Mastering Airbnb With a Family
When we upgraded our family from a Team of 4 to a Team of 5, along came a few big changes. People joke about changing from ‘man-to-man defense’ to ‘zone defense’ but I never found that an apt description. I’ve been more interested in the logistical and infrastructure changes for our travel. Western society has a switchover point at four. You’ll find that most things are designed for families of four. Look at any restaurant’s table configuration – some doubles, many quads and a sprinkling of larger tables. Nobody sets a table for five. When you bring five to a restaurant, you get the big table for six.
Cars are also designed for ‘four or fewer” or “more than four.” Sure, sedans have five seatbelts but have you tried to put three carseats in a car?
Lastly, hotels are blissfully ignorant of the changing family dynamics. Some are starting to cater to families and we highlight all those we come across on this website. However, most and especially cramped hotels in Europe just can’t offer family rooms. Online booking systems aren’t set up to even allow three children in one room. It’s a frustrating effort for sure. Some chains permit kids in the room and others insist that your breastfeeding baby sleep in a room two floors up with only his toddler brother. Right – doesn’t make sense to me either. We’ve even had hotels tell us that three kids is against their fire code regulations (thanks Italy).
Families of five need a hotel room with two big beds or a big bed and a pullout sofa and in some places, that’s just not very common. Hostels are perfect options for families with more than two kids. Hostels are accustomed to large families. You can almost always ask a hostel to rent you a private room for just your family. And as long as your kids aren’t too young, bunkbeds can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, you won’t find many clean and safe hostels outside of Europe so we have had to turn to Airbnb for some of our stays.
Airbnb can be overwhelming for a new user, so I wanted to share with you some of the tricks we’ve learned over the past three years. On a recent flight to Vilnius Lithuania, I sat next to an obnoxiously loud American who spent the 50-minute flight shouting over and over that this was his first time using Airbnb and that he was nervous. So it was time to write up some tips!
Here’s the part of the story where I list a few things to convince you that I have some Airbnb street cred. We’ve stayed at dumps, we’ve stayed in castles. We’ve been canceled the day prior (while on a trip in a foreign country). We’ve shown up to the wrong address. We’ve broken hosts’ things. We’ve been wrongly accused of damaging a property. We’ve had the hot water fail on us. We’ve had a place where the toilet was outside the apartment. We’ve had an apartment with only a camping shower. Crossing my fingers, “We’ve never gotten bed bugs or been robbed.”
With our dozens of Airbnb stays, that list can still seem like Airbnb is hit-or-miss. However, we’ve loved Airbnb for our family. Even some of those disasters turned out to be extremely funny and no big deal in the end. We’ve found Airbnb to be incredibly responsive to problems and in general, hosts are genuinely wonderful people. As with all aspects of travel, keep an open mind and don’t over-elevate your expectations. When you’re expecting a castle but the pictures show a mediocre apartment, you’re getting the mediocre apartment.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures
The greatest indicator of a host’s place is the quantity and quality of pictures. Those who spend time staging their home for photos will also tend to make their home beautiful for your stay. On the other hand, if an Airbnb listing has only four darkly-lit pictures of a mess in the living room, expect a mess.
Look for Hints
Both in the listing and in the photos, look for key elements that are important to you. Evidence of children in any form is key for us. Hosts with families tend to have a profile photo with a kid in it – just as your Facebook profile photo might contain your kids. For family travelers, we try to also spot these four things: bathtub, washing machine, high chair, books/toys. A bathtub makes it easier to clean our kids. The washing machine means we can pack fewer outfits and pack lighter but it also means I need to bring some small detergent pods and we need to budget 24 hours for air-drying time (almost no dryers in Europe). The high chair is important because it’s a spot where you can put your baby for a few minutes when you’re cleaning up or need to get something done. Lastly, evidence of books or toys means you can usually ask your host to use those items and consequently you’ll need to pack fewer things to keep your kids happy.
People Just Like You
Stereotyping is often a negative word, but consider this angle. When you read a listing and the host is writing about things you enjoy, there may be a correlation between your personality types. When I read a listing and it talks about how close the public transportation is and where the nearest grocery store with nappies can be found, I know the owner might just be a parent. That can lead to other benefits – like the owner having a collection of bedtime stories you can borrow or a pram or a high chair. Similarly, when I read a listing that meticulously lists the nearby bars and clubs, I wonder if it’s the right place with the right neighbors for our family.
Don’t Be Too Exclusive
Airbnb allows you to select required amenities at your property. Sure, you may ‘want’ a city view, a property with a sauna and a television but do you really need those things? Would you say no to a near-perfect property just because it didn’t have a city view? Smartly choose your inclusions. For us, we must have a property with at least two beds and wifi. That’s it. Everything else is nice to have. It’s only when you find hundreds of comparable properties that you should start to be exclusive and increase the number of required amenities.
Highlight Your Kids
Airbnb gives you the chance to send a note to your host before they accept you as a guest (some properties can be booked without this step). Be super clear about your children’s ages. This will help the host prepare the right bedding for your arrival.
Set Your Expectations
We’ve rolled into Airbnbs that have fully stocked kitchens and a plethora of welcome gifts on the table. Lots leave a bottle of wine and snacks. Some leave nothing. Don’t expect anything you don’t see in the listing photographs and you’ll never be disappointed.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
If something’s not right, ask your host. If you can’t resolve it, don’t hesitate to contact Airbnb Support. They’re there to help. They can work miracles from their end and even refund you when you’re unhappy.
This is going to sound like it takes me forever to pick an Airbnb, but trust that the more you do it, the faster this process gets. Identify where you want to be in a city based on the public transportation nodes and the sites you want to visit. Get yourself a bubble from the center of your activities – a 10-minute walking bubble. Then zoom in on Airbnb’s map feature to that location. Set the pricing limits just above what you’re willing to spend to declutter the map of places you’d never consider. Now start your scan. Open all the properties you’d consider in separate tabs. Then down-select by closing each tab that is inferior to the others. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, expand your bubble size. If that doesn’t work, come back to the problem in a few days. Airbnb listings are fluid. If you want a few days, there will be different inventory that might be what you need.
Airbnb beats hotels hands-down every time for large families. You’ll get the exact number of rooms you need, loads of amenities and you can spend what you want. For first-timers, don’t be nervous. Only the first time feels weird. For veteran Airbnb users, take our tips and send us your own!