10 Things Women Should Look For When Booking an Airbnb For Longer Stays

by | Feb 7, 2024

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Last updated on April 21st, 2024

Featured image: When we travel, we want to experience local culture, including where we stay. Learn how to book an Airbnb with character!   / Photo by lucigerma on Envato

Making Airbnbs safer for solo women over 50

by Carolyn Ray

On my most recent trip to Italy, I stayed in a palazzo. Without a doubt, it was one of the best homestays I’ve ever experienced. Not because it was beautifully decorated or centrally located, but because it felt like a home. The family had lived there for years, and owned the building for generations. The owner’s son, Luigi, met me at the front door.  He showed me how to open the front door gate and locks, the quirks and special features of the apartment, and how it came into his mother’s family. There were family photographs on the walls, well-read books, comfortable furniture, and a fully stocked kitchen — all of which made me feel that this was the kind of place I could stay forever. Isn’t that the point of a homestay in the first place, to feel like you’re living in someone’s home, to ‘belong anywhere’?

As an (almost) full-time traveller, I’ve had the opportunity to stay in many different places. Most of my travel tends to be for weeks or months at a time. In the past three years, I’ve stayed at more than 40 Airbnbs in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada, the UK, and the US, not to mention countless hotels and hostels. However, I’ve consisently noticed two problems with Airbnbs, related to safety and longer stays. While Airbnb says that solo safety is a priority, their focus is on women who book private or shared rooms, which I rarely do as I like my own space.  The second trend I’m noticing is a reduction in the essentials for longer stays. Airbnb recommends that owners have the basic necessities in place, including toilet paper, hand and body soap, but in my experience, that doesn’t take a one or two week stay into account. I have had to purchase all of these things multiple times at recent stays. 

Saving money on accommodations

Before I get into my constructive comments (aka gripes) let me preamble this by saying there are several alternatives to staying at an Airbnb and ways to reduce the cost of accommodation. For long stayers like me, the accommodation can cost more than the flight so it pays to do your homework and read the fine print. 

If you stay at a hotel, look for one with a kitchen. When I travel solo, I often make lunch my main meal out and eat dinner at home. Many hotel chains, including Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt now offer apartment-style rooms with kitchens and laundry facilities but you have to keep an eye out for the “resort fees” which can be charged for a simple bottle of water. I often use booking.com to find discounted stays with flexible cancellation policies with hotels. Eating out can add a lot of expense.

Another alternative to Airbnbs for budget-conscious travellers is house and pet sitting services, like Trusted Housesitters, which offer a viable alternative for women on a budget where you can stay for free with an annual membership, in exchange to looking after pets. However, this depends on what inventory is available in a particular region or country. My understanding at the moment is that North America and the UK has the most inventory, yet many of the stays I’ve looked at are long weekends or weeks, which sometimes isn’t enough for me. (I like to spend at least two weeks in a place, if not longer). 

If you stay at an Airbnb, look for those with offer multi-week discounts, reduced service fees, and minimal cleaning fees. Again, there are more fees being added all the time. In Florence and Lecce, there is a new city tax for Airbnbs which is payable in cash to the owner.  In Florence, this was 5 euros a day per person. I prefer Airbnbs or boutique hotels because I want to feel a part of wherever I visit. Large hotels just can’t compete with the local experience that Airbnbs offer, especially when they are owned by people who live in that community.

For more on women-recommended places to stay, including hostels, monasteries and hospitality services, see Recommended Places to Stay in our Women’s Travel Directory.

How to book an Airbnb for a long stay: 10 things to check before you book

With accommodation being such an important part of any stay, I put hours into research. If you haven’t booked Airbnbs before, these tips will help you be able to discern the right Airbnb for you. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is to look closely at the photographs. When there are too many close-ups, it’s a clue that the owner doesn’t want to show the larger environment. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions before you book, and always negotiate pricing in the low season. Another tip is to read the reviews and look at how the owner responds to negative feedback. The longer the response, the more defensive, in my experience.

Airbnb owners are motivated to have good ratings, and they don’t like it when you have negative feedback. I stayed recently at an Airbnb in Bari, Italy that had a 5.0 rating and beautiful photos. When I arrived, the lights were burned out, the street noise was terrible and the elevator didn’t work. It was among my worst experiences. Fortunately I was only there one night. After I gave it a negative review, the owner texted me multiple times on WhatsApp asking me to remove it, with an explanation that they were planning to replace the windows. I eventually had to ask him to stop sending me messages and told him I would only communicate on the Airbnb platform.

1. Look for a local owner

I think it’s very imporant to book an Airbnb that is owned by a woman — ideally one that lives in that community.  I try to avoid those that are being run by property management companies because I want to communicate directly with the owner, not a company with multiple people using the same name. Reading the bios can help and before you book, and you should always ask “is this your place? or ‘do you or have you ever lived here?’

