Nine Tips to Find an Awesome Airbnb Rental in Europe

Using Airbnb for lodging is a key way to make a European trip affordable, especially for families.  Follow these nine tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe.

Before we start….

What’s so great about Airbnb for families?  It’s easy to get more room for less than the price of a hotel.  We’ve snagged two-bedroom apartments with kitchen and washer for less than the cost of a single hotel room.  It’s the ultimate in value travel!

Almost always, the longer you stay, the less you pay per night.  This is because most hosts charge the same cleaning fee for a one-night or one-week stay.  Having a kitchen can also really help reduce food costs.

Plus, when you rent an Airbnb, you are living like a local.  Odds are, you are in a residential neighborhood surrounded by restaurants and cafes where real people dine.  What better way to experience a city?

One last thing (I promise).

One point before we jump into the nine tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe. Airbnb does not mean couch surfing.  Sure, you can use Airbnb to rent a private room in someone’s house.  But it’s very easy to limit your search to properties where you have exclusive access to the property.  If, like me, you need your own place, Airbnb has plenty of options for you.

Nine Tips to Find an Amazing Airbnb Rental in Europe
1. Have high expectations.
To confirm, it is totally non-smoking and pet free, correct? (we have one with a pet allergy).
Me. Muhahahaha…. I shall conquer you, Matterhorn!

To find an awesome Airbnb rental, only consider properties that score at least 4.8 out of 5.

Thankfully, Airbnb reviews are super simple.  Airbnb asks guests to rank six categories (cleanliness, accuracy, check-in, communication, location, and value) on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best.  All reviewers’ scores are aggregated into a single composite average score. 

The good news is that you can trust Airbnb ratings. Only verified guests are able to leave ratings.  So unlike other platforms, hosts (and their friends and family) can’t juice the reviews. 

Airbnb shows each property’s composite score followed by the number of reviews in parenthesis.  For example, an apartment in Florence, Italy, shows 4.9 (143).  Out of 143 reviews, the apartment got an average score of 4.9.  That’s good!  It’s not possible to filter out lower reviews, but it’s pretty easy to skip over low scores as you scroll. 

Nine tips to find an awesome airbnb in Europe

You might protest, why should you ignore properties that score under 4.8?  Two words:  grade inflation. 

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe
Right: Me taking the SATs.

Airbnb, more than hotels, is about personal connections between hosts and guests.  Airbnb bills itself as a travel community.  Good hosts will meet the guests when they arrive or will at least touch base (unobtrusively, by app) before and during the trip.  This is part of what makes Airbnb amazing.

But I’m convinced that most guests review charitably because of these personal connections.  They have met or messaged with the host.  Their mamas taught them to be nice.  They know the importance of reviews to the hosts’ livelihood.  And they are in vacation bliss.  So most guests try not to find fault. 

Academics have studied Airbnb reviewers’ positivity bias.  The company has taken steps to reduce it by releasing host and guest reviews simultaneously.  (Yes, hosts review guests, so be on your best behavior).  Still, the positivity bias is in Airbnb’s DNA.  Just be aware and focus on rentals with a score of at least 4.8.

 

9 tips to find an amazing Airbnb in Europe
A game of “I spy” at our Airbnb in Florence, Italy. This two-bedroom apartment down the street from the Duomo was under $140 a night.
2. Read the reviews.  And read between the lines.

Just as guests’ numerical scores are charitable, their written reviews tend to accentuate the positive.

To unearth the truth, assume that most of the good stuff is true but the negative stuff is underemphasized. 

Let me give an example.  We used Airbnb to rent a spacious, two-bedroom apartment in Italy.  The neighborhood and building were amazing.  I left my adapter behind and couldn’t find any at the local store.  So I messaged my host, asking if she knew of a local store where I could buy an adapter.  Within the hour, she delivered several adapters. 

So when I left the review, I didn’t have the heart to ding our host for the fact that, half the time, the shower ran cold.  Still, I wanted to be somewhat objective.  Here’s what I wrote, changed up a bit for anonymity:

Awesome apartment and best location in [city].  2 minute walk to [site].  Surrounded by restaurants and shops.  Two large bedrooms with room-darkening shutters.  Well-stocked kitchen and roomy living room.  Luxurious bath but hot water sometimes intermittent. 

