First Airbnb Experience – Risk With Reward

First Airbnb experience.jpg

Our First Airbnb Experience Made Us Converts

We were heading to Vancouver for an extended period. Our previous two visits had found us scrambling to find hotel rooms in the very busy summer tourist season. Planning this visit, we made a couple of hotel bookings as backup but we would have to change hotels several times when we hit sold out days. This nomadic hotel hopping was not really going work.

We needed to find a short term rental or sublet. Several places were suggested, none of which we had ever tried before (Kijiji, Craig’s List, VRBO and Airbnb). Unfortunately we were traveling on relatively short notice and looking for a longer term (6+ weeks).

Selecting Airbnb

I spent hours pouring through the various options and quickly narrowed it down. We were going to try our first Airbnb experience. But we would be winging it a little with no experience and no real guide for first time Airbnb users.

The listings never required more than a 30 day booking (e.g. most sublets wanted a minimum of 3 months) but there were discounts if you committed to more than 30 days. There was a complete set of pictures and a map to let us narrow down options in the area we were looking. And there was some security in renting through Airbnb as they did both some screening, dispute resolution and provided reviews.

The first time, I found two properties that would work. I sent messages to both hosts to confirm availability, to clearly state our needs and to ask a few clarifying questions (e.g. Was the parking secure? Was there a place to store our bikes we were traveling with? Where was the 2nd bed in a one bedroom condo that said “sleeps 4”?). Both hosts quickly responded to my questions. And then I started to over-analyze my needs and I waffled on my choices. I lost my first choice when someone else hit “book” just after I sent my inquiry. Then I lost the other option because I would only commit to one month sight unseen and someone else committed to two months.

We were driving cross country from Toronto to Vancouver while I was trying to get our accommodations firmed up. Losing both of the perfect Airbnb options depressed me and sent me back to square one assessing options. We figured this visit would no longer be our first Airbnb experience.

A Second Chance at Airbnb

We had been looking to start our rental mid-month when we arrived in Vancouver but once the first two Airbnb options were lost, there was nothing else available mid-month so I started back on Airbnb looking for a rental at the beginning of the next month. We had short term hotel rooms booked that would carry us for the first two weeks.

When I put the new search parameters into the Airbnb app, I was happy to find 5 properties that more or less might meet our needs. I was determined to not waffle this time since I now knew both how few properties there were and how fast they got booked. I quickly contacted all 5 hosts with questions specific to each property. Within 12 hours, 4 of the 5 people got back to me. One was immediately eliminated. One popped to the front of the line when they said they could take us in a bit earlier than the start of the month (reducing the number of nights we would be in hotels) and they clarified that parking could be added to the reservation (even though it was not in the listing). The only thing that caused me to gulp was the price, as this was the most expensive. Ultimately the need to get settled as soon as possible won out. The host sent me a revised quote to add in the early checkin and parking. I hit “accept” and after entering my credit card info I got an email confirmation and receipt. Once booked I got a phone number for the host that could be used in addition to the Airbnb email service. David could now cancel some of the backup hotel reservations and we could breath a bit easier. We would get our first Airbnb experience!

We were delighted when our host contacted us and said we could check in even earlier and thus we could cancel all of our hotel reservations. This final change to the reservation was easily and quickly done.

While we felt we had made a great choice in our accommodations, we did commit to a place sight unseen for over 6 weeks. This certainly felt risky to us. While Airbnb might deal with anything that was fraudulently represented in the listing, if we had picked the wrong property, we were stuck in there for a long time or were out a lot of money to walk away.

Our Airbnb Condo Was As Advertised

We arrived at the condo, met our host and got wowed by the great view that was not at all exaggerated in the listing pictures! The condo was well appointed and in fact very much reminded us of our own condo in Toronto on the lake. It was great to feel at home for our first Airbnb experience.

Our host was available by email, text or phone when questions came up – and they did. We managed to set off the smoke alarm almost every time we fried something, despite opening windows and running fans. The first time we got worried that the smoke alarm was tied right to a fire station when coincidentally a fire truck screamed up our street while the smoke alarm was still blaring. Several times the condo needed some minor maintenance and this was arranged around our schedule. We never felt like we were on our own to deal with issues with the condo on our first Airbnb experience.

