How to Find the Best Airbnb, VRBO, or Other Short-Term Rental: Checklist for Guests

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Our Airbnb in Florence, Italy had a bedroom that opened onto a small balcony
A great find on AirBnb in Florence, Italy

We’ve been traveling and living overseas for more than 8 years, but even though we are constantly on the road, we seldom stay in hotels. Except when we are on a U.S. military base, short term apartment rentals from sites like Airbnb, and VRBO (formerly Vacation Rentals by Owner) are our accommodation of choice.

Over the past several years, we have rented more than 60 homes around the world. We’ve found some fantastic places, a few mediocre ones, and everything in between.

With each stay, we learned something new, and we figured out what makes a good short-term rental. Based on our experience, we created the checklist below, and our list will help you choose the right apartment for your next vacation.

Searching for Rentals: Our Checklist

When looking for short-term rentals, we usually view at least a dozen different listings, often on multiple websites. Our go-to sites for apartments are AirBnB, and VRBO.

Those three websites are among the biggest and most popular channels for finding short term apartments, but there are many other sites out there. They all have a similar interface with the same basic functionality.

| Related Reading: Airbnb Tips for First-Time Guests

Through trial and error, we learned that after looking at many different listings, it’s hard to remember what pictures and amenities were associated with each home. We developed this checklist to review before we reserve a property, and it has helped us avoid renter’s remorse.

Must-See Pictures

First and foremost, we want to see pictures of all of the main rooms. It’s a major red flag when a listing has only one or two pictures of the inside of the property, and the rest of the photos are of nearby tourist attractions.

Over time, we’ve learned that we must see pictures of:

The Bathroom, Including the Shower

Could my husband and I share that bathroom for a week? Would I fit comfortably in that shower? Unless I am sure the answers are “yes,” I keep looking.

We learned our lesson on this one when we rented an Airbnb near Barcelona. It had the smallest shower we had ever seen; it was so narrow that I could barely lift my arms to wash my hair.

The listing had a picture of the shower, but I didn’t look carefully, and other guests didn’t mention it in their reviews. Ever since then, if I can’t tell how big the shower is based on the picture posted  (and we otherwise like the apartment) I ask the host to send me another photo.

The bathroom of our short-term apartment rental on Airbnb near Barcelona
The bathroom in our Airbnb near Barcelona. Can you tell how small the shower is?

The Kitchen

Some of the savings from staying in apartments vs. hotels come from preparing your own meals, so make sure the kitchen is adequate. Pictures of the kitchen are very important so you know how much space and what appliances you will have.

Some of the details about the kitchen may be in the list of amenities and/or in other guests’ reviews of the property. If you really want to cook, verify that the kitchen is well-stocked with pots, pans, and other essentials.

We stayed in a large Airbnb apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador that had a big kitchen, but the only cookware was one small saucepan. Since then, we’ve learned to pay attention to the kitchen furnishings.

The large, modern kitchen in our Airbnb in Quito, Ecuador
We cooked a lot more in this kitchen in Quito than in Cuenca, Ecuador

The Bed

If a real bed is important to you, look closely – some apartments have a futon, pullout couch, or some other setup.

The first apartment we rented overseas was on VRBO: a cozy studio in Garmisch, Germany. When we arrived, our hostess showed us around the apartment, and there was no bed in sight. At that moment, I remembered that I had not actually seen a picture of one in the listing. Our hostess pointed towards a large cabinet – it was a Murphy bed!

The mattress was actually quite comfortable, but the main drawback was that we had to fold up the bed every morning if we didn’t want it to take up the whole apartment.

Pullout sofa in our AirBnb apartment in Milan, Italy
Sometimes the bed is a pullout sofa (Airbnb Milan, Italy)

The Living/Dining Area

When staying in an apartment for more than a day or two, we like to have a place to sit and relax (besides the bed).

We look for apartments with a couch or some comfortable chairs. We also pay attention to whether there is a dining table.

Our lovely one-bedroom apartment in Montpellier, France had a comfortable bed and a large couch in the living room. But the only place to eat was at the coffee table.

Once again, I had looked at so many different listings that I lost track of what I had seen.

Comfortable living room in our Airbnb in Kyoto, Japan
Our 1-bedroom apartment in Kyoto, Japan had a spacious living room

Other Amenities and Considerations

In addition to pictures of the main rooms, we look for a few other things when evaluating a listing:

  • Outdoor space. Does it have any? If the listing says it has a terrace, is there a place to sit? Does the terrace have a nice view, or does it overlook the neighbor’s trash cans?
  • Washing machine. While we don’t mind going to the laundromat, it’s easy to find an apartment with a washer. Dryers are not as common overseas, so when renting apartments abroad, expect to hang your laundry to dry (another reason to look for a terrace).
  • Parking. If we have a car or plan to rent one, do we have a free place to park?
  • Elevator. If the property is not on the ground floor, will we have to drag our luggage up four flights of stairs? It’s not a deal-breaker, but we like to know in advance.
  • Pets. Do the owners have them or allow guests to bring them? In our case, we aren’t concerned about this issue because we have a pet, but because we are both allergic to cats!
  • WiFi. This one is very important, but it’s also a feature that can be hard to assess in advance. Make sure the listing has reliable WiFi, and read the reviews to see if anyone commented on it.


