Tips and best practices when booking an AirBnB: Observations from someone who used it for long term stays the past two years…

View from our AirBnB, Tupper Lake (NY), April 2022

 Dalai Lama:  “Once a year, go some place you’ve never been before.”

My wife and I have been using AirBnB (and Vrbo once) to book our long term stays for a month or longer since our early retirement in August 2020.  We are currently living without a permanent home, as we sold our home of 14 years that month, to coincide with our retirement.

We are what most people would refer to as nomads, traveling to new places for 8 months out of the year, while staying with our family for the rest of the year.  Since our early retirement, we’ve used AirBnB/Vrbo for long term stays at Ocean City (MD), Atlantic Beach (NC), Claysburg (PA), Ellicottville (NY), Indiana (PA), Altoona (PA), Murrells Inlet (SC), Tupper Lake (NY), Stratton (ME), and Canaan (VT).

We’ve been very fortunate AirBnB/Vrbo is in existence, for if they weren’t, we would have to find long term stays the good old fashioned way, which is booking motels, hotels, or vacation rentals.  In fact, that’s what we had to do during our 3 week cross country trip from New York City to Colorado in the summer of 2003.  

Although websites like Expedia, Hotwire, and Orbitz were available, companies like AirBnB/Vrbo weren’t at that time.  Because of that, we booked most of our stays using those websites.  Back then, the idea of booking a place that feels like a home wasn’t that important, as we didn’t want to cook our own meals.  We wanted to eat out, like most young people, so we can experience local cuisine.

At that time, we were fine staying at motels and hotels…

Fast forward to August 2020, when we had to find a suitable place to stay for a month or longer, after selling our home.  With that end, we were glad AirBnB offered places where we can cook our own meals and usually have more living space, that offer most of the comforts of home.  We also wanted to keep our lodging budget to under $1,000 or so.  

Although we did find some motels and extended stay motels that offer a kitchen, we didn’t want these for two reasons:  1) The cost at that time for a month long stay was greater than $1,000, and 2) we wanted something different than a typical studio motel room with a kitchen.  

We vividly remember trying to book our very first month long stay using AirBnB.  We were searching for a place that allowed pets, as we had Toby (our Pomeranian).  That limited our options as far as where where we could stay, as many places didn’t allow pets.

We found it in Ocean City for a mere pittance of $865!  For that price, we had a third floor walk up unit, with a small one bedroom, a full kitchen, and a tiny bathroom.  

First AirBnB place at Ocean City, MD/Toby not happy!

The place reeked of cigarette smoke and the bathroom smelled like a urinal in a men’s room.  Yikes!

Despite all these challenges of our first AirBnB rental, we adapted and overcame.  We made it our own by cleaning the place and ventilating the place.  After few days, we were fine living there.  We ended up really liking that place towards the end of that month…

Starting with that first month long stay, after two years, we are still using AirBnB for most of our long term stays, and sometimes shorter stays with our family when we’re visiting New York City.  We have gained enough knowledge and the know-how on what to do when booking a place through AirBnB.  

Here are our tips and best practices when booking via AirBnB:

  • Figure few things out when searching for a place
The most important things to know before searching for a place are: 1) Destination, 2) travel dates, 3) number of guests, 4) price range, and 5) whether you’re bringing a pet or not.  The last thing (pet option) will narrow your choices quite a bit.  

Typically, many condos with ocean views like the ones in Myrtle Beach or Ocean City won’t permit pets.  You’ll need to temper your expectations when searching for a place with pets.  We found this out ourselves when traveling with our Pomeranian Toby.  

Many times, beach destinations that allow pets will be a block or two (or more) away from the beach.  This is doubly true if your budget is around $1,000 or so.  If you have a huge budget, then this is obviously not a problem, but for mere common folk like us, we found out that with our budget, ocean view rentals are not feasible…

Besides these basic things, figure out what else is a deal breaker.  For us, it’s wifi, air conditioning/heat, and flushing toilet.  *Note:  when searching, your search results will bring up tents/tent sites, campsites, and RV/tiny homes.   We do not want to deal with composting toilet, or similar, ever!

Although you can filter out parameters like wifi, air conditioning, and heat, there isn’t any way to filter out  a toilet option.  Don’t forget to read the rental description to be sure!

