As Airbnb gains popularity, high-priced hotels are making space for humble homes with room to share, and every sort of traveler can reap the financial savings and social rewards. But while the Airbnb online booking service is simple in concept, it can be a bit tricky to navigate, especially in light of recent safety concerns and the variable policies among the host properties. Luckily, a bit of extra attention to some particularly important elements in the booking process can pave the way for a pleasant stay now, and successful experiences in the future.

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Read the whole listing

Each Airbnb host has the opportunity to add a helpful description of their property, and many take advantage of that, filling you in on everything from room availability to public transport directions. Take some time to first read through everything instead of automatically messaging the host with a simple question, which will save you time and spare them the frustration of repeating themselves. Of course, feel free to message for more clarification, but you’ll get off to a better start with each other if you do your part at the outset.

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Learn about booking and cancellation policies

While it’s not rocket science, booking a space on Airbnb isn’t quite as straightforward as reserving a hotel room. Give yourself plenty of time before you leave for your trip to find a spot, since you’ll have to pick dates and agree to the house rules before you even send a request through Airbnb’s messaging service. The host will then have to agree to the offer, and you’ll need to make your payment. Ideally, this all takes place rather quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will happen overnight. Also, keep in mind that cancellation policies differ from place to place (ranging from flexible to super strict), so look into the specific conditions before you go through with the booking.

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Ask about fees

That listed price probably isn’t the final price. Hosts can charge extra fees for cleaning or security deposit, and you can count on a service charge somewhere between 6 and 12%. Some cities (such as New York, San Francisco and Portland) will even tack on extra taxes, given the fairly lax regulations surrounding Airbnb, so be wary of the original quote. Once you do settle on the final amount, you must pay online through the site – cash transactions are not accepted.

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Don’t treat it like a hotel

This is somebody’s home, after all. While you’re obviously not expected to pitch in with housework and meal prep, you should try to keep things relatively tidy, and don’t expect a full range of amenities or personalized service. If you’re sharing the space rather than renting out the entire house, ask about a bathroom schedule so everyone gets their time in the tub. In most cases, appropriate expectations and a little consideration will guarantee a pleasant stay.

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Be yourself and sell yourself

The site lets you find accommodation to suit your needs and personality, but you should also let potential hosts know what they can expect from you as a guest. This service is all about community, so be open and honest about who you are with a comprehensive profile, and get some friends who use Airbnb to vouch for you on the site. Property owners are allowed to be picky, so show them that you’re respectful, friendly and an all-round good houseguest.

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Stay open-minded

Airbnb may not have all the amenities of a hotel, but it can offer a more memorable experience than traditional accommodation. Sure, most hosts got into this for a bit of income, but they’re also generally happy, outgoing, and social people with a lot of good advice and conversation to offer. You don’t have to devote your trip to crafting a dear friendship, but do take a few minutes to get to know each other over a cup of tea or a drink at some point. You may discover some helpful, interesting or enlightening info that will help you through your travels, or inspire you to drop in again the next time you’re passing through town.

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Remember to make use of the community on Airbnb, since there are likely lots of people who have constructive criticism and sage advice for newcomers. As with any excursion, the more realistic your expectations, the more chance you’ll enjoy yourself. Loosen up and focus on the adventure rather than familiarity. And why not branch out even further? Instead of trying to fit accommodation into a regimented trip, you can find a cool place to stay and build your trip around that!