Translation:  We loved the place, but burrr….  I didn’t mention the few ceiling light bulbs that were out when we arrived because that wasn’t such a big deal. That would have been nit-picky.

The offending cold-ass shower. $192 a night. Apartment included.

Anytime you read something negative in a review—especially if it’s buried at the bottom—take note.  Sure, some people are never happy.  But you can usually spot Karen reviews a mile away.  Heed the fair review that has just a smidgen of negative information. 

Heed the fair review that has just a smidgen of negative information. 

3. Don’t be a guinea pig!

To make sure you have enough information, avoid rentals with fewer than 10 reviews.  And more is better.  You need a large enough sample to confidently pick a quality rental in Europe.

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe

Yes, there’s a chance you may overlook a diamond in the rough.  But it’s more likely you will dodge a bullet. 

4. Stay with Superhosts.
9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe
Many hosts offer extras, like coffee pods for the first couple of days. Or a bottle of vino.

Airbnb bestows the title “Superhost” on hosts that consistently go above and beyond.  Among other things, Superhosts must have a 4.8 or higher overall rating in the past year, and they generally must have completed at least 10 stays in the last year.  Superhosts cancel less than 1 percent of the time.  And they respond to 90 percent of new messages within 24 hours.

The Superhost title is a good indication you are dealing with a great host and property.  Still, carefully read the description and reviews.  I have seen Superhosted properties with scores under 4.7 and with several negative reviews.  Unless they quickly improved, it’s likely they lost their Superhost status. 

5. Specify your “must haves” but not your “maybe haves.”

Airbnb allows you to you customize your search with filters.  Once you’ve entered your destination, dates, and number of guests, click on the filter icon on the top right.  It looks like this:

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe.
And they say I have no filter….

As I mentioned, if you want your own place, click “entire place.”  If you need two bedrooms, indicate this under “Rooms and beds.”  Airbnb will also show properties with three or more bedrooms that fit your other criteria.

Go easy on the “must haves.”  For example, under popular filters and “amenities”, don’t check hair dryer or shampoo. Hosts sometimes forget to check those boxes, even if the description indicates that these amenities are provided.  Leave the boxes unchecked, but if a hair dryer is essential, review the description closely before booking.

Same goes with air conditioning and clothes dryers (both under “Amenities”).  Air conditioning and dryers are not nearly as common in Europe as in North America.  People tend to open windows when it gets hot and hang clothes on the line.  (Or they use a washer/dryer combo). So consider whether you want to limit your options by insisting on air conditioning, especially if you are not traveling in the summer. 

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe
This is not a washer/dryer combo
6. Know your cancellation requirements.

Pay attention to cancellation policies.  Airbnb offers the following three cancellation policies:

  • Flexible:  Free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in (After that, get a full refund, minus the first night and service fee).
  • Moderate:  Free cancellation until 5 days before check-in (After that, get a 50% refund, minus the first night and service fee).
  • Strict:  Free cancellation for 48 hours, as long as the guest cancels at least 14 days before check-in (After that, if cancelled up to 7 days before check-in, the guest will get a 50% refund of the nightly rate and the cleaning fee, but not the service fee).

Due to COVID-19, more hosts are offering “moderate” or “flexible” cancellation policies than before.  To limit your search to these properties, toggle the “cancellation flexibility” button.

In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Airbnb let guests cancel under the “extenuating circumstances” policy.  I was one of them.  In June, we had to cancel a stay in Wengen, Switzerland, due to the pandemic.  The lovely host and Airbnb were gracious to allow us to cancel.  To show appreciation, I booked the same place next summer (fingers crossed).    

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe
Yoga during COVID. The struggle is realz, y’all.

Airbnb has updated its COVID policy, however.  For reservations made after March 14, 2020, the “extenuating circumstances” policy does not apply to coronavirus cancellations.  The exception is where a guest actually has COVID-19.  According to Airbnb, guests will have to attest to their COVID status and/or provide supporting documentation. 

