Top 10 Tips for Airbnb Hosts

Does the lure of extra money tempt you to rent out an extra bedroom or your vacation home?  Sounds good but if you decide to profit by sharing your personal space with complete strangers, use these tips from my experience as an Airbnb host to make it a successful experience.

The last three years we have rented out our second home, a cute 1912 cottage in Boise, Idaho when we aren’t using it.  As an Airbnb host, there are definitely great moments when that rent money is deposited into your account or guests rave about your property but temper those delightful moments with the calls at midnight when the renter is drunk and lost their key or when the lovely 2 person renter in reality turns out to be a raucous house party that trashes your home.  With this reality firmly in mind, here are my top 10 tips for Airbnb hosts.

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Our adorable Hyde Park Cottage in Boise, Idaho
  1. Do your research before you commit to being an Airbnb host.  Stay at several Airbnb‘s yourself and see what you like/dislike.  Go through the booking process, examine how other hosts present their properties, look at reviews of properties where you stay and properties that are located near your property.
  2. Have an emergency plan.  We have a family member who lives locally and oversees our property for us.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friendly family member to assist you, then you will need to hire a property manager.  In addition to handling emergencies, this person/company can check people in and walk guests through your property so they have a great experience.  We also keep a lockbox on property in case of emergencies.  A guest WILL lose a key so, to prevent midnight calls, get a lockbox that goes on a door knob with a code you change after every guest.  Stuff happens.  Be ready.
  3. Cleanliness is key to bookings. Guests will let you know in their reviews if there are housekeeping issues and then you will miss out on future income.  Face it, no one wants to stay in a dirty place.  We deep clean every time we visit and our property manager handles the cleaning after each guest leaves.  Have cleaning supplies handy for guests to use as needed, especially if you have long-term clients staying longer than a few days.  Same goes for toilet paper, paper towel, garbage bags, etc.  Extra is better.  If a guest runs out of toilet paper, you are guaranteed a less than stellar review.
  4. Little touches make a difference.  We provide complimentary bottles of shampoo and body wash, coffee/tea/sweeteners, umbrellas, strong Wi-Fi, board games, cards, a Frisbee and a couple of bikes.  Guests love the bikes at our cottage as we are close to downtown Boise and parks and tend to attract an outdoorsy clientele.  We are kid-friendly with a port-a-crib available as well as kids books/,movies, and games.  After a client leaves, Airbnb will send an email to guests so they can leave a review.  When we check in a guest, we encourage them to complete the reviews.  Great recommendations will get you listings. The more, the better!
  5. Comfy bed, linens and towels are essential.  We learned the hard way that cheap towels don’t last.  Buy everything in white so you can bleach out the crazy stains you will find and spring for nice quality, not WalMart specials, so they last longer with frequent use.  Same with your mattress.  When we rent an Airbnb for vacations, I always read the reviews specifically looking for a great bed that won’t torture our backs.
  6. Tourist information is up-to-date and plentiful.  We gather the latest tourist brochures and magazines from downtown hotels and restaurants when we stay at our cottage and leave the information for our guests so they know awesome places to eat and visit in Boise.
  7. “Above and beyond” perks are appreciated by all.  We have stayed at Airbnbs all over the world and the best perks were: Bluetooth Bose speaker at our Waiheke Island, New Zealand Airbnb so we could listen to our playlists while lounging in the giant beanbag chairs on the patio and fresh soda bread upon arrival at our thatched roof cottage in Galway, Ireland. That’s great service!
  8. Fully loaded kitchen with everything needed to cook.  I know many people go on vacation to eat out at restaurants but I like to explore the local groceries and cook to save $$ that we use on other travel splurges like zip-lining, shopping, and concerts.  Upon arriving late in Portugal, we found out that coffee was not a big deal there so thus no coffeemaker just instant coffee and a hot water pot.  Bummer.  I will be first to admit I am a coffee snob who grinds beans fresh every morning.  We immediately went out and bought a coffee press for the apartment which we left for the next guest. Also, we supply salt and pepper as well as  plastic wrap, Ziploc bags, tin foil and every kitchen utensil, pot and pan that you need to make a meal at our cottage.  Guests love it!
  9. Safety first.  Provide a fire extinguisher just in case. Hopefully no one will  need it.  Of course, you should have working fire detectors and carbon monoxide alarms too.  We don’t provide candles or a grill due to fire safety concerns with our wood cottage.  Be prepared for the worst and provide a first aid kit.  I was injured on the ferry ride to our Airbnb cottage in New Zealand and the host promptly provided a cold pack for my injured hand.
  10. Finally, expect to make money but understand the expenses you will incur.  First, price your property within similar market offerings but not at the low-end.  Airbnb might encourage you to drop your price but we did our research and kept our pricing firm.  Guests may try to do side agreements to sidestep Airbnb but we politely refuse.   You run risks if you don’t have backing of Airbnb in case of damage and there will be damage.  We’ve been lucky with only one issue and the guest paid for the damage quickly so we didn’t even have to get Airbnb involved.  We allow only dogs due to my husband’s allergies to cats, which helps bookings because not very many properties allow dogs.  In our three years as hosts, we have only had people “acting like animals” damage and no true animal damage.  Go figure!  To save on energy costs, we installed a programmable thermostat that we can monitor via an app on our phones to make sure that in between guests, the temperature is appropriate.  You will need to have a landscaper, pest control, HVAC person, handyman and plumber identified and use as required.  The costs do add up–a broken water line here and an ant invasion there will reduce your profit.  Save some of that rent $$ for regular needed maintenance and emergency repairs or you will be sorry.  If you plan to occupy the property like we do on a regular basis, it will be convenient for you to have one closet locked and for your use only for your personal toiletries and extra clothes. We just bought a mini fridge for the basement so we don’t have to keep throwing out condiments after each of our personal visits between guests. Buying ketchup, mayonnaise, and butter every visit can add up and you can’t really leave food stuff for guests to use.