In this example below, I’m searching for a place in Ocean City for the month of August, for two adults, with no pets (Figure 1).   In Figure 2, I’m clicking on the ‘filter’ icon at the top right hand corner to bring up my filter parameters.  In Figure 3, I’m selecting things like price range and type of place.  

Note: These screenshots are from the AirBnB app, and not the website.  Although they’re similar, the website view will look slightly different.  

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

For those of you interested in what search result comes up for this particular search, it’s not much.  Only one comes up, and it’s for a tent site.  Know that for summer vacation seasons, beach destinations are very popular.  Search the entire state of Maryland, for example, to broaden your search.  

Toby at Atlantic Beach rental/Toby begging for treats
  • Be flexible with your search, if you can…

The more flexible you are, the easier it’ll be to find something that fits your budget.  For example, when we search for a month long stay, we leave options open as to our destination.  As long as we find something within a general area like the Northeast during the summer, and the South during the winter, we’re ok with that.  ***We like cooler weather of Northeast during the summer, and we like the warmer weather of the South during the winter.  I guess we’re snowbirds…

You want to try to be a contrarian, that is, go where most people don’t go during that particular timeframe.  For example, during the summer months, we seek out mountains, cities, or anywhere else in the Northeast that fits our budget.  For winter months, we go down south, to places like North or South Carolina, as most people do not go to beaches during the winter.

We found out lesser known destinations provide good value when it comes to booking long term stays.  Places like Ellicottville, Indiana, Altoona, Tupper Lake, Stratton, and Canaan may not be well known, but every single place has something to offer!  

For example, Ellicottville’s awesome location in western New York allowed us to visit tons of places like Niagara Falls, Letchworth State Park, and Presque Isle State Park, all within about a 2 hour drive.  In Stratton, we explored beautiful hikes to waterfalls, mountains, and even to Acadia National Park.  

We don’t mind driving 2-3 hours to get to a nearby destination, so for us, it’s ok to book something that may seem out of the way (and not well known or popular enough) for most people.  

Claysburg (PA), April, 2021/Toby on top of the world!
  • Price range is another big factor
Know that for popular places during peak season, prices will be high.  Beach destinations during summer months or ski destinations during winter months are good examples of that.  Expect to pay much more if you need to book during peak times at popular places.  

Our lodging budget of $1,000 worked well enough for the first year or so, but we are noticing the prices are creeping up, the second year.  These are the breakdowns of our lodging costs from October 2020 until October 2021:
  1. Ocean City (Maryland)/October 2020: $865
  2. Atlantic Beach (North Carolina)/December 2020-February 2021:  $1,000 per month
  3. Claysburg (Pennsylvania)/April 2021:  $1,300
  4. Ellicottville (New York)/June 2021:  $1,200
  5. Indiana (Pennsylvania)/July 2021:  $965
  6. Altoona (Pennsylvania)/August 2021:  $1,000
  7. Snowshoe (West Virginia)/October 2021:  $870
If you can live with staying at less well known destinations like we can, then there are still reasonable places at around $1,000 - $1,300 range.  Even at these places, we always find fun things to do, as every town has parks, hiking trails, and/or bodies of water we can enjoy.  

Remember that it’s what you make of a situation.  If you work at it to enjoy yourselves, then you will.  If you feel the place is devoid of anything worth exploring, then you’ll absolutely hate the place.  For us, as long as the rental is in a safe location, we can figure out how to enjoy the rental and its surroundings.

Ellicottville (NY), June, 2021/Toby being happy

  • Read the rental description!
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading about the rental BEFORE booking it!  Be sure it has the absolute necessities included at the rental.  Be sure it has air conditioning when you’re booking during the summer, for example.  Knowing myself and our Pomeranian, booking a summer rental in Maine without air conditioning would’ve been a nightmare!  We both hate the heat…

There have been many times we caught ourselves with potential rentals where it didn’t have air conditioning, wifi, and/or a full kitchen, which are all important to us.  Whatever is important to you, make sure the rental has them before booking it!

Indiana (PA), July 2021/Toby has no ears!

