Due to the popularity of this post, we have recently published a much more in depth article, delving into our favorite tips for slow travel using Airbnb.
When we travel, we use Airbnb almost exclusively. Airbnb offers a chance to immerse yourself more deeply in the local environment and yet somehow feel more at home. Our experiences staying in the homes and rentals of our gracious hosts have been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, we’ve made a few mistakes along the way. It turns out that the quality of your stay depends in large part on using the service correctly to meet your needs as a traveler.
Use the Map: Just because an apartment is in the right city, doesn’t mean it’s in the right place. We do a lot of photography and we have to be able to get to the sights before the crowds (or get home after them). Sometimes we’ll even return to the same location several times, and travel time adds up! The Airbnb website and app have built in maps that will show you where a rental is in relation to local landmarks and important transportation hubs. We also use google street view to see what the neighborhood looks like.
Book an Entire Place: You might think it would be cheaper to rent a single room, but that’s not necessarily the case. With a single room you usually don’t have a kitchen, so you have to add eating out three times a day (in a touristy city) to your bill. If you have a family of three like we do, that extra $40 a night for a whole apartment/house starts to look downright cheap! As an added benefit you get complete privacy, your own wifi and you never have to wait to use a shared kitchen or bathroom.
Check Amenities: Some people can rough it and some people can’t. Airbnb caters to both crowds, but you probably know which one you fall into. Luckily when you are searching for rentals you can filter for your required amenities. For more than two night stays, we always require “Entire Place,” “kitchen,” “wifi,” and sometimes “family friendly” and “parking” (if we have a car with us).
Contact the Host: There’s always something you should ask. Is the place safe for a curious toddler? Do you have a coffee maker? Is it ok if we get up early or stay out late? The more you ask the better you can prepare for the trip. Most of the hosts we have encountered are kind and friendly, they want more business, better reviews (some of them really just want to make friends) and they are eager to be helpful. Some hosts will even go so far as to pick you up at the airport if you aren’t sure how to get there. Other hosts might never see you. You’ll never know unless you ask.
Read Reviews: This is the most important one. There are two sections to look at. There are star ratings: the location, the check-in experience, cleanliness … etc, and the overall value you get for your money. Just as valuable are the written reviews in which guests share their experiences anecdotally to give you a more nuanced perspective that might be lost in the stars. The hosts also get to review the guests, so be a good little traveler! We always try our best to leave the place as clean as we found it.
Pack some toys: We didn’t think of this during our first international vacation with a baby, but bring your baby’s favorite toys eases a lots of travel stress for the little ones. If your little one enjoys bubble bath, don’t forget to pack a few fun bath toys. Don’t need to pack shampoo and lotions, most pharmacy in Paris (and all over Europe) carries a good deal of organic baby products.
(Once again, there is a lot more on our new, more comprehensive Airbnb tips page)
Airbnb Rentals We Stayed at in Paris
The first time we went to Paris was Fall of 2016, we stayed at two apartments one close to the Eiffel Tower the other close to Notre Dame with a one year old we walked everywhere. The second time we went to Paris was in the spring of 2017, we stayed near the Louvre and utilized uber to get us to the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t find Paris’s subway to be very baby stroller friendly – at least not with a one year old.
Spacious 1 bed near Eiffel Tower: We picked this apartment because it’s just across the river from the Eiffel Tower. It was a 10 minute walk to the tower and a five minute walk to the Trocadero, where we took some of our favorite Paris photos. Before we ever arrived we had walked virtually from the front door of the building to the Eiffel tower lawn using Google street view. Let me tell you, that’s one way to get excited about your trip. The kitchen was good sized for a Parisian city apartment, and the bathroom featured the first modern bidet that we had ever used. The location was the biggest draw for us, but even though it was very close to our favorite attraction (Eiffel Tower!), everything else we wanted was almost an hour away on foot, and we learned the first day that the metro wasn’t happening with our stroller.