Hopefully these tips will help you if you decide to become an Airbnb host.  Overall, it’s been a good experience for us and a great assistance financially to help us pay for our second home to spend time near our family.  Good luck and happy hosting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains, Trolleys & Tuk Tuks-Getting around Lisbon

When you visit Lisbon, don’t even contemplate renting a car.  The traffic is crazy and the streets are uneven cobblestone narrow lanes.  Picturesque the crooked quaint streets are, but you do NOT want to drive here.  Trust me.  Instead, enjoy the public transportation system and treat yourself to a tuk tuk too.

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If you are a typical American, you are dependent on and feel lost without your own car.  In Europe, it’s practical and easy to let someone else do the driving.  So here’s a quick guide to public transportation in Europe.  Buy your travel card (could be paper or plastic depending on country) and use your credit card to put money on it to use as needed at the machine at the bus/train/trolley station.  We usually start with 10 euros on each of ours and then “top off” or add more $ at the machines as we use it up.  Ride costs vary but are usually 1-2 euros each trip.  Machines will be around the stations, usually with a line waiting to use, and just step up when it’s your turn, select your language and the machine will walk you through the process.  Easy peasey.

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As you proceed with your card/ticket, you will either just slap it on the pad at the machine turnstyles to enter the station or at the station just inside the door as you enter the trolly or sometimes it will be fed into the machine and spit out on the other side.  Just watch the other passengers and follow in style.  Grab a map of the subway or trolley lines at the station and off you go!  Most systems are color coded, i.e. in Lisbon we took the red line to the blue line to get around the entire town.  Inside the subway, trolley, etc. you will usually see a map of the system with the stops called out.  Just watch for your stop and if you miss it, get off at the next stop and switch tracks to go back.  It happens!  Keep your card handy as you sometimes have to use it to get out of the turn styles upon arrival.  Make sure you look for the green light vs. the red light so the exit you pick is active.  Don’t be that crazy American tourist trying to exit a closed lane.