The location was perfect for us. The False Creek neighbourhood of Vancouver provided everything you could want within walking distance – walking and biking paths, shopping and restaurants. Public transit was a few blocks from the condo and there were even 2 ferries that provided great coverage along the False Creek waterway. From this location we could easily head out to explore destinations around Vancouver. This part of Vancouver was a gem that we never knew existed before this visit.

False Creek - Our First Airbnb Experience.jpg

False Creek - Our First Airbnb Experience.jpg

False Creek - Our First Airbnb Experience.jpg

False Creek - Our First Airbnb Experience.jpg

When it was time to head back to Toronto, we cleaned and packed before saying goodbye to our host and handing back the keys to finish first Airbnb experience. But unfortunately we were not destined to make it home to Toronto this first time. After a minor sightseeing detour through the U.S. National Parks, we started back to Vancouver.

Returning to Vancouver - Our First Airbnb Experience.jpg

But this time, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. Contacting our same Airbnb host, we were able to negotiate a new term with them. This second long 5 week term was far less risky given we knew exactly where we would be staying. The rates were even a bit lower late in the fall. Our host was flexible about accommodating our dates. Luckily they have relatives in Vancouver that can take them in when their condo gets rented out.

We finally did leave Vancouver and head back to Toronto. We had been in Vancouver for almost 4 months and much of the time we were in the same great condo in the False Creek area. We knew this would be a good option for us when we headed back another time.

Our first Airbnb experience felt pretty risky to us. We had never done house swapping, were not users of Uber in Toronto or had never in any way really participated in the new “peer to peer” economy. The fact that we needed to pick a place sight unseen for over 6 weeks added another level of risk. Since we were visiting to deal with a family medical emergency, even the 6 week commitment had some risk as we really did not know when we arrived how long we would need to be in Vancouver.

But the Airbnb risk brought great rewards for us. Having a two bedroom fully outfitted condo made staying away from home for a long time much easier. The condo location was perfectly located for both us to enjoy the neighbourhood and was close to the things we needed to do in Vancouver. Having very flexible hosts helped to deal with some of the uncertainty and changes we did encounter over our long stay. We would definitely try Airbnb again for a short or long stay. We now had some Airbnb experience and knew the tips to improve our Airbnb experience!

In fact, this “sharing” experience was so positive that with some urging from our son, we signed up for Uber when we returned home to Toronto. Who knows what we will try next?

Did you try something risky for your first Airbnb experience? Is there any advice you have for first time Airbnb users?

We would love if you could share this!
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  1. We had a great New York City AirBnB experience in mid-town Manhattan for a price far below what is typical for that area. It was a big risk, being our first time, but since it was only for about 4 nights we thought it was worth taking the plunge. After alll there were plenty of hotels to turn to short – term if it flopped. But it was terrific. The location was pure gold, the room was large which is almost unheard of in Manhattan, nothing went wrong in terms of air-conditioning, plumbing, etc. and our host seemed really caring. People have so many reasons for renting out their properties so never get stuck in a “too good to be true” skepticism. Sometimes it is too good to be true, but with AirBnB I suspect that most of the time if you choose wisely, it isn’t. (In Budapest we had a chance conversation on a city bus with a traveling American teacher who was thrilled with her AirBnB accommodations in one of Pest’s nicest neighborhoods.) Our own and other acquaintances’ experiences have panned out well and created a richer travel experience. Also consider becoming a host. It’s not for everyone, of course, but it keeps the peer-to-peer ball rolling. And we all have a stake in that.

    • Chloe, I am glad your first AirBNB experience was also so positive. As you said, if you are careful and really research the options, you can get great places. We tend to use AirBNB if we are in town for a longer while and staying put in that town. I have heard in some areas where it is hard to get reasonable priced accommodations (e.g. Iceland) that AirBNB is a great choice. I will look at that when we have trouble with getting where we want to stay. Thanks for reading the blog! Enjoy your travels. Linda

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