We love living a disintermediated life (one where we deal direct with the supplier rather than through an intermediary) and using Airbnb is a great example of that. No hotel chain, no travel agent involved; we research the available accommodation in an area, choose one and book direct with the host.

We are just completing 4 weeks travelling around France, the majority of which time we spent staying in Airbnb accommodation.

Before travelling, we had twice used Airbnb in Australia; on one occasion staying in a self-catered apartment at Bondi Beach, on another occasion staying in a home at Pambula where we had our own bedroom and bathroom but the hosts were present for our stay. These two experiences gave us a reasonable sense of how the Airbnb model works.

Add in a foreign country and language and the variations multiply. We have stayed in a Renaissance mansion, in a modern home and in a self-catered apartment. We have stayed in cities and in villages. It has been a rich experience giving us many views into French culture and differing lifestyles.

So why use Airbnb when there are hotels, chambres des hotes, gites, etc. to choose from? Primarily, we chose Airbnb so we had more opportunity to interact with French people. Also, often it is a less expensive option than a hotel and we were able to choose a variety of accommodation options.

If you are considering Airbnb the following may be useful to you:

Look very carefully at the listings and at the reviews of the host and accommodation. Ask lots of questions of your host at the booking stage, this is the time to be clear on what you are booking. Also be aware of the level of Airbnb experience your host has had; you will be able to determine this from the number of reviews. A new host will be keen to build up a positive track record and may offer accommodation at a lower rate than more experienced hosts. On the other hand they may not be as ‘guest aware’ and this may lead to discomfort when in their home; what is your space, what is their space, what is shared space?

Our experience has also taught us that the age of your hosts may well be worth considering. This can be particularly important when staying with a family, but even if self-catering, we have found that the attitude and care taken by the remote host can impact the currency, relevancy, accuracy and thoroughness of the information provided.

Ensure you know the answers to the following questions:

1. Is the location one you are comfortable with, is it quiet, safe, in the centre of things etc. as you require? Check maps and streetviews.
2. Are there going to be access issues? Many Airbnb hosts also have jobs, so unlike a hotel with 24 hour reception, you will need to ensure you can access your accommodation at a time that suits you.
3. Are there stairs and how many flights? In Europe having to walk up narrow winding stairs is not uncommon. You can use the Airbnb filters to ask for properties with an elevator and/or wheelchair friendly, but do be aware this can limit the possibilities.
4. If you have a car, what are the parking options? If travelling by public transport is the accommodation close by your arrival point?
5. If you are travelling in a foreign country what is your comfort level with the language of that country? You may wish to filter by language if you cannot have at least a simple conversation. Note that Airbnb does online translations so whilst at the booking stage it might seem that your host speaks your language, it could be quite different when you are in situ.
6. Be clear about what is included or not, for example is breakfast included or is self-catering expected?
7. What are the cancellation rules for the listing? This varies from host to host so be sure you know what you have signed up for.

Would we recommend Airbnb? Absolutely we would, but do hasten slowly while choosing your accommodation. At your destination, an open mind and flexibility are key, part of the joy of Airbnb is the variation you will experience with new people and different ways of approaching the experience.

Have you used Airbnb and what has been your experience? Do you have other advice? Do you have questions? Share your thoughts with us.