I have to give Lisbon A+ for their public transportation.  In addition to a great metro (subway) system, they have trolleys/buses for easy around town travel and trains to get out of town and explore Sentra, Porto, Evora, etc.  All except the trains use the one transport card.  For trains, you have to get a separate ticket.  We found out that they assign seats on the train tickets after we sat in the wrong seats and had to move.  Oops.

For fun, we tried a tuk tuk one day for short ride.  For $10 euros for the two of us, the lovely lady took us in her three wheel golf cart-like tuk tuk and proceeded to tell us stories about Lisbon during our trip.  Travel + a story!  She explained that Lisbon is quite safe but there are lots of “soft” crime meaning pickpockets.  She told us about a tradition where the governor pays for 10 weddings a year at a big event in June.  Unfortunately, our driver is engaged to a Porto resident not a Lisbon resident so she was not qualified to enter the wedding raffle.  She contemplated finding another boyfriend but decided to keep him.  Ah, true love! Hint:  look for electric tuk tuk vs. a gas one so you aren’t sucking in deadly fumes on your lovely ride around Lisbon.  Cheers!

Eating & drinking in Lisbon

Pastel de nata.  Pastel de Belem.  Whatever name you want to call it, in Portugal this is the national treasure and really all you need to know about Portugal food.  It is the food of the Gods.  Flaky crust, warm egg custard interior with torched sugar top that oozes creamy goodness as you bite into the lusciousness.  Seriously, I am in love with a tart. I’ve already searched for where I can find it back home in Seattle and am considering how to smuggle home a few (or a backpack full) to tide me over.  Full.  On.  Obsession.

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Yes, the seafood is pretty good here too.  Thom had a grilled sea bass at the Fado place near our arbnb that was quite tasty.  BTW, Fado is seriously promoted here.  You can walk almost any curvy ancient cobblestone street here and find a Fado bar where the music starts about 9 p.m.  We ordered right before the singing started.  Big mistake-no food service while the singing is going on.  Thank goodness the singers were really loud so their soulful tunes covered the sounds of our stomachs rumbling loudly in hunger.  Finally around 10 p.m., the singing stopped and the food flooded out to the hungry patrons.  Fado was nice but since it is sung in Portugese (duh!) and I couldn’t understand the sad words, it was a one night and done for us to enjoy.

Acting on a recommendation by my cousin Eve, we went to the Anthony Boudain-approved seafood joint, Cervejaria Ramiro.  Far away from the main square and tourist area, we walked through Lisbon’s Chinatown and into the best food ever.   We thought by going “early” at 7 p.m. it would not be so busy as most people eat late here after they enjoy their afternoon siesta and go back to work for awhile.  Nope.  Even at 7 p.m. there was a line forming and the #’s were being given out to wait until you could be seated.

After a short wait though, we were directed upstairs from the main floor craziness.  The iPad with the menu was quickly discussed with the friendly wait staff that wanted us to order everything on the menu.  Having checked out the reviews, I knew to go with the garlic shrimp, garlic bread and steak sandwich for Thom.  With no choice to go with a single glass of wine, I had to order the “small” bottle.  Once again, cheap and delicious, I couldn’t finish the wine before we left.  So much wine, so little time!  Soaking up the juices with the bread, the garlic shrimp was divine.  Thom was making yummy sounds as he enjoyed the steak sandwich and stole a few of my shrimp.  Seriously, we could eat this every day and be very, very happy.  Total bill for two with wine was under 25 euros.  Thanks, Eve, for the tip!

Last night we just cooked in our teeny, tiny kitchen.  We found that every train station has a grocery so on our way back from Evora we picked up eggs, bread, etc. for a quick breakfast dinner (with wine of course!).  I still can’t understand how anyone can eat the huge slabs of salted cod you find in all groceries.  Must be an acquired taste.  The food is very inexpensive here in groceries and restaurants.

 

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Tower of salted cod at the grocery store.