  • Read the reviews!
You can get plenty of useful information about a rental by simply reading all the reviews of a rental.  We have been saved couple of times when reviews mentioned things we didn’t like.  One was excessively noisy neighbors and the other was safety of the neighborhood the rental was in.

Had we not read those reviews, we most likely would’ve booked the rental, not realizing those issues until too late.  Try to read between the lines as well, as many reviewers will ‘sugarcoat’ the bad reviews by saying something like, “there was a problem which was fixed…”

Many times, a reviewer will say specifically what issue was fixed, UNLESS the issue was so annoyingly bad that the reviewer couldn’t bring himself to say what the actual issue was.  I think many reviewers would rather not leave bad reviews if they can avoid them, especially people like us, who need AirBnB for  our long term stays.

For us, in one of our AirBnB rentals, we had a noisy neighbor issue.  The upstairs neighbor kept us awake every other night!  It drove us nuts and we had to cut our trip short.  We were able to get a partial refund, but in our review, we didn’t mention the exact issue.  Instead, we just wrote that there was an issue that was amicably handled.  

We didn’t want to be ‘blacklisted’ by AirBnB hosts for being difficult guests.  We had to think long term, as we definitely need AirBnB to solve our lodging situation 8 months out of the year…

Altoona (PA), August, 2021/Toby waiting to go outside
  • Despite all those preparations, always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst…
This is our motto living our lives.  After living on this Earth for over 50 years, we understand not everything works out the way we think it should.  Sometimes we have to go with the punches, and live the best we can.

We will always run into issues/problems dealing with life.  It’s not any different when booking a rental via AirBnB.  Despite all our preparations, the rental may still not be what we thought it would be.

It may look smaller than the photos on the listing, place may reek, it may be noisy, and/or something may not work.  There are things you can do to make things livable like cleaning out the place and ventilating the place.  You can reorganize furniture to utilize the space better if it’s smaller than you thought.

We stayed at a studio that didn’t have any storage space but we still made it work with our 20+ bags we had brought with us.  Instead of despairing and giving up, try what you can make the space work.  You’ll be surprised at how ingenious you can be when you try…

If something doesn’t work, contact your host.  Many hosts will get things repaired in a timely manner.  During our two years of staying at long term rentals, we had the following things break:  toilet, heater, wifi, and kitchen lights.  In many of these situations, they were repaired within a day or so.  

When wifi didn’t work in one of the long term stays, we made the use of a nearby library and free wifi near a municipal building for about 2 weeks.  We still managed to enjoy our stay despite the lack of wifi inside of our rental.

As for things that can’t be fixed like a noisy neighbor, try to resolve the issue by always contacting the host first.  Always use the AirBnB app (and not directly via text) to contact the host, as that’ll leave a ‘paper’ trail.  If the rental is in a condo-like setting, there may be bylaws that can help with excessive noise after 10 p.m. for example.  

You don’t want to get into dangerous situations by attempting to confront the noisy neighbor.  Get help from host, and let the host do what he can.  If the issue is not resolved, you can contact AirBnB customer service for help.  We managed to get a partial refund with their involvement.  Tip:  If you’re interested in reading about our AirBnB horror story, click here.  

My point in all this is this:  just like in life, nothing will ever be perfect.  I’m not perfect, but neither is anyone (and for that matter, neither is anything).  Situations will always come up.  Learn to deal with it, adapt, and overcome.  It’s called being an adult.

In conclusion:

AirBnB (and Vrbo) has provided a way for us nomads to live this lifestyle, and for that we’re thankful.  We love being able to live in different places, living like snowbirds, and experiencing local culture/cuisine/attractions.  

If it weren’t for AirBnB, we would have to find motels for majority of our stays.  It is a great tool to use that wasn’t available just twenty years ago…

However, even a great tool still requires the ability of the user to get the most out of it, and hopefully avoiding the many pitfalls.  We still need to be attentive when searching for places, paying close attention to things like reviews, amenities, and safety.

AirBnB (and similar websites) can be a great tool when used correctly, but still be prepared if something doesn’t work out the way you think it should.  Do what you can to make the place yours.  Always work with your host to resolve any issues.  But most of all, learn to improvise, adapt, and overcome!  It’s useful in living your life!

Thank you all for reading and happy trails!


Wandering Money Pig 

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