have meetings, send files etc.
If you’re just checking emails and using Google docs, you’re going to need far less bandwidth than if you’re a graphic designer wetransfering multi-gig image files.
I’ve stayed places where I’ve had to drop everything, jump in a cab and find the closest Starbucks at the drop of a hat because the internet dropped constantly. If I know I’m going somewhere with bad wifi coverage (a small city in Indonesia or Egypt, etc.). I also usually get myself a local SIM card so I can hotspot.
4G (and sometimes 5) is very often more reliable than Wi-Fi in a lot of places, and you can get big data packages (100GB) for $25-30 a month in plenty of places.
Question 4: How many people are using the wifi?
This is another question I ask, especially if it looks like the host has multiple apartments in the same building.
If you’re going to be sending and receiving sensitive information over an Airbnb’s wifi network, it’s important to know how many other people are using (or have used) that same network. It’s surprisingly easy for malicious owners or guests to do whatever they want with your information.
It’s also an important internet quality consideration. You don’t want to be trying to join a zoom call or ace that remote job interview and there are three other people on the network watching Netflix and playing video games.
Question 5: Is there grocery shopping within walking distance?
This is one that a lot of people probably already know to ask, but I thought I would include it because it really does make or break an Airbnb experience if you don’t have a vehicle.
Most people, when they stay for months at a time in an Airbnb, especially if it’s in another country, probably don’t have a vehicle at their disposal. That means your stay options are usually limited to places where you can easily walk to groceries and other amenities.
This is another one of those questions that I find people always give an honest answer to. I’ve never had someone out-and-out lie to me about walking distance to stores.
Question 6: Do you have blackout curtains?
Sometimes people have shutters or blackout curtains but fail to advertise it, which is why I like to ask. Sometimes hosts do let you know in the listing that there are blackout curtains.
In addition to being noise sensitive, I’m also very light sensitive. The first thing I do when I get to a hotel is go around the room and cover any electronic lights with tee-shirts and boxers because I don’t want to see lights from the TV, aircon or phone at night.
I also can’t stand places that basically have little doilies for curtains that let in any and all street light. This is particularly common in Latin America. I don’t get how people in countries like Mexico and Colombia can go to sleep with a giant yellow street light or neon shop sign a couple of metres from their barely-covered window.
Question 7: Is there a gym in walking distance?
Another thing I always try to have in walking distance is a gym. If you’re staying in a new apartment building, it might have a gym (although most building gyms are lacklustre, IMO).
If I have a gym and grocery shopping I can walk to, I can be comfortable in a neighbourhood.
Question 8: Is the neighbourhood safe to walk around at night?
Obviously this question only really makes sense in certain places. I didn’t ask it before renting a cozy little stone cottage in Donegal County, Ireland last year. I do ask it in places where I know security is an issue.
I’ve failed to ask it in Bogota while renting a place on Caracas Avenue, near 50th street, and was told by the building security guard, after walking home from a bar that was only 15 minutes away, that I should avoid walking around after 9 p.m. in that area and only take cabs or Uber.
Question 9: If I like the place, would you be willing to rent it longer term outside the platform?
This is a good question to ask whenever you go somewhere for more than a month.
Airbnb has the monthly discount option, but some hosts have an even more substantial three-month discount:
In theory, this is nice, because it’s a massive pain in the ass if you plan on staying in a location for a few months and have to move around multiple times. I’ve done more than once and it sucks.
The problem with this is that Airbnb is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Wide-angle shots that make places look much more spacious than they really are; bad mattresses that you only find out about once you sleep on them; finding out about those annoying upstairs neighbours with 6 kids on your first night, and other unforeseen complications can ruin a place.
That’s why I’m hesitant to search for multi-month stays. Instead, what I usually do now is let the host know after booking that if I really like their place, I would be open to staying for even longer. This is where I suggest that, perhaps, it’s something we can do outside of Airbnb (i.e., without Airbnb’s increasingly ridiculous “service” fee).
I have a love-hate relationship with Airbnb, as I suspect a lot of people do.
The last time I had to deal with their outsourced customer service, I nearly gave up on the not insignificant sum of money that was on the line, just because of how disorganized and unhelpful the whole process was.
The review system is a prisoner’s dilemma that incentivizes exaggerating the positives of a place and obfuscating the negatives. Leave someone a bad review and they are likely to leave you a bad one right back.
The Airbnb market inflates local housing and rental prices, making affordability crises many places around the world that much worse.
I do, however, recognize that I would not be living the life I current live without the advent of Airbnb.
While Airbnb offerings have become stupidly detached from the domestic rental market in so many places, and misleading visual and written descriptions are basically the norm at this point, if you know what to look for, where to look and, importantly, what questions to ask, there are still fantastic experiences to be had.