As a digital nomad, you will generally have a much better experience if you stay in a private apartment or house, rather than a hotel, guesthouse, or hostel.
One of the major benefits of renting a private apartment is that, unlike hotels, apartments tend to be spread throughout the city, not all clustered in one or two main tourist areas. This gives you a much better opportunity to experience the place you are visiting as a local, instead of as an outsider. As a bonus, there’s a good chance that your apartment will be hosted/managed by a local who can give you a head start on finding the best places in the neighborhood.
Apartments typically have more space than even high-end hotel suites, and apartments almost always come with kitchens. Even if you are not planning to do any serious cooking, it’s nice to have space to prepare coffee, tea, breakfasts, and simple snacks.
I recommend using Airbnb for booking apartments. There are plenty of alternatives, but I like Airbnb, because:
- you can use the same website anywhere in the world
- the cancellation and other policies are clearly spelled out, and
- most important – you can read real reviews from other travelers and communicate with the host before you book.
Here’s the exact process that I have used to book hundreds of nights in Airbnbs all over the world since 2011:
Start by doing a search for “Stays” (Airbnb also offers experiences) in your destination and enter your travel dates.
Then just set a few filters to start with:
- I set the “Type of place” filter to “Entire place”, because I want to book an entire apartment or house for myself, not a room in someone’s apartment where they are also living.
- I also check the “kitchen”, “wifi” and “washer” filter options (these are the features that I always want).
- If I’m traveling together with my wife, I will usually also search for a two bedroom apartment, so that we can have separate spaces for working.
Looking at the results from that initial search gives you a broad sense of what’s available in the city, and what the prices are like. From there, you can zoom into specific neighborhoods, and maybe add additional filters.
Once you find a few places that you like, look through the photos and reviews carefully. Most of my hosts and experiences on Airbnb have been great, but I try not to leave anything to chance. Trust but verify as they say. I recommend that you do the same.
As you look through the photos, ask yourself:
- How does the furniture look? Is there a real bed, or is it a sofa that folds down?
- Is there a full kitchen, or just a mini-fridge and a single hotplate?
- Pay close attention to which photos are of the apartment itself and which ones are of common areas. If you’re not sure, make a note to ask the host.
- If you are looking for an apartment with multiple rooms, then be sure to double-check that too. What Americans would call a “one bedroom apartment” would be considered a “two room apartment” (living room + bedroom) in some parts of the world.
I only book apartments that have a great rating (minimum 4.0, ideally higher) from lots of reviewers. Read the reviews carefully, and make a note of any problems reported by previous guests. I also use the review search function to find reviews that mention “wifi” or “internet” since that is very important for me (I’m looking for reviews that say things like “I had a problem with the wifi” or “the internet connection was great”).
After searching through the available listings and checking photos and reviews, make a short list of your top choices.
Many Airbnb hosts let you “instant book” with no prior communication or approval, but I never do this.
Even if everything looks great, I always contact the host before booking. In my message, I will introduce myself, note that I’m looking at their apartment as well as a few others, and that I’d like to verify a few things before booking. I will mention the specific features that are important to me, and double-check that those features are still there and working. If I have any questions or concerns after looking through the photos and reading the reviews I will include them in my message to the host as well.
Messaging the host before booking serves several purposes:
- It clears up any questions you have about the apartment.
- It puts the host on notice that certain features are important and, if they’ve been having trouble with the WiFi or the hot water heater recently, now is the time to mention it.
- And the host’s reply tells you a lot about who you are going to be dealing with (do they reply quickly, or does it take them a couple of days? Are they polite? Do they answer all of your questions, or fire off a two word reply?).
Finally, based on your search, checking photos and reviews of the apartments, and your interaction with the host, you can choose and book a place to stay.