9 tips to help you find the best spots on Airbnb

Start your perfect vacation with the perfect place to stay.

Man staring at mountains on pier
No, you can’t rent an entire lake, but how about a treehouse with a view? Simon Migaj via Unsplash

If you’re not roughing it in a tent or treating yourself to a hotel, Airbnb provides lots of lodging options for when you’re traveling—from single rooms to fully furnished, multi-bedroom houses. You can even rent treehouses.

With millions of places to pick from in the Airbnb catalog—not to mention hoards of other travelers running the same searches as you—finding the perfect place to stay can be a challenge. Still, there are ways to stay ahead of the crowd.

1. Start outside Airbnb

You don’t have to use Airbnb to pick both a destination and a place to stay. There’s nothing wrong with the company’s search options, but it can be difficult to know what to focus on. If you know where you’re going before you start searching for a place to sleep, you’ll find it much easier to narrow down your choices.

Start by scouting your location. You could check out online travel guides for the best remote spots or the best seaside towns, or get advice from family and friends about destinations you might like. Services like Kayak can also help you figure out how far you can jet on your budget.

2. Put your dates in first

It can be tempting to just start searching through dreamy-looking locations, but when you begin looking for an Airbnb, we’d recommend putting your intended travel dates in first—if you know them, of course.

Specifying a timeframe will immediately reduce your accommodation options, which means you’ll waste less time looking at places that aren’t available for the days you’re away. You’ll also avoid the disappointment of finding the perfect spot, only to find out it’s already booked.

With dates added, Airbnb will be able to display prices, which makes planning and deciding that much easier. If there are other restrictions on locations—a minimum stay of two or three nights, for example—specifying your dates ensures you won’t see anything you can’t book.

3. Tap into the filters

Both the Airbnb site and app provide a whole host of search filters, so make good use of them. Not only can they cut your choices down to a manageable number, they can also help you avoid the frustration of finding a seemingly perfect spot that’s missing something you consider absolutely necessary.

You can look for homes with or without Wi-Fi, specify a minimum number of bedrooms, check if a place has air conditioning, restrict your search to entire houses, and even look for pet-friendly spots that will welcome you and your furry companions.

On the web, click More filters under the search box to see how you can narrow down your search. In the app, tap Filters at the bottom of the map (or Filters under the search box if you’re not in the map view on mobile). As you make your selections, the results will adjust automatically.

Screenshot of Airbnb
Make sure your choice of Airbnb offers absolutely everything you’re going to need. David Nield

4. Zoom right in

This may sound obvious, but the map on the Airbnb site and in the Airbnb app doesn’t show every property available—it only picks a selection based on how far you’ve zoomed in or out.

It makes sense, really, because you don’t want to see all the Airbnbs in France when you’re scrolling across western Europe—your screen would turn into a cloud of icons and it’d be impossible to understand what you were looking at. This does mean, however, that you should make sure you’ve zoomed in as close as possible to your chosen vacation spot to see all your options, especially in places with a lot of rentals.

Make sure you have the Search as I move the map option checked (on the web) or keep tapping Redo search in this area (in the mobile app) as you scroll and pan around the map. The closer, the better, so if you get right down to street level, you might find something you’d have otherwise missed.

5. Know your budget

Airbnb offers places across the price scale, from a few dozen to a few thousand dollars a night. If you’re not limiting your search by price, especially in the more popular destinations, you might get an overwhelming number of results.

Most of us are on a budget when we are away, so put in your preferred prices to make sure you’re seeing Airbnbs that match what you can afford. It is always a good idea to give yourself a little leeway at the top end, just in case you find something worth splurging on.

On the web, just click the Price button to set your budget. In the app, tap Filters on the map or initial search page to find the price range option. Note that you will need to enter your travel dates first to get accurate pricing.

6. Collect places in lists

If you’ve fallen in love with a place but aren’t ready to commit, Airbnb has a useful feature that allows you to create lists and bookmark spots for later. If you’re looking around a popular destination, doing so can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

To add a place to a list, click or tap the heart icon that appears by the listing. If you’ve recently saved other places to a list, the new one will be saved to the same list, but you can choose Change to pick another or create a new list altogether. If you haven’t recently saved anything to a list, your full selection of lists will appear. You can also tap Saved on the web or in the app to see your lists.

In the big cities or popular destinations, try experimenting with lists that cover different areas. One part of a city can be quite different from another, and building separate lists can help you work out exactly which neighborhood you’d like to stay in.

Screenshot of Airbnb
Lists offer a simple but effective way of picking the perfect spot. David Nield

7. Read the description and reviews in full

You’re obviously going to flick through photos of a place the moment you find an Airbnb you think you might like—they usually show you the ambience, give you an idea of what staying there will be like, and sometimes include local scenery.

But the place’s description and reviews can be just as important. The host’s description will often include details such as parking restrictions, rules and regulations, what the surrounding area is like, things to do nearby, and available facilities (like a pool, a gym, or a washing machine). You’ll want to read the entire description, so make sure to tap or click Read more to get the full story.

Meanwhile, reviews from previous guests can be just as useful as they are when buying something from Amazon. They can tip you off to what the host is like to deal with, any problems with the property, what the local area has to offer, and other things you should know before booking.

8. Tie in an experience

Airbnb has expanded beyond stays to include experiences and adventures, too. These include tours, events, and activities hosted by locals, and you can book them through the Airbnb platform the same way you book a place to stay.

If you’re struggling to decide where to go on your next trip, have a look at the available Experiences or Adventures instead. Categories include food, history, and wildlife, and your choice of activity can be as relaxing or as adrenaline-fuelled as you like.

Once you choose an adventure or an experience, you’ll be able to select available dates. That will give you a timeframe and a location within which to hunt down an Airbnb to stay in, though some adventures and experiences include accommodations.

9. Consider Airbnb Luxe

If you’ve got extra cash for that extra-special stay, Airbnb Luxe is worth checking out. It’s the equivalent of picking a place from among five-star hotels rather than settling for somewhere that might only be OK. To qualify for Luxe, homes have to pass a 300-point inspection for quality, and are carefully vetted by Airbnb representatives.

When choosing from Luxe, you even get an agent who will help you plan your trip, covering everything from transportation from the airport to finding the best restaurants nearby.

The places listed on Luxe are the sorts of places you see regularly on Instagram and book up fast, so you might need to lock them in several months in advance. On the bright side, though, that gives you more time to save up for that highly Instagrammable trip.

David Nield
David Nield

David Nield is a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.