airbnb

Booking on Airbnb: What you should watch out for

Aktualisiert am: 15/12/2023

When traveling, I like to search for accommodations on Airbnb. However, Airbnb is controversial for a reason. I’ll show you a few things here in this article that I always look out for when booking on Airbnb. The basic idea of Airbnb, to stay with locals in private apartments and thus get the opportunity to get to know the country and its people much better than perhaps only in an anonymous hotel, still appeals to me. This year, for example, I found my accommodation on Sylt and in January in New York via Airbnb.

Overview: What is Airbnb anyway?

For those of you who are new to Airbnb, a quick rundown of the basic idea: if you have a spare room in your apartment or are going on vacation for a short time, you can (sub)rent your room/apartment/house on Airbnb. This way you can earn a little pocket money and meet people from all over the world on the side. For travelers, Airbnb is thus the optimal way to immerse themselves in the lives of local people. You don’t just stay in an unimaginative hotel, you stay authentically with your host and get an insight into everyday culture.

Airbnb rent
Welcome to my travel blog!

Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!

Why should Airbnb be viewed critically?

The basic idea is great. Still, you have to be careful what you book on Airbnb. Because on the one hand, the idea of living in private accommodation is becoming more and more obsolete, and on the other hand, people sometimes do something that completely counteracts the actual intention, which is to support locals and get in touch with the local culture. A good insight into what is going so wrong with Airbnb is shown in a documentary by WDR:

“System Airbnb” on YouTube

Nevertheless, I still use Airbnb, but with reservations and under certain conditions!

What you should therefore look for when booking through Airbnb, so that your stay is a real Airbnb experience and you do not have to have a guilty conscience, I tell you here in this post! And I explain to you why you should be critical of certain offers on Airbnb and maybe even prefer to opt for “conventional” accommodation in a hotel/pension/hostel in the end.

Problem #1: Airbnb affects the rental market for locals (Maybe yours too?)

To say Airbnb is to blame for the fact that it is now difficult to find an apartment in some cities is not entirely accurate. After all, Airbnb does not own the rented apartments or rooms. But anyone who has looked around for an apartment in cities like Berlin or Munich will have noticed that the already tight rental market is getting smaller and smaller.

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Regular rental vs. rental via Airbnb

This is also due to the fact that there are apartment owners who no longer offer their apartments on the regular rental market at all, but prefer to offer them to temporary tenants or tourists via Airbnb. Because it simply brings in more money.

Then there are also smart businessmen who either buy or also rent a larger number of apartments for the sole purpose of offering them on Airbnb afterwards. There is not much left of the much advertised “living with friends” if nobody really lives there.

Airbnb in Berlin: An example

I myself got my current apartment in Berlin only by chance and an absolutely sweet landlady, who herself almost fell for a professional Airbnb renter: she would have rented out her apartment (at a very fair price), believing in good faith that it would be a nice tenant. But the latter, in turn, would have furnished the apartment with the most important furnishings and immediately offered it for a multiple on Airbnb. And poof – one less apartment for year-round Berliners.

Stay at the hotel

Problem #2: If there are no locals left – how do you live with them?

Living like a local with Airbnb?

I’ll start with an example from the world of soccer, since it was the World Cup. Watching the games together, in a beer garden, at a public viewing – since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, it’s been part of the experience. And the atmosphere is at its best when fans are really rooting for their national team. Like among Brazilians, for example (and as a half-Brazilian, I’m always enthusiastic about that, too). So you look for a Brazilian bar/restaurant/meeting place to get a bit of atmosphere as the Brazilians unpack their endless party mood with music, shouting and dancing.

Not only once have I experienced that word quickly got around about certain locations: You have to go there, there’s always a good atmosphere with the Brazilians, it’s great to see. Only – when suddenly more people are there who want to bum a bit of atmosphere and watch instead of the people who really make atmosphere – yes, then it gets boring again.

