Caring for vs. caring about

When it comes to furnishing spaces, many hosts believe that simpler is better. Fewer decorations, Ikea-style furniture, and the like.

There are certainly advantages to this approach.

Fewer things to dust, no sentimental items in danger of being broken or stolen. But not everyone shares this perspective.

One of the bookings we made on our recent trip to Italy was in the spare room of a woman in Parma. Her house was crammed full of nick-nacks. Ornately gilded mirrors and picture frames, religious relics, lace doilies and silk flowers… Much of it may have had sentimental value to her, but to me it just looked like a bunch of junk. I find it tawdry and overwhelming.

And yet, that was one of our best stays of the entire trip.

Federica was such a kind, thoughtful host. She met us upon arrival with some prosciutto, parmesan cheese, and wine – three things that area is famous for. There was also a large bottle of water and 2 crystal glasses. The next morning, she gave us breakfast – all sorts of pastries and, of course, cappuccino coffee. The bathroom, too, was filled with thoughtful touches. Scented candles. Bath bubbles. Toiletry necessities. It was as if I was staying with a dear friend… And indeed, it felt like that.

This was a good reminder to me of what really makes an impression to a guest. It’s not the decorations, or lack thereof. It’s a simple thing, although not necessarily easy.

At the end of the day, guests want to feel not just that they’re cared for, but that they’re cared about. That is what really makes all the difference.

How not to get a good review

I recently stayed in an Airbnb in New York City. It was a pretty decent place to stay – aside from the giant signs right outside telling me that it was illegal to rent on Airbnb in the city. 

But after I checked out, I got a message from the host that made me extremely uncomfortable.

It more or less said something along the lines of this: “I’m trying to build up my 5-star ratings, so could you please give me a 5-star review? If you do, I’ll credit you back $15 from your trip.”

Now, at first glance, this didn’t seem so bad. But then I started thinking about it a little more. This, I realized, was nothing short of a bribe. Sure, it was worded nicely and I had the option to refuse it, but it was a bribe nonetheless. 

I started to do a little digging, and soon found Airbnb’s anti-extortion policy.

The host’s actions had been in direct violation of it. 

Let me be clear about something here. There is nothing wrong with reminding a guest to leave a review for you after they check out. Reviews are very important to hosts on the Airbnb platform, and it makes sense that they would want to build up their review base. 

HOWEVER, there IS something wrong with bribing the guest to leave you a good review.

Don’t ever do it. Many guests may not saying anything, but you’re being dishonest regardless, and eventually you will host someone who decides to report you to Airbnb. It won’t go well for you as a host when that happens.

Don’t take the risk! Put in the work to host the right way, and you’ll get plenty of 5-star reviews without having to bribe anyone to give them to you. 

Common courtesy – tell guests if other people are going to be there

There are 3 kinds of listings on Airbnb.

The first is a shared room, which honestly I’ve never met anyone who has used. The second is a private room in a shared space, and the third is a full private space. 

A full private unit is pretty self-explanatory.

With a private room in a shared space, however, the specifics can get a little blurry. 

The assumption is that you will be sharing the space with the owners. And that’s what many people (myself included) are hoping for when they book this type of property.

Unfortunately, that’s not always what you end up getting. 

With the explosion of popularity of Airbnb and other sites like it, some people have taken to renting out each room individually of entire houses. So, rather than getting the opportunity to know the owners during your stay, you end up booking a room in a glorified hostel (often without even knowing it). 

This happened to me recently. The thing is, I’ve stayed in hostels before. They don’t bother me at all. But as I’ve often said, expectation management is key in this business. 

I booked a private room in a shared space, looking forward to getting some local tips from the owners while I was there. What I got instead was a stream of strangers coming in and out of the apartment the entire time I was there. 

It wasn’t terrible. But when it’s not what you’re expecting, it’s also not ideal. 

The thing that bugged me was not that the host had rented out all of the rooms in her apartment. It’s that she hadn’t mentioned anything about that on her listing. 

If you know there will be other people on the property while you have guests there (whether they’re other Airbnb guests or friends of yours), PLEASE let your guests know.

You’d want to know if someone else was staying in a hotel room you booked.

This is no different. It’s just common courtesy. 

Be careful how you describe your listings

Last month I stayed in a room that was described as such: “the room is quite large by the standards of the city.” 

Well that’s great, but in reality the room was barely big enough to fit a queen-sized bed in it.

I had to shuffle sideways around all 3 sides of the bed that weren’t against the wall. 

I am not saying the host was lying. It’s very likely that the room was large by her city’s standards. But I still felt like I was somewhat misled.

If you’re looking for a short term rental, you’re most likely not familiar with the city you’re going to. So most people are going to assume a room a bit larger than that if they get a description like the one I got. 

Be extremely careful in how you word your listing descriptions.

