What I've learned from using airbnb with a chronic illness

Hi Everyone!

We're taking a look at how to use airbnb when you've got a chronic illness as well as what I've learned (and things I always look for now!) when booking a place through airbnb. I've been on four trips now using airbnb. That doesn't sound like a lot but I have had every experience you could have using the platform. I've had a great, warm stay, a pretty business-y stay, a downright horrible one and one that was plain weird. 

If you haven't got an airbnb account yet, you can use this link to get $30 off of your first trip. (the exact amount depends on the currency you use). That way I'll get the same discount for my next trip, you know, in case you liked this article...

The first stay was possibly the best one I've had with an airbnb host.

The owner of the barn I booked was kind, helpful and even offered her own freezer because there was just a small freezer compartment in the barn I'd rented (we did agree this before hand of course ;) ).

Second was still pleasant but had that distinct corporate feel to the interaction with the owners. It's fine but I prefer for people to be genuinely themselves, rather than that 'tourist helping' version of themselves. Nothing wrong with the stay but that does leave a disingenuous taste behind after the stay. IMHO

The third was what everyone fears when they think about booking through a platform like airbnb.

The apartment was on the lower-ground floor, rather than the ground floor. There was a long staircase (that had been left off of the pictures of course) down to the front door. All sorts of things were wrong with the apartment itself, food stuck to the walls, rusty radiators, smoke alarms going off in the middle of the night. Make sure to read on to see how airbnb handled this as well as what you should do if you're in the same situation. (although I hope you would never be of course ;) ).

The fourth rental through airbnb was pretty darn good. Until the owner was freaked out by my illness and gave me a weird, weird review. 

At the moment, I'm booking another trip with airbnb so it hasn't put me off of the platform! It has helped me to put together a list of things I now look for in an airbnb listing, more on that later on.

Why I always look on airbnb for a trip first

Flexibilty.

On most booking sites or through rental agencies, listings are rented for a certain amount of days and they all start their start dates on certain days of the week. They'll always rent out (for example) for at least 7 days, starting on Friday (that's the changeover day). You often can't stay for a different amount of time without paying extra, it costs the same to stay for 14 days (7 times 2) as it does for nine or eleven days. That means you would pay much more per night if you booked eleven days. Not great if you ask me.

On airbnb, you're often able to book somewhere for how many days as you need. If you want to leave on a Wednesday, stay somewhere for 17 days, that's going to cost the same a night as when you booked a more traditional holiday (like a week starting on Friday). That does bring me to my next point.

It's worth it to stay for longer.

Once you're staying somewhere longer than a week, you'll often get long-stay or weekly discounts but this isn't something every host does.

The ability to rent from a person.

It does make a difference, to me, to be able to rent someones converted barn, annex... that way it feels less lonely as opposed to renting a house or apartment in a residential neighborhood where you won't see that many others.

So here's how I go about finding somewhere suitable on Airbnb

Of course, everyone has different needs and will have to keep different things in mind when they book a place to stay.

I've recorded my screen when I started to look for a place to stay.

In this case, I was looking for listings near Stockholm, Sweden. (wonder if that's where I actually ended up going? Me too at the time of writing this article ;) ). There's no audio but I tried to go over all the settings you've got when booking a place.

  1. First I go and add how many people are going on this trip. Since it's mostly (like always) me and my mom, it's more important to add how many beds and bedrooms you need. Bedrooms more so because beds could be a sofa couch in the living room. If that's something you're okay with, it does cut down the cost!
  2. Then I select 'entire home', that way I won't see hosts who rent just a bedroom or shared spaces. 
  3. The price option I don't really use. Mostly, places cost about the same. With long-stay discounts, things that wouldn't be shown if I added my budget could become in budget and I could miss that listing.
  4. If there are lots of things that are way beyond budget, I will add a maximum price to narrow things down.
  5. Instant book and trip type aren't very relevant to me. The instant book option means you can book without contacting the host. I'll usually ask the host a couple of things anyway before booking. Trip type can be good, again, to narrow options down. At the moment, there's 'family trip' and 'work trip'. I did get an email a while ago saying they'll add more options for trip type so this one might become more useful once those have been added.
  6. 'More filters' is the one I do use.
  7. Here's there's the option to add number of beds, bedrooms, bathrooms... 
  8. Superhost is one I do pay attention to. It means someone has been a great host, they've been very mindful of the guests etc. You can read more about what someone has to do to get the superhost badge. I don't filter on it because it means someone has had to have had many guests. So if someone's brand new to the platform, they might be great and deserve the badge but haven't got it yet. 
  9. Accessibility is pretty pointless in my opinion. It's Airbnb's latest filter but it doesn't mean much. I would have preferred it to be things like 'ground floor accommodation', 'property on one floor', 'walk-in shower' etc.. This does depend on your own mobility needs so take a look through them in case something applies to you. I have noticed not a lot of people have added accessibility info to their listing so you could filter out suitable options this way. I think it needs some time to evolve.
  10. Other than that, I always make sure to check 'kitchen', 'wifi', and 'heating' under amenities and 'free parking on premises' under facilities . 

From there it's a matter of clicking 'show homes' and work my way through the options. I tend to start by looking at something that stands out for me. I'll look through some of the photos and if I still think it could work I open the listing in a new tab and continue my search. Once I've narrowed it down, I start to comb through the listings I opened in a new tab and see if there are any suitable ones left.

Usually, I end up with just two or three that could work. 

What I've learned to look for in a host's profile and booking options to make sure I make the best possible choice for me.

  • If possible book with a Superhost but don't let that stop you (see above)
  • Check what the cancellation options are. They range from 'super strict 60 days' to 'flexible'. You can read more on each option and what that means if you do have to cancel your booking on the Airbnb site. I don't look at this option so I can cancel, although that's very useful if something would come up. I look at the cancellation policy the owner has selected because it says something about how comfortable the owner is with having guests and changes. At least, that's what I've found!
  • Always book with a host who lives near or on the rental site. Like a farm with a barn conversion or someone renting out their annex and manages the property themselves. Don't rent through agencies or someone who lives 500 miles away and uses a management company to oversee their place. 
  • Always book through Airbnb. Don't be tempted to book something you saw on Airbnb through the owner's own website. Even if it could save you a couple $100. Booking through Airbnb means you can contact them (they've got a number you can call 24/7) if something goes wrong.
  • Read their inclusion and hosting guidelines. Airbnb has published really clear guidelines on what they deem acceptable and not for both hosts and guests. This comes in handy when you do come across a problem related to your condition.
  • Report any issues with the place within the first 24 hours of arriving. I was just in time to report (after having told the owner, of course, they need to be able to fix it if they wanted to) the issues with safety and the stairs. If you report it within 24 hours, they can hold your money so it's easier for them to refund you. The stairs alone were reason enough according to their guidebook to get a refund.
  • If you need a refund, make sure you clearly state (and state again!) whether or not you're able to leave that same day or if you need x number of days to pack up and leave because of your medical condition. You'll encounter a bunch of different operators and they don't always know what the previous one has done or said. I got a refund for that awful apartment but the operator who refunded me had also checked us out. Yes, without us having somewhere to go. I had the most stressful couple of days, we did manage to pay extra for the days we needed to pack up, find somewhere new etc. 

So that's everything I look for when I want to rent a home through Airbnb. Of course not fulfilling all these criteria doesn't mean the person renting their home aren't trustworthy. It's just what I've noticed and now pay attention to because of my chronic illness.

I hope this article's been useful and you're confident to book a trip through airbnb as well. Let me know what you think!