Charming studio in the heart of Paris: We booked this place last min. Because we wanted to extent our visit and everything affordable around the central area was all booked, we wound up in a place that was livable, but not exactly suited to our needs. It was a small studio on the fourth floor (or fifth floor in American parlance). The biggest problem was that we didn’t have time to have a good conversation with the host. It had everything we specified, an elevator, a kitchen, wifi, etc, but with catches that made them almost unusable. The elevator was so small we couldn’t fit two adults and a baby at once, basically I rode down hugging Lisa while Jake took the stairs every time we had to go out. And the kitchen was too small for us to cook a three person meal. The floor in the living room was taken up entirely by our two suitcases, and if we wanted to be in the apartment we pretty much had to all be sitting on the bed. The location was very close to several popular attractions, and it would have been very suitable for one or two young travelers. There were plenty of restaurants and shops around, but the downside of that was a lot of noise and bright signs at night (for family with a baby). There was a lot to like, too. It had a lot of charm, including a view of those distinctly Parisian flower boxes across the street. We never would have gotten this lovely Instagram photo if we hadn’t stayed there.
Great apartment right in the middle of Paris: The location of this apartment is amazing it’s close to playground, food, and around the corner from the Louvre. And not to mention the apartment itself is a work of art. But the walk to the apartment is a hike, think of a three story apartment then add half apartment inbetween — yup, third floor all the sudden feels like walking up to the fifth floor (there is no elevator). Parisian apartments aren’t very small child friendly because the lack of elevators, and some renters will flat out tell you they don’t want kids staying because they ruin their furniture. So we were very glad we were able to book this nice apartment that’s also very central. The trade off was the long winding stairs up and down, but at this point Lisa was closer to two years old, so we had a much lighter weight stroller without a baby basket, and she could walk with assistance up and down (at least part way). I feel it would be a big challenge for parents with smaller children. The location was great, we got to see the palaces, bridges, gardens and the Louvre, but the Eiffel Tower was very far, so we hired an uber on the mornings when we wanted to see the tower and did some black and white photography under the Bir Hakeem Bridge.
What We Learned About Airbnb in Paris
1. Pay a little extra: Our biggest mistake first time to Paris was trying too hard to save money, France is expensive, and Paris even more so, an average apartment rental would cost as much as some luxury rentals in less popular city. So if you goal is comfortable stay in Paris, then a good apartment will be about $100+ per night.
2. Check the Cancellation Policy: When we extended our Paris stay we had to cancel our three nights in Hamburg, we received a partial refund. Some places have lenient cancellation policies, and others don’t allow cancellations at all. This is displayed right in the listing, and whether it factors into your decision pretty much depends on how confident you are about the stability of your travel plans.
3. Ask About Baby Proofing: Throughout our trip we spent a lot of time chasing Lisa around and taking things out of her hands. Many apartments are well decorated, and this is usually a plus… Until you bring a curious toddler with you and realize that those decorations become expensive or dangerous temptations. When we arrive at the Airbnb, Jake usually talk to the host about house rules etc, and I walk around to collect anything I think a toddler might break or eat and ask the host either to take it away with them when they leave or lock it up. Sure it’s less pretty without flowers or seashells but it’s less stressful for the parents. We also wound up putting elastic hair bands around cupboards to keep them closed. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked well enough for a one year old. Don’t try to bring American baby proofing things, won’t work on French kitchen doors.
4. Language Barriers: Jake and I didn’t speak a word of french (maybe “hello” and “goodbye”) before heading to Paris, luckily google translate was happy to bridge the gap. It’s a great tool to get simple questions and instructions communicated. Most Parisians can understand English, and most museums and tours have guides in that speak English, but on a person to person level we did find that google translate is the best tool to get things said and done.
So we made a few mistakes and we learned a few lessons, but our trip was so much better, and so much more affordable than it would have been if we’d stayed in hotels. Hotels serve good purpose for shorter stays – but while we were in Paris, staying in the homes of Parisians, we really felt like we were in the city. If you are looking for an experience that really caters to your needs and your sense of exploration, there really is no other way to travel.
If it’s your first time booking from Airbnb, try our sign up using this link and get $40 in travel credit. We’ll get a $20 bonus too, which will help us in our goal of making travel our permanent lifestyle.