Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

What To Look For In An Airbnb?

As many of you know … we FIREd (financial independence retire early) this year, sold our home, purged most belongings, obtained a Non-Lucrative Visa to Spain, and moved to Granada.  Our new life has us living somewhat like a nomad, and we mostly use Airbnbs on our adventures.  What do we look for in an Airbnb?

Our neighborhood in Granada, Spain (Albaicin).


Our Visa required a one year lease (Houston Consulate) which we initially found through Airbnb.  Our current approach to FIRE is to embrace the nomad life (look back here on Erik’s post about Renter’s Equity) and look towards Airbnbs when we travel.  We would definitely still consider ourselves pretty new to Airbnbs, but at this point we’ve stayed in enough of them to have some experience and opinions (Houston, Madrid, Spain; Granada, Spain; La Herradura, Spain; Málaga, Spain; Nerja, Spain) … and after reviewing 100s of housing options on Airbnb (including for future travels), I have a good idea of what I am looking for.  Do we have more to learn?  Yes, I am sure.  But here is what we know so far …

After I put in location, dates, number of people I start looking through the options.  First, I typically put in a budget. Let’s come back to that in a minute.

Then I start going through the options based on 1) Budget and 2) Location.  I sometimes “heart” and Wishlist the ones I will go back and look at more closely if the list is overwhelming.

The kitchen in our Airbnb in La Herradura, Spain.  You can see more photos here on our post and on their Airbnb link.

View from our La Herradura, Spain Airbnb.  Great location.  Quick walk to the beach!


Sometimes this can be somewhat flexible.  For example, if I notice there is nothing (or rather, no Airbnbs we would stay in) within the budget, we may up our budget (like in a HCOL (high cost of living) city like Paris).  Also I may look at ones that are $100 or so over budget just to see if they may be worth it.  Finally, I always look at the final cost which includes any extra service fees, cleaning fees, and so on.


This is similar to budget as in it may be flexible.  I look at the map of the general area the Airbnb is in.  I also have a decent idea based on research of what part of the city / town we want to be in.  If I have to adjust the map to see where it is in relation to what we want to explore, not a good sign.  We like convenience so being in the center of town is usually what we aim for if possible, but not necessarily in a super touristy area.  We want to live like locals when we can.  Now sometimes Airbnbs that are not exactly where you thought you wanted to be may be okay.  I’ve found great beach towns I didn’t know about that way and great neighborhoods that have easy access to public transportation.  Staying a little further out can sometimes save money and be worth it (sometimes, but not always!).

What This Place Offers

What do I look at next?  I then look at “What This Place Offers” … what are musts for us?  Wi-Fi is a must.  I can’t believe some places don’t have Wi-Fi!  A washer is often a must (unless it is a quick stay like a few nights).  AC and Heating may be a must depending on time of year and location.  Weather and climate is a big one for us considering we moved from hot and humid Houston to Southern Spain.  We specifically chose Granada because of the climate.  Yes, it gets hot in the summer, but nothing like Houston (in our opinion!).  It also cools down at night in the summer (unlike Houston).  And we have easy access to the beach and mountains year round for possibly cooler weather or sea breezes.  With that said, looking at climate is important to us …and AC and heating, well, that just depends.  Finally, kitchen.  We prefer a full kitchen (fridge, stove (oven if possible), microwave, and other basic necessities).  Now this may vary depending on the length of a trip (similar to a washer).  But if it is a shorter trip (one or two nights), we may also just look at hotel options (although we prefer hotels with kitchenettes).

Our Airbnb in Nerja, Spain.  You can see their Airbnb listing here.


Ahhh, this is the fun part, right?  At this point I will look more closely at photos if I haven’t already.  I’ve found that few places (or at least in the minority) really stand out with great photos depicting a place … at least in our mostly budget traveler range.  It is also possible I have a high standard for quality of photos, but really it isn’t that hard to have a fantastic Airbnb and take great photos!

What gets a place eliminated for me?  For starters, bad photos.  Too dark?  Blurry?  Sideways photos?  Eliminated. If a host is too lazy to take good photos (which really is pretty easy these days! …and if it isn’t easy for them, ask a friend?  Hire someone?), I can’t image they would keep up with their place well or be a good host.  Also if an Airbnb leaves out a room in the photos (bathroom?  kitchen?) that is a red flag for us - eliminated.  Why are they avoiding certain rooms!?  There is probably a reason why …

There are some other things that bother me in photos, that may not bother everyone?  First, clutter.  Sometimes a place is so bad that it appears someone obviously lives in it for part of the time.  The fact that someone may live or stay in their place for part of the year in and of itself isn’t terrible, but I don’t want it to look or feel that way.  I’d prefer a place to be almost bare of things except necessities if possible.  When I was looking for Airbnb places in France (and specifically Paris), I saw more than a few places that had hoards of books.  Why?!  I like books as much as the next person, but most likely I am not reading someone else’s books on a trip…and I am definitely not reading 10,000 books on a trip.

What else may bother me …or cause a place to get eliminated?  Furniture / style / decor.  Okay this may sound picky, and it is not necessarily an automatic elimination.  But it can be.  It just depends on the place and all the other factors involved (for example, does it have a long list of great reviews?).  I personally like a modern / minimalist look and feel.  If a place has traditional bulky wood furniture, I tend to look at other options.  But again, this may come down to the bigger picture of the place (and what other options may be available).