You may say something that’s completely accurate, but still misleading. If people are expecting something different from what they get, they’re going to be disappointed and it’s going to show up in your ratings.

In my example, just adding a few words would have made a huge difference.

Something like “the room is rather small (although actually quite large by the standards of the city)” would have given me totally different expectations. And at the end of the day, I would have given her a much higher rating than I did. 

You may think that you’ll attract more bookings if you keep negative aspects of your space on the down low. That may be true in the beginning. But you’re also going to start racking up less than stellar reviews from unhappy guests, which is going to hurt you in the long run.

Don’t go there! Be upfront and honest about the limitations of your space. This will bring you happier guests, which in turn will make you a happier host! 🙂


Dealing with bad hosts

It’s easy to find horror stories about terrible Airbnb guests. It’s a bit like news articles on plane crashes – although not common, they’re noteworthy, and always get a lot of attention. 

It seems somewhat more difficult to find horror stories about terrible Airbnb hosts. I suppose that could be a good thing – ostensibly it means that not very many bad hosts exist on Airbnb. 

However, even if bad hosts are rare, they do exist. 

I had an experience with a bad host a few months ago. 

The host herself was actually fine. But her husband had issue with anger and alcoholism, and we were awoken early in the morning by the sounds of him drunkenly yelling at her and punching walls.

At first, we were just going to leave and let them deal with their issues on their own. But when she started screaming, our plans quickly changed. Michael rushed in to make sure she was ok, her husband stormed off, and we stayed for several hours to help calm her down. 

Eventually, we even decided to call the police and file a report.

So we ended up having to stay even longer while they took our statements. 

It was, in a way, an illustration of both the worst and best of what can happen in Airbnb. Our experience as travelers was certainly less than ideal. However, for the host, having neutral outsiders around who could interfere and calm the situation down was probably the best thing that could have happened. 

Many people love traveling with Airbnb because of the opportunity it affords them to meet new people from all over the world. I understand that perspective well, as I myself am one of those people. 

But it’s important to remember that it isn’t all sunshine and roses.

Staying in strangers’ homes, especially when they also live there, is by definition inviting yourself into the messiness of their lives. 

I want to be clear: having to call the police on your hosts is an extremely unusual occurrence. Most of the time you will have a great experience with great hosts. But things like this can happen. So if you’re thinking about stepping into the world of Airbnb, make sure that you do so with your eyes open!

Keep your keys straight!

A few months ago my husband and I stayed with a lovely older married couple in Pennsylvania. 

We arrived mid-afternoon; they chatted with us for a bit, showed us our room, asked if we needed anything else, and gave us a key to the house, in case we decided to go out later. It was a perfectly normal and pleasant exchange, and I was looking forward to a pleasant stay with them.

We were planning on staying in that first night, but we changed our minds and decided to go out. No problem though, because we had a key to the house, right?


I don’t know what key she had given me, but it wasn’t a key to her house. After trying both the front and back doors several times, testing windows to see if any were open, and uselessly jiggling the door nobs, I had to resign and admit that we were locked out. 

I started trying to get in touch with our host. I called her, texted her, messaged her on Airbnb. Nothing seemed to be getting through to her. (I found out later that she was in a pretty dead spot for cell phone service at the time.) 

Eventually, she got enough signal for one of my texts to be delivered, and she told me where the spare key was hidden. 

It was an inconvenient incident for us, but at the end of the day it wasn’t terrible. We were only locked out for about 30 minutes total. But it could have been hours – they didn’t return until well into the night that evening. 

This is one of the absolute worse things you could do to your guests.

They are paying you to stay in your space; you have to make sure they have access to it!

Of course, I’m a big advocate for smart locks – they remove any possibility of a key mix-up. But I understand that using smart locks isn’t always a feasible option. If you must give your guests physical keys, though, PLEASE make sure to GIVE THEM THE RIGHT KEY!!

Paint it a bright color. Get one of those silicon key markers. Clip it to a lanyard. Put an obnoxiously large keychain dongle on the key ring. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that when you give a guest a key it’s going to actually open the door it’s supposed to open! 


Bad surprises – the challenge of mismatched expectations



Last month I stayed in several Airbnbs all around the country. A few of them had multiple private rooms that they rented out within the same house.

I have no problem with this. I’ve been able to meet some fascinating people through shared Airbnb spaces. 

HOWEVER, I like to know what I’m getting myself into. 

These places I stayed in last month made no indication in their listing that there were other guests staying in the space at the same time. They didn’t even mention that the bathroom was shared among all guests. 

Some surprises are good. This scenario isn’t one of them.

The thing with Airbnb is, it’s all about expectations. With hotels, everyone more or less already knows what to expect. There’s a basic template that almost all hotels follow. People know what to expect when they check into a hotel.