We don’t always aim for the city center, because it’s often a much better value to stay outside of the prime areas. But we ensure that we can easily access public transportation.

We use Google Maps to look at proximity to landmarks, restaurants, and parks or recreation trails. We also check out the “street view” on Google Maps so we can take a virtual tour of the neighborhood and see how it looks.


Reviews are an important part of a listing, and you should read them carefully. Unlike TripAdvisor or Yelp where anyone can weigh in anonymously, on sites like AirBnB, Booking, and VRBO, only guests who have actually stayed in a property can write a review.

While some guests write exactly what they thought – good or bad – many reviewers are reluctant to criticize too heavily.

With that in mind, sometimes you have to read between the lines. If reviews are terse and simply say, “The accommodation was as described,” chances are it wasn’t that great. If there are several reviews and no one actually commented that a place was clean, it probably wasn’t.

On the other hand, a listing with numerous enthusiastic reviews is most likely a good find.

Before booking an apartment, read ALL of the reviews for the listing. Two red flags we avoid:

  • If a host has multiple properties, and the listings have identical pictures.
  • Any of the reviewers mentioned that the host contacted them at the last minute and switched them to a different property.

There could be a logical explanation for either of the above situations, but skipping these listings has helped us avoid scams. In fact, we have had nothing but great experiences with short term apartment rentals!

Your Checklist

Everyone has different expectations for their accommodation, so your checklist may look different from ours. The important thing is that you have one so you know how to evaluate one listing versus another.

The more you use short term rental sites, the more you’ll learn about how to pick the right apartment. You may not always find one that meets all of your criteria, but you will pay less and have a much more authentic experience than if you stay at a hotel.

Find a short-term rental for your next vacation!

Related Reading:

Using Airbnb: Tips for First-Time Guests

9 Pro Tips for Using Airbnb in Japan

How to Become a House & Pet Sitter

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14 thoughts on “How to Find the Best Airbnb, VRBO, or Other Short-Term Rental: Checklist for Guests”

  1. I stayed at an Air B&B in Melbourne and critiqued on the listing, a true but unfavorable comment. She had not asked for a $75 cleaning fee until I booked. I didn’t know if we had a contract or not. She refused to reply. We stayed there, refused to pay the $75. It was uncomfortable. She blasted us with areply On the website She changed her site and now charges a $35 cleaning fee. We were worried we could not use B& B again. That has not been the. Are and the past ones have always been pleasant and accurate.

    • If a host tries to charge for something not mentioned in the listing, you can contact AirBnB and get them involved. That’s definitely against the rules. Maybe AirBnB would even remove the negative review, but it sounds like it hasn’t affected you. I see more and more listings that have “automatic booking,” meaning if the apartment is available on the days you request, you can reserve it without waiting for the host to decide if they want to rent to you. In those instances, I don’t think your reviews matter!

  2. I always look at access to transportation, and how long it will take us to get to the stuff we think we want to do. We frequently book outside of the center due to cost. Our first trip to Rome, we learned the hard way that not all “connected to public transportation” is the same. An infrequent bus to the train to the subway took more than an hour which was too long.

    • I agree, access to transportation is important. We use Google Maps to zoom in and see what’s in the neighborhood. You can also use it to map from the apartment to an attraction in the city to see how long it takes – Google Maps has train/bus schedules incorporated into directions.

  3. I really like how you talked about going through different apartments for rent to make the right decision. Particularly your section about the bathroom, I think that making sure my wife and I would be able to share spaces like that is important. We’re going to have to keep that in mind as we look for new apartments to rent! Thanks for the tips!

    • Thanks! We built our checklist over the course of numerous stays in short-term rentals. You often don’t realize what’s important until you’re lacking it!

    • Thanks! We never had any “bad” experiences with short term apartment rentals, but it took a while to figure out our criteria for the ideal place!

  4. Usually what is the length of stay for most short term apartments or does it turn into a daily rate like a hotel?

    • The length of stay can vary from one night to several months. It depends on the host. Some hosts have a minimum number of nights, while others don’t allow long-term guests. In our experience, you get the best rate for a stay of at least one week. Many hosts offer a weekly and/or monthly discount. Don’t forget that you can also negotiate with hosts on AirBnb and other sites. Just send them a message prior to booking and ask.

  5. We used AirBandB once in Portland, OR. We rented the basement in their house, which had received 5 stars from everyone, but smelled like animal urine and it wasn’t very nice. I filled out a negative review and gave her 1 star because I couldn’t give her 0. My review appeared as 5 stars on AirBandB. I’m concerned about trying AirBandB again.

    • Hi Dawn,
      That’s the first I’ve heard of anything like that on AirBnb. Our reviews have always displayed as-written. I recommend contacting AirBnb to resolve it.

  6. I adore the place you show in Florence! If you have a way I can locate this, I would be forever grateful. We are preparing to start our space A travel, and I am reading all you have to offer. Thank you so much for your fantastic advise!

    • Unfortunately, it does not look like she is still renting the apartment. Feel free to send me a message if you want help choosing another apartment in Florence. There are many interesting neighborhoods that are a little bit outside of the main tourist areas but are a much better deal!

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