 

Coffee is not a big deal here.  Most people drink espresso in cafes.  We didn’t even have a coffee maker of any type provided in our arbnb.  We found a cheap coffee press at Flying Tiger for 8 euros that we’ll leave for the next guest.  Cheaper to do that than buy coffee out every day.  We found one Starbucks at the train station but that was it for national coffee chain stores.  Tea is not big here either though we did have a hot water kettle provided in the apartment.  Next time I’ll bring more Starbucks instant coffee to tide us over as you just never know.

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For lunches, toasties are big here, as in grilled cheese and grilled ham/cheese.  We’ve had several of these and for about 2 euros each, provide a quick and hot lunch.  Tarts and toasties-that’s seems to be my standard diet here with cheap and tasty wine to wash it all down.  The sangria is amazing with so much fruit and spices that it is a tango on your tongue.  Even the food carts get into the vino action.  We found “wine with a view” on the waterfront in Belem, cork bar and all.  A perfect way to end a day in sunny Portugal!

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Chapel of Bones

“We bones in here wait for yours to join us.”  This message over the door greets visitors who enter the Chapel of Bones.  Disturbing and disruptive.  Unlike anything I had ever experienced,  Capela dos Ossos is in the Church of St. Francis in Evora, a cute Portugal city that has been around for 2,000+ years.

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Three monks, concerned with the values they saw in Evora’s society in the 1600’s, created this macabre chapel to give residents a place to contemplate their love of material things against their inevitable death.  Using locales from the cemeteries around town, skulls and bones were gathered to form the walls, columns and ceiling.  Full corpses of an adult and a child also are on display.  To stand in that room looking at this religious expression of protest against wealth and status from so long ago shows that society never changes.  You have that same wealth disparity today across the world.  Will  human beings ever learn?

Not my cup of tea usually but staring at the display made me reflect on the need to be in the present, appreciate my blessings and not take one minute of this precious life for granted.  Because, just like these bones and skulls staring back at me, we will all join them some day.  All that matters then is the lasting good that we are able to create while alive.  Unfortunately, though, most shun thoughts of our eventual demise and focus on gathering as many material things as we can while alive.  The old saying “you can’t take it with you” comes to mind.  Why on Earth then do we spending all our time working to buy stuff that we don’t really need?

On Mother’s Day, I appreciate that Thom and I created two really outstanding human beings who are now making a difference themselves in the world.  Hannah and James make me very proud every day of the worthy life I have lived.  Until I depart to be only bones, I can only hope to continue to do good work and live a life well served.

Shopping in Lisbon!

While Lisbon is so impossibly picturesque that you feel compelled to take pictures of everything, it is also heaven for shopping.  Not even in London did I find so many unique items for gifts and myself, of course. 

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Where to begin?  Well, there is the LX Factory under the bridge that looks like the Golden Gate.  Filled with shops and cafes, it also houses the coolest bookstore I have seen and I LOVE bookstores.  Obolodamarta not only had multiple levels filled with books, it also had a temporary exhibit of Kinetic Art.  The inventor himself walked us around and told us stories about each of his creations.  From a miniature printing press to a Charlie Chaplin story machine, it was so fun and interesting.  I love just stumbling into these experiences as we often do as we wander.

Thom was tempted to get a tattoo at the local artist shop at LX Factory but I veered him away and took some great pics of street art instead.  Who knows if he will leave Portugal with new ink but maybe another day.  Tattoos are not a decision to be made in the moment but after careful reflection.

The next day we left our Alfama district and meandered up and down the cobblestone streets.  Definitely need to have sturdy shoes with grip to hike these streets in Lisbon especially as they get slippery in the rain that was off and on all day.  Finding a store that made bags out of recycled signs and garbage as well as bicycle tires, I was tempted but held off buying.  Pricey but worthy. 

Ducking out of the rain into the Cork Store by the fort proved to be an expensive interlude as we bought multiple gifts for folks who read this blog so I will say no more.  Let’s just say I bought so much I asked for a quantity discount and got it.  Always the bargainer I am!  Just expect Christmas present from Portugal my family and friends.  Thom is obsessed with man jewelry and got yet another bracelet for his already full wrist.  Seriously, that man wears way more bangles than I do. 