Locals are disappearing more and more

It’s a bit similar with Airbnb: how will you live among locals if there are none left? As described above, Airbnb affects the availability of housing. In particularly popular tourist centers such as Venice, or certain districts in Rome or Barcelona, this means that there are fewer and fewer locals who live there all year round. To rent there is hardly possible due to lack of available housing.

The infrastructure is based on the new residents

And those who own property there would rather take advantage of the earning opportunities than live year-round in a tourist Phantasialand version of their city: Because if the residents disappear, so does their infrastructure with its supermarkets, schools, kindergartens, corner stores and normal city life. What remains is a decal for tourists, but you look in vain for real life in such areas. The whole issue has already gained so much momentum in some cities that the last residents are taking to the streets to protest. Against the overall situation, but also explicitly against apartment brokers like Airbnb.

Beall Mansion Alton Illinois

What you can do about it – a guide to booking through Airbnb

But I think it is unfair to demonize the whole idea. After all, they still exist, the great places to stay with authentic hosts. And Airbnb is an easy way to connect with people you would never have met otherwise. In January, for example, I picked out a place to stay in New York for a few days in Williamsburg, with a set designer for photo shoots who sublets a room in her apartment. Not only was the room perfect, but the meeting was so interesting and inspiring that I was totally glad I didn’t choose just any hotel.

I always pay attention to the following points when booking (and maybe this will help you to find your way through the whole jungle of offers):

#1 How many offers does the provider have?

If someone offers multiple accommodations in different locations in the same city, it’s hardly private. In Southeast Asia, I have also increasingly noticed that even regular hostels and hotels are offering their rooms on Airbnb. In addition, at a higher price than other booking sites such as Booking.com or Expedia. Double rip-off, so to speak!

#2 Read reviews or offers well

Often, little things give it away that it is a soulless commercial offer. For example, these providers then mention that they are incredibly rarely at home (when the ad is meant to give the impression that the apartment is occupied year-round, e.g., due to local legal limitations on subletting). Or the reviews say, “XY was super nice, unfortunately we only met her/him for key delivery/not at all.”

#3 For rooms: Who else lives in the apartment?

In New York, I came across many room offers in beautiful apartments on Airbnb, where a closer look revealed that you share the entire apartment with other Airbnb tenants, i.e. the entire apartment is split into Airbnb offers and the “host” does not live on site at all. In cities like New York, profit can be maximized even more. So you only live together with other tourists: So there is no trace of contact with locals. And on the regular rental market again disappears a complete apartment. Since you can also really rent in a good hostel / boutique hotel, there you will also quickly find contact with other tourists and you do not participate in dubious Airbnb-meshes!

airbnb in new york
In big cities like New York, Airbnb is a popular option for accommodations – but not always the best choice.

#4 Room in front of apartment

I usually look more for rooms on Airbnb. When it comes to apartments, I often think that people are too supportive of the problematic rental situation in many cities – after all, many apartments disappear from the regular rental market as a result of renting them out on Airbnb (see problem #2 above). As a Berliner who experiences first-hand how the overall image of a city changes into the negative in this way, I do not want to contribute to this myself. The exception for me are subleases of one’s own apartment on a temporary basis.

Alternatives to Airbnb

If all this is too complicated for you, or if you’ve sworn off Airbnb for good: there are still plenty of alternatives to Airbnb. Namely, stinking normal hotels, hostels or guesthouses. Here you don’t have to ask yourself moral questions, whether it is politically correct to stay overnight there – and you directly support a natural economic cycle on site! It is also worth comparing prices here. Sometimes you wonder – Airbnb is not always the cheapest alternative, especially for solo travelers! Hotels also sometimes have smaller single rooms or reduce the price a bit for single occupancy.

If I don’t find anything on Airbnb, my next port of call is Booking.com*. Here you will find “classic accommodations” such as hotels and hostels, but now also a lot of vacation apartments and rooms. Sounds a lot less hip than Airbnb, of course. But you’ll be surprised how many oh-so-private Airbnb accommodations pop up here, too. Often at lower prices!

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