But with Airbnb, there is no standard template. There is no set of basic expectations that people can count on. I’ve stayed in a “glamping” tent, a 3-bedroom chalet right on the waterfront, a converted garage, a weird pseudo-hostel run out of an unused schoolhouse, a tiny spare bedroom in a crummy apartment, and everything in between. And those are some of the tamer listings on Airbnb!

The variety of Airbnb is what attracts may travelers to it.

Nevertheless, people still want to be able to know what to expect before they arrive. 

It doesn’t really even matter what those expectations are, as long as they’re accurate. Linens or no linens provided, shared spaces or entirely private, street parking or reserved spaces, stairs or totally flat…most people will be happy with what they get, as long as they expect it before arriving

So do your guests – and yourself – a favor. Don’t let them have any bad surprises. Give them all the details they’ll need before arriving, so once they get there they can just enjoy the experience. 

Writing reviews as a traveler



I hope my story last week doesn’t dissuade you from leaving honest reviews of your hosts when you travel. 

The simple fact is that, without reviews of both hosts and guests, Airbnb would cease to exist. Without reliable outside commentary, no one would trust each other enough to use Airbnb. 

So helpful, detailed reviews are critically important. 

When I leave reviews, particularly as a traveler, there are 2 things I think about. 

First, how was MY stay? Was the space clean, what’s the surrounding area like, how are the amenities, and so on. 

Second, I try to think of what potential pitfalls OTHER travelers might have. 

Are there stairs or a steeply inclined driveway? That would be good for people with mobility issues to know. Is there not a TV in the space? You may not care about that, but for some that would be a deal-breaker. Is it near a major highway? The noise from the cars could be very disruptive to light sleepers. 

I’m not encouraging you to nit-pick. Certainly make it clear that these were not issues for you during your stay. But the more people know, the more easily they can make an informed decision about their specific needs. 

This is better for everyone.

Informed guests are happy guests; happy guests leave good reviews; good reviews make happy hosts.

We all win. 

What NOT to do with a review you don’t like



I recently had a brief stay in a lovely Airbnb suite. 

It was a great stay. Comfortable, convenient, and thoughtful, it was obvious that the host had put great care into his space. In my 5-star review, I used words like “perfect,” “amazing,” and “would definitely stay again.” 

But there were also a few things that I felt like I should make other guests aware of.

Not that there was anything wrong, and it didn’t affect the quality of my stay, but I just wanted future guests to know so that they could make an informed decision about booking. 

The day after my review was published, I got a long message from the host. He apparently had gotten very upset with my review, and felt a need to defend himself to me. He laid out all of his reasons for doing things the way he does, saying that I was hurting his business by saying the things I did, yada yada yada. 

Y’all. Don’t be like that guy. 

The review process is a vital component of what makes Airbnb work.

Some guests will just say a word or two. Some will say things that sound like they loved the place but only give you 3 stars. And some, like myself, try to give reviews that give future guests more information about the place that the listing might not have. You have to live with all types. 

Don’t be an overly sensitive host. If someone says something in a review that’s inaccurate or misleading, you always have the right to post a comment below it explaining further. If it’s a flat-out lie, you can even call Airbnb and try to get the review removed. 

There are other much more professional ways to handle reviews you don’t like than messaging the guest after they’ve left to explain all the reasons their review was unacceptable.

In my case, this left a bad aftertaste from a stay that was really quite lovely. I was planning on returning there whenever I was in the area, but now I’m not so sure. His need to defend himself has probably cost him much more business than it saved him. Hopefully his story can keep us from making the same mistake in the future!

Hosting friends vs. guests



There’s a conversation I had last year that has stuck with me as if it were yesterday.

I was staying in an Airbnb space in Nashville, TN. The hosts were friendly and talkative to the point of being slightly annoying. For some reason, the wife felt a need to tell me all about her philosophy on every aspect of the hosting experience. 

It was the bit about the dishes that really struck me. 

She told me a brief anecdote about a guest who had accidentally broken one of their glass cups. She summed it up with a sentence that started with “and that’s when I learned…”

Mentally, I had already finished the sentence for her. I was sure she was going to say “and that’s when I learned not to stress the small stuff,” or something along those lines. 

I was wrong.

In reality, what she said was “and that’s when I learned to give guests plastic cups.” 

She seemed so proud of this revelation, but it really irked me. 

So many people host just for the money. And you can tell. When their heart isn’t in it, you’re paying for a bed to sleep in. When they are actually eager to invite you into their home, you’re getting a new friend. 

This is how I look at my guests who come into my home. I would never ask a friend to use a plastic cup while I used a glass one; so why would I do that to a guest? 

It will perhaps cost you slightly more money in the long run to take this philosophy. But in my experience, it pays for itself many times over in connections, stories, and newly forged friendships. 

And if replacing whatever they’ve broken really bothers you, just ask them to pay to replace it!