7. Steer clear of cancel culture.

Speaking of cancellations, steer clear of properties where the host has cancelled reservations.  When a host cancels a reservation before the day of check-in, Airbnb will leave an automatic review to that effect.  If you see these automatic reviews—especially more than one—keep looking.  You don’t need that drama. 

8. Research the location.

This sounds obvious, but it can be easy to forget about location. To avoid staying in risky neighborhoods and far-flung locations, do a little bit of research.

9 tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe
Me: You said take a RIGHT at the gas station!

There are a couple of ways to approach this.  If you have your heart set on a particular area of town, Airbnb lets you select one or more neighborhoods. 

Airbnb divides Paris, for example, into a staggering 62 neighborhoods.  If you select the 7th Arrondissement or “Invalides-Ecole Militaire,” then you will limit your options to those areas.  (Actually, Invalides-Ecole Militaire is in the 7th Arrondissement.  So consider how narrow you want to be if you go this route).

I prefer to find good properties and then investigate whether their location is safe and convenient.  Instead of selecting neighborhood options, I read every review.  This almost always gives insight into the location’s safety and convenience.  I also eyeball the property’s location on Airbnb’s map (under “location”) to get a sense of location. 

Before booking, I usually do an Internet search of the neighborhood.  Checking out a guidebook is also a good idea.  Rick Steves’ guidebooks review hotels by neighborhood.  This can give you a good idea of parts of town that are safe and convenient. 

If you want to find a good deal and live like a local, however, be willing to venture out of tourist zones.  Explore where people actually live. 

Google Earth is an amazing resource.  You can size up a strasse (almost) as if you were there.  Unfortunately, Airbnb doesn’t provide a precise address until you book, limiting the utility of Google Earth.  But even the “strict” cancellation policy permits cancellations within 48 hours.  So snoop on the property with Google Earth.  Just do so shortly after you book. 

9. Introduce yourself and ask questions.

Airbnb is more transactional than it used to be, but I still think it’s good form to introduce yourself before booking.  And if you have questions after reading the listing, ask away. The only downside is that the property could get booked while you’re waiting on a response.  C’est la vie

Introducing yourself and asking a question gives you a chance to say hello and make a good first impression.  More importantly, you will have a chance to evaluate your potential host.  How quick were they to respond?  Were they personable?  If you answer “no” to any of these questions, move on!

https://www.google.com/earth/
Apropos of nothing… Celebrating and praying over my first fax machine. Amen.

Here’s the first message I ever sent to an Airbnb host.  Her property ended up being one of our favorites:

Hello, [you!]. My family (2 adults, 2 children) will be traveling to Firenze for four nights next March/April. (We will then proceed to Siena or Assisi for a night and on to Rome for 4 nights). Your beautiful home appears to be centrally located and exactly what we need. We would love to learn more about it. To confirm, it is totally non-smoking and pet free, correct? (we have one with a pet allergy).

–Me, to “You.”

This introduction gave me a chance to introduce my family and begin to build trust with our host.  And I got to check her out.  She ended up being a wonderful communicator and host.  But had she responded, “Dummy, it says no pets in the description,” I would have moved on to the next listing.

To show respect, I try to say hello or refer to the city in the host’s native language.  (Firenze instead of Florence.  Paris instead of Paris…).  This isn’t necessary.  Airbnb has a great translation function to facilitate communication between hosts and guests who don’t speak the same language.  But even if hosts never notice my awkward attempt to use their language, in a small way, it helps put me in the right frame of mind.  Travel requires humility and a willingness to encounter the unexpected.

The takeaway.

Airbnb is an amazing way to stay in Europe.  Get more.  Pay less.  And live like a local.  Just remember to follow these nine tips to find an awesome Airbnb rental in Europe.   

  1. Have high expectations (4.8+).
  2. Read the reviews.  And between the lines.
  3. Don’t be a guinea pig!
  4. Stay with Superhosts.
  5. Specify your “must haves” but not your “maybe haves.”
  6. Know your cancellation requirements.
  7. Steer clear of cancel culture.
  8. Research the location.
  9. Introduce yourself and ask questions.