What else in photos may cause a place to get eliminated from consideration?  Sloppiness.  What do I mean by that? For example, if it looks like someone didn’t even try to make the bed look nice in photos, red flag for me.  Another example might be if blankets on a couch look sloppy.  To me this comes back to the effort of a host.  If they can’t take the time to make a place look good in photos, this is probably not a good sign for the upkeep of the home and their ability as a quality host.

Ratings and Reviews

Once I have gone through the photos I look at ratings and reviews.

Ratings can be a little tricky.  The number of reviews may obviously affect a rating (10 versus 200 is a huge difference).  I tend to prefer places to be all 4.5 or higher.  I also look more closely at cleanliness.  If this is rated low or lower than the rest, I will eliminate a place from consideration.  Cleanliness is top priority for us.  

Something else I look at with ratings is if one (or more) ratings is much lower than the others.  For example, if a place / host scores 4.8 - 5.0 on everything except Communication gets a 4.1, well …that host must really struggle with communicating.  If we aren’t staying at a place for long, Communication might not be as important.  But if we are there a month?  All of the ratings are important.

Ahhh, reviews.  First, I prefer Airbnbs with 10 reviews or more (preferably much more).  But we may consider a place with less reviews if it seems exceptional.  We did book a trip for 2022 with few reviews, but the photos were outstanding.  The listing also was overseen by a property management company which was new for us.  I did some research …read some other reviews on their other properties, and I looked into their company.  I was confident with what I found so we moved forward with booking.  We shall see how it goes!  So yes …if a place has few reviews looking at reviews of their other properties may be a way to decide about staying at a place.

Generally the more reviews the better, and if we are seriously looking at a place, I will read all of the reviews (even if there are hundreds of them!).  I know I’ve found a gem when a place gets glowing reviews consistently and big kudos about the host.  This is always a good sign especially if we are planning a longer stay.

What about negative reviews?  If there are 1 or 2 negative reviews in a long list of positive ones, I am not too concerned.  There will always be someone that is negative nancy.  Obviously if there seems to be a pattern of the same complaints (one example: multiple reviews that complain about poor WI-FI), I will eliminate the Airbnb from consideration.

Our favorite Airbnb so far in Málaga, Spain.  Here is the link to their Airbnb listing.

Positives / Bonus

I’ve talked a lot about negatives and things to look for when eliminating an Airbnb for consideration.  This just helps to make it easier to look at the quality Airbnbs.  But what about the positives?  What do I look for or notice?

Now some of these are obvious and discussed above, like a great location … but some you need to look a little more closely at photos, ratings, and reviews.

I personally appreciate a place that is set up like an Airbnb…not someone’s home that sometimes serves as an Airbnb.  I notice places that go above and beyond with well thought out design and color scheme.  Are these things a must?  No, not necessarily, but they can certainly help.  My best example of this so far is the Airbnb we stayed at in Málaga.

To go along with design and color scheme …attention to detail on these items and the Airbnb as a whole.  You can really get a sense of this from photos and sometimes from reviews.  Again, my best example of this so far is our stay in Málaga, Spain.

A host that goes above and beyond  … I can sometimes see this through photos and / or through reviews.  Do they have quality photos of treats they leave for guests?  Did they take quality photos of the baby / kid extras that are available?  No, we don’t have a baby, but it tells me they care (or appear) to care about their guests and know how to be good hosts in the service industry.  This can also be seen in reviews (Did they leave treats for guests?  Give local tips?  Fix any issues that came up?  And so on …).

Ratings … if a place has a decent amount of reviews and all 5s or 4.9s and 5s, great sign!  This of course needs to be looked at with the complete picture of the Airbnb.

Finally, reviews …especially if there are quite a few reviews, you can really get a sense of a place.  Like mentioned above, if many guests are writing detailed and glowing reviews about a place and a host …I found a quality Airbnb. If numerous people talk about the quality of the home, ideal location / what they could access on foot and by transportation, and how their host went above and beyond …often there is no need to look any further for an Airbnb. I am looking for positive reviews that tell the complete picture of the place, location and access, and host.

Where will our next adventure take us (photo taken in our neighborhood…Albaicin in Granada, Spain)?

Final Airbnb Selection

After considering everything above, I get my list down to just a few places under strong consideration.  There’s been a few times (normally smaller markets …or maybe more expensive markets) where I didn’t find anything suitable for a destination.  In that case we may either adjust the budget or even change the destination.  Luckily because of FIRE our travel schedule is flexible (not including of course the kids being in school this coming year).

At that point, I look at our top choices and decide which one comes out as the number one choice.  Then I typically have a few back up ideas just in case.  

What were some of the Airbnbs we stayed at?  We would stay in all of these Airbnbs again, but for me Málaga comes out on top.  You can read more why here.

-Madrid, Spain

-La Herradura, Spain

-Málaga, Spain

-Nerja, Spain

There you have it … this is what we look for when considering Airbnbs.  What do you look for?  Any tips or tricks? Do you prefer other methods to securing housing?  What do you use?  Comment below!

Read our latest post here on a trip to Nerja and Frigiliana, Spain.  Want to join us our your own FIRE adventure? Read more how we can help you here.


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