When I stay in an Airbnb, I want to know where I am. Having a white-walled image in the listing may look pretty, but I want to see photographs of local places, books and local memorabilia. For example, I stayed at a small Airbnb in Maro, Spain for two weeks that was furnished with Moroccan touches, including incense. In San Miguel del Allende, I stayed in a small home with three bedrooms where the owner, an artist, had painted colourful images everywhere.  In Merida, I spent a week over the Christmas holidays in 2021 at an apartment owned by Lemeux, who lives on the premises. She invited me to her home for dinner and offered me her driver. She also has a second small casita perfect for solo women.  Check out her apartment  here.

Local owners also know where to find local products and markets. Patrizia, my Airbnb owner in Ostuni, Italy was particularly helpful in advising me where to buy fresh bread and olive oil on my first day of a two-week stay. She also recommended restaurants that cater to locals, not just tourists. Grocery stores and markets are another helpful thing. Showing support for local small businesses is important for me, and it’s very likely I will visit those places as a result. Booking with a local owner means the money is going back into the community.

A minimally decorated Airbnb in London, England

What city is this in? (London, by the way) – December 2023 / Photo credit Airbnb

Colourful ribbons adorn the living room in a San Miguel airbnb, Mexico

I stayed in this Airbnb for two weeks in San Miguel de Allende, owned by a Canadian artist in October 2021 / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

2. Safety: Is it safe for solo women?

Travelling solo is different and safety is a strong consideration. One of my most frequent pieces of feedback to Airbnb owners is about women’s safety. Airbnb recommends a carbon monoxide dectector, but it doesn’t cover off lighting and door locks.  

Generally speaking, I rarely see an extra safety lock, which means the door can be opened from the outside.This is why I bring a supply of rubber door stoppers on every trip. Safety also extends to stairs and elevators. At a recent stay in Malta, the owners let me know in advance that the elevator wasn’t working for their fifth-floor apartment and offered to have someone carry my bag up rather than have me cancel. They also offered me a 15% discount for the inconvenience. That’s an owner that cares. 

Many of the same safety tips for hotels also apply to Airbnbs. I wish Airbnb owners would state what floor an apartment is on. I spend endless hours trying to search that out. I prefer NOT to stay on a ground floor apartment, just as in a hotel. Read our hotel safety tips here.

However, I often find there’s not enough lighting, particularly at the front entrance and hallways in apartment buildings. At a recent Airbnb in Ostuni, Italy, I arrived at night and found the entrance light was burned out on a very quiet and dark street. I took photos, sent them to the owner and an electrician showed up the next day.  I also appreciate it when the owners have night lights in the hallways or bathroom. but rarely see them so I bring my own that run on battery power. 

If you are an owner, consider putting these details in your listing. It makes a difference.

door locks airbnb safety

This female Airbnb owner in Bilbao, Spain had multiple locks that made me feel safer and an electronic key in February 2022 / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Simple bedroom in a Malaga Airbnb

This Malaga Airbnb was hook heaven, good lighting and door locks, plus amazing storage space in the bathroom – December 2022 / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

A well stocked kitchen in an Airbnb in Malta

This woman-owned Malta Airbnb has a fully stocked kitchen and great views  / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

3. Comfort: Has anyone actually lived in it?

Has anyone actually ever lived in the apartment or house? If I’m staying for two or three weeks, I want to be comfortable. In addition to a couch, good-sized table and bed, some of the things I look for now are photographs on the walls, a bookshelf, or throw rugs. I want to know that someone has lived in the place. Are there extra blankets, sheets or towels? 

I once stayed in an apartment in Mexico where the owner had photographs on his listing of lovely cushions, hammocks and rugs. I couldn’t wait to spend time there. However, when I arrived, it was barren. The owner then told me he had removed them because Airbnb recommended this as a precaution during Covid.   If that’s the case, the listing should have been updated with new photographs and a description. 

4. Kitchen: What’s in it?

When I see close-up shots of the plates, knives and forks in the listing, it’s a sign to me that they are new and may have never been used. I want to see a bit of mess – a cupboard full of cooking supplies, baking sheets, bowls and various cooking utensils. 

I look for some kind of coffee-making system (Nespresso or Lavazza systems are best because it’s easy to find pods in grocery stores), cutting knives, cutting board, baking trays, bowls, tinfoil, food storage containers, oven mitts, garbage bags and other supplies that show me someone has actually used the kitchen. Other helpful supplies include olive oil, pepper and salt.  

image that reads safe places for women to stay

5. Do the appliances really work?

One might think if appliances are shown, that they work. However, I have found this isn’t always the case. For me, having a washing machine is absolutely essential. 

In February 2023, I booked an Airbnb in the old town of Bilbao, Spain for two weeks. It looked stunning online, with great photos and reviews and the owner was very responsive. However, when I arrived, it was freezing. As it turned out, the previous guests had smoked in the apartment and the owner had opened the windows to air out the apartment and forgotten to turn the heat back on after he cleaned it.

I spent a night huddled in my clothes, as the heat warmed up. While it was warmer the next day, I went to use the washing machine and discovered it didn’t work. The owner came back and I was told that the washing machine required repairs. He handed me a laundromat coupon and said I’d need to haul my laundry up and down three flights of stairs during my two-week stay. I told him that just wouldn’t work for me, and he agreed to refund my stay.  

