What Airbnb is and How to Book a Dream Vacation

Last updated: June 7, 2017 - 4:26pm EDT

Let's say that you're looking for a place to stay on a trip out of town. The only problem is that a hotel is out of the question because:

  • It doesn't have the amenities that you're looking for
  • It's too far away from the main place you're going to be doing stuff in
  • It's out of your price range, either in general or for the amount of time you'll be staying there
  • It's already fully booked, and there are no more rooms available

So, what can you do? Try Airbnb.com, that's what!

What exactly is Airbnb, then?

Airbnb (as in "Air Bed and Breakfast") is a service that lets property owners rent out their spaces to travelers looking for a place to stay.  People can rent a space for multiple people to share, a shared space with private rooms, or the entire property for themselves!

The Airbnb story

Airbnb was started in 2008 by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, two industrial designers who had recently moved to San Francisco.  Unable to afford the rent for their loft at the time, the pair decided to make up the money they needed by renting out their apartment to people who couldn't find hotels to stay at while attending nearby trade shows.  Joined by architect Nathan Blecharczyk, Chesky and Gebbia set up air beds in the apartment's living room for their guests to sleep on, and cooked their guests homemade breakfast in the morning.

Since then, Airbnb has become one of the trailblazers of peer-to-peer property rental.  It is now available in over 190 countries and over 34,000 cities worldwide, accounting for over 2.5 million property listings.  Over 100 million people have used Airbnb to book a property rental at some point.  Its popularity stems from the fact that not everyone who is travelling can afford to stay in a hotel, much less find a hotel room at all in a busy urban area.  Airbnb provides them with a simple -- and often less expensive -- alternative.

How does Airbnb work?

Being a guest

Once you create a free account, you can search for a place to stay at by telling it where you want to go, when you want to check in, when you want to check out, and how many guests will be staying.  You can also add extra search criteria, such as neighbourhood location, price, type of property, space availability (i.e. having a private room vs. having the whole place to yourself), and more.  Also, while your billing details are needed in order to hold a booking, you don't pay until a host accepts your reservation request.  

Searching for accommodations on Airbnb as a guest

What hosts do

People can list properties for rent for free, and can also hire professional photographers to make their spaces look their best.  Prices and availability for properties can be set according to a host's schedule, or what they work out with guests.  A host can even set up their property listing to auto-book anyone who is interested in their property and meets certain specified criteria.  However, the host has the final say on whether or not they want to book someone.  Finally, Airbnb covers its hosts against damages to their property by guests.  Similar sites, like VRBO, also have insurance plans to this effect.

Starting the hosting process on Airbnb

The Airbnb community

Airbnb is a website based on communal respect, and so includes several functions that both hosts and guests can use towards this end.  For example, users can create profiles that showcase their preferences, hospitality policies, and preferred activities.  They can also send each other messages to clarify booking details, or even get recommendations on who to rent from (or to).  Finally, the review system lets guests say what they liked or disliked about their rental experience, while hosts can critique their guests' treatment of the property and surrounding community.  Reviews can only be written after a stay is booked and completed, so it is difficult to write dishonest or fake reviews.

An Airbnb community discussion forum

Is Airbnb legal and safe?

Airbnb is legal as long as hosts follow certain protocols for their region.  For example, they may need to abide by local housing regulations, get hosting licenses, carry liability insurance, pay occupancy tax, or only rent out limited areas of their properties.  Consider these factors before becoming an Airbnb host.

In terms of safety, it may seem like a riskier option than staying in a hotel, but it doesn't have to be.  Both hosts and guests have multiple ways to verify their identities, can rate and review each other, and can privately message each other through its internal email system.  This helps to keep users of all stripes accountable.

Specifically as a guest at an Airbnb rental property, you can keep yourself safe by reading the listing that you're interested in closely, and asking your host as many questions about themselves or their property as you need to in order to feel safe.  It's also a good idea to only message other users and pay for your rental property booking using its internal tools.  Buying a bit of travel insurance wouldn't hurt, either.  Above all, though, remember that you are a guest, so treat your rental property and your neighbours with courtesy and consideration.

Check out this tutorial for more information on Airbnb safety.

The pros and cons of using Airbnb

Airbnb has a few neat features that make it easy to use.  For example, when searching for a rental property to book, you can set multiple filtering criteria to narrow down your results until you find that perfect place to stay!  Also, if you find a property that you'd like to stay at sometime in the future -- or have stayed at before and want to stay at again -- you can add it to a "Wish List" and come back to it later.

Airbnb's biggest strength, by far, is its effort to run as a self-policing community where hosts and guests are on an equal playing field.  That's why it includes tools for hosts and guests to verify their identities, rate and review each other, and message each other privately.  Also, there are no corporate sponsorships, so each host or guest can only go as far as their site-wide reputation allows.

The power balance on Airbnb is still somewhat tilted in favour of hosts, however, as they have the final say on whether or not you can book -- or remain at -- their property.  In addition, while not as common anymore, some hosts may rent out their properties in methods or locations that they're not supposed to.  This means that you might end up being inconvenienced for someone else's mistake.

What are some other popular services like Airbnb?

While Airbnb is one of the most famous peer-to-peer property rental services on the Internet, there are many more worth considering. Two of its biggest competitors are HomeAway.com and VRBO.com. If you're really not into paying booking fees, then try 9Flats.  Or, if you want to be sure that hosts have been verified as trustworthy directly by the booking service's staff, then have a look at FlipKey (by TripAdvisor) or OneFineStay.  

For more information on these and other popular Airbnb alternatives, have a look at our article on best sites like Airbnb here.

 

We’ll teach you everything you need to know about renting a place on Airbnb in the tutorials for the rest of this Airbnb course on Techboomers. And in the future, we’ll also be adding articles giving you the ins and outs of renting your own place to make some side income!

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