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Making the Most of AirBnB

AirBnB is the world's largest lodging platform, but owns no real estate. It has literally changed the the way we think about travel accommodations, and poses tough competition to the hotel industry. It has become a conduit to less expensive, more authentic ways of visiting a place. And its a staple in my own travel toolkit.

The view from my AirBnB in Havana overlooking the Malecon. Breakfast was included!

AirBnB and it's hosts (the folks that rent their property) have had several racial profiling incidents (and I have heard of many others from my personal network, and have been profiled myself), which have reverberated through the black travel world. Because of this, I prefer using AirBnB abroad (like in Cuba and Mexico), and I’ve incorporated it into my travel methodology because it allows me to have a more intimate experience with the people that live in a particular place. And its usually cheaper than a hotel.

I offer you a few tips on using AirBnB to facilitate transformative travel. As you plan trips, think about the platform as more than a place that helps you find somewhere to lay your head. Instead, use it as a tool to help gain a more authentic view of the people and the places you visit.

Create a Favorites List

Actively use the lists feature to bookmark accommodations that you might be interested in. My guilty pleasure is creating lists of accommodations in places that I’d like to visit, even when I have no travel plans. Its my aspirational travel catalog. And when I do have solid plans, I start whittling down my lists to places that most closely meet my needs and tastes. You can even share the list with your travel buddies!

Make sure the Space and the Host Align with You

AirBnB has a social scoring component to it which allows you to rate hosts, and vice-versa. Leave someone’s place a mess, and you’ll see it on you page--and it might deter other hosts from accepting your request to stay at their place. Similarly, I like to dig into reviews left on hosts’ page to see how they stay went. I also closely read the host’s description of their listing. This way I gather a lot about the personality of the place and the person who is managing it. I’ve often seen undertones of racial prejudice and bias in descriptions….and when I do, issa No.

Compare Prices Against Hotels

Depending on your preferred travel experience and your budget, a hotel might be best. Compare prices and listings. Who offers the free breakfast is what I wanna know!? Staples that I often look for include, free breakfast, WiFi, security, centrality and proximity to local points of interest.

Read and Follow the Rules

The easiest way to get a low review after you check out is to violate the host’s rules. Remember, this is a private property (often someone’s home), so when you stay there, you’re agreeing to follow their rules.

Be friendly….let them know your expectations

In my user profile, I describe myself as the owner of a travel business, and that I like privacy. I don’t require much else. And after an initial check-in I like hosts to leave me be. I let them know upfront. If you have a different preference, be clear. You have that right as their guest.

More Tips and Methods to the Madness

Here are a few tips to elevate your AirBnB experience:

  • For extended trips in one place, choose a couple (or more) spots in different parts of the city. This will allow you to get a fuller cultural experience and witness everyday life as it happens in different areas.

  • Hire a local chef to whip something up for you in the kitchen of you AirBnB and have an in-house dining experience of local flavors

  • Pick an AirBnB that features local architecture and style, and use it as the backdrop to your own IG-worthy photo shoot

  • If you really love the place, develop a relationship with your host and let them know you’ll be back. I recently contacted a host that I stayed with in New Orleans. He ended up opening up availability for me that had previously been blocked off of the property's calendar!

  • Research the local political climate around short-term rentals in your destination. Because AirBnB and other sites help hosts earn lots of money from their properties, it ends up increasing local rents and decreasing accessibility of low-income housing for those that need it. This is an issue and you should be aware of it.

  • Some loyalty and frequent flyer programs have partnerships with AirBnB and you may be able to earn points each time you rent. I have verified that Delta, Virgin America, Qantas provide this reward opportunity.

Did I tell you that I am renting an exquisite villa in Havana, Cuba this December for an immersive cultural learning experience? You are invited, and you can find out more here.

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