When the owner reviewed me, he said I was ‘demanding’ and ‘difficult’. However, I found a new place on the water that was so much better and cheaper, owned by a woman, that remains one of my favourite Airbnb stays ever.  All her appliances worked perfectly. 

A well decorated and extremely cosy living room in an Airbnb in Lecce, Italy

This Airbnb in Lecce, Italy, was a former palazzo  and felt like a home in January 2024 / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

6. Cleaning Supplies

There are times when I’ve broken a glass, or just need to do some sweeping.A broom, vacuum cleaner and paper towels are also appreciated, along with cleaning supplies. 

Speaking of supplies, is there enough dish soap? If I am paying for a washer, I expect to have enough laundry detergent for my stay, at least for a few loads. More than two rolls of toilet paper for a two-week stay and paper towels if possible. 

Again, if this isn’t in the photos, just ask the owner before you book.

7. Storage for longer stays 

I always look for closet, dresser or place to store clothes in the photos.  If there isn’t room for a dresser or closet, hooks can be a great option. One of the Airbnb’s I stayed at in Malaga had hooks everywhere and I loved it. There is nothing like the joy of being able to unpack clothes when you’ve been travelling for months at a time, as I do.

When I stay for weeks in one city, I want to unpack, not keep everything in my suitcase. Hangers please, and not the cheap metal dry cleaner ones. 

8. Bathroom: Shelf Space and safety  

Let’s talk about the bathroom. Bathrooms tend to be small. Is there a mirror? Proper lighting? What about a hair dryer? Additional shelf space? The sink doesn’t count as shelf space! I look very closely at bathroom photos now, knowing that shelf space is important for me. 

I recently stayed in an Airbnb in Palermo and almost slipped every time I got into the shower. I think it is absolutely essential to have a non-slip mat for safety in bathtubs and showers. I’ve found that some bathtubs have such high edges to them, that by the time I step over the edge to get in, I wipe out – not safe. I also bring my own drain cover just in case I want a warm bath and or occasionally to wash clothes.

9. Electrical: lighting for safety and work

This is hard to judge from photographs when booking an Airbnb but I often find comments about electrical issues in the reviews. 

Recently I stayed at a flat in London with a newly renovated kitchen and half the lights were out. The property manager was unaware, or so they said.

Without getting into the sheer madness of Italian electrical switches, when I stayed in Ostuni for two weeks I could not get the wall sconces to turn on, not once, despite having at least six sets of switches in the living room.

Owners, please check your lights and your lightbulbs. Having proper lighting, including reading lamps and table lamps, is important, especially for those of us who work when we travel. 

10. Televisions: Is there local cable?

I don’t watch much TV at home, but I love watching local news to see what’s happening. It also helps me learn a few words in the local language. 

I’ve learned that simply listing a TV doesn’t mean there is local cable. Most TVs are smart TVs, which means they only have Netflix or another digital service.  I see Apple TVs occasionally but have found the wifi isn’t strong enough for them to work.  Make sure you ask the owner about the TV if this is important to you, or bring your own HDMI cable so that you can watch TV from a computer.

comfortable airbnb ontario

This low season stay in an adorable waterfront cottage in Leamington, Ontario was cheaper than hotels in Detroit and next door to Point Pelee National Park  / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

A long stay checklist for Airbnb owners

  1. Bedroom: Extra blankets, sheets, hangers, dresser, hooks on walls, reading light
  2. Bathroom: Extra set of towels, non-slip mat in shower, toilet paper, hairdryer, mirror, shelves, soap, shampoo, conditioner, lighting over sink, hooks to hang towels
  3. Kitchen: Olive oil, salt and pepper, dish detergent, shopping bag, mixing bowls, aluminum foil, storage containers, baking equipment, coffee system and pods, oven mitts, paper towels, dish strainer, extra sponges, cutting board, check lights
  4. Living Room: Proper lighting, rug on floor, table / workspace
  5. Cleaning supplies: Vacuum cleaner, broom, mop, laundry detergent, garbage bags
  6. Safety: Night light, outdoor security light, flashlight, safety lock on front door
  7. Miscellaneous: Local guide books, local photos on walls, local products and other items that remind us where we are

More Tips on Finding Places to Stay

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.

1 Comment

  1. Judith MacDonald

    Great article Carolyn – i once stayed in an AirBnB in Nazare Portugal – no extra toilet paper and then one north of Liverpool in Southport – no coffee machine or pods! I’ve stayed in many more where everything is wonderful thank goodness. I prefer AirBnB studios or apartments but i have stayed in a big older house in a roomy bedroom with an ensuite that included breakfast in Cardiff that was great. It takes so little really for owners to make a difference for a person’s stay. On a recent trip to Italy all my stays were in centrally located Airbnbs except for a hotel in Monterossa and I really missed the space and felt so claustrophobic. I would add – look at the reviews from recent bookings – they can give a good indication of the quality of the AirBnb. I always leave a honest review sometimes with suggestions. Thanks for the article.


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