Thom also loves shoes so when we found a store with the unique concept of buy a pair of awesome shoes, get a bottle of wine, we both considered it but wisely remembered how full our closets are back home.  We also passed on the sardine shop knowing that while they look cute, they aren’t our cup of tea.

At Typographia, we could have gone wild but restrained ourselves to buy only 2 t-shirts. Very similar to our favorite store in Shanghai that had original creative designs on quality t’s, this little shop had so many cool t’s to choose from that it was hard to narrow it down but the one we choose for James was the best.  In chatting with the shop clerk as she rang us out, she asked if I had really read the words spelled out on the typewriter keys.  I had and it was hilarious but irreverent, just like our son, who will be the recipient.  We laughed and then the conversation somehow turned to weed.  In Portugal, the legal limit of pot is one gram but it’s still not legal though they won’t arrest you with that amount or less we were told. Sharing that we didn’t smell it all the time like we did in Seattle walking the streets, she said we just weren’t walking the right streets.  Point taken.  Shirts bought.

When visiting Portugal, I would suggest packing an empty suitcase and LOTS of Euros.  Whether you go for cork or sardines (they are obsessed with this salty little feller) or Port wine, etc. you will enjoy engaging with the locals as you find treasures to bring home.  Here’s hoping our luggage isn’t over the weight limit going home!

 

 

 

Walking Munich

With only one day to explore Munich, we chose to take a historic walking tour offered by InMunich.  My brain is in overload with all the cool facts and interesting stories that our tour guide, Hein, shared with us.  Meeting in Marienplatz Square at 10:45 a.m., we got a quick summary of the history of Munich before the glockenspiel went off at 11 a.m. serenading the huge crowd with music, bells and the moving characters that illustrate the history of Munich.  Fantastic.

Hein guided us over the next three hours through the streets of Munich, pointing out the beautiful buildings and giving us the backstory of each one.  Admittedly, I am the ignorant American who obviously never paid attention in history classes as I learned more about Hitler and WWII from Hein than I did in school.  Munich lost 80% of their buildings to the war but they rebuilt beautifully.  The few buildings and parts of buildings that did survive the raining down of bombs were on the tour.  As Hein asked various questions, the answer was always “beer”.  To distract a pet monkey who saved a royal baby from a rampaging baboon, what did they offer?  Beer.  When the town folk didn’t have enough gold to get the Swedish King to leave them alone during a takeover, what did they offer him?  Liquid gold, aka beer.  And so on.

Along with six other couples, all Americans, we learned of Hitler’s early years as an aspiring artist.  Hein told us that if he could go back in history, he would make sure Hitler made it into art school vs. getting rejected which led to his career in government and killing.  Most powerful moment was seeing “dodger alley” where the Resistance would run to get around the mandatory saluting to the Nazi regime off the major square where Hitler made campaign speeches.  Seeing the beer hall where Hitler had one of his first major oratory moments as he came into power was also chilling.  So many times over the course of the tour, Thom and I would look at each other and mouth “Trump moment” because it feels like history is repeating itself with our lying, power hungry, amoral POTUS who would rather let citizens die if it meant his agenda was approved.  Terrifying.

At our break halfway through the tour, Hein encouraged us to make use of the public bathrooms and Starbucks but I chose a different path.  Cold and needing an instant warm-up, I got a shot of good whiskey at an Irish pub.  No ice just whiskey.  My friends, Kurt and Ernie, would be so proud of me.  Later, we would fill up on a good German dinner of sausages/sauerkraut/potatoes for Thom and white asparagus/potatoes with hollandaise sauce for me with a side of pretzels, of course, and a carafe of wine.  Cheers!

Rocking with Bruce in NZ

One week ago, we were THIS CLOSE to The Boss. In Auckland, NZ.  It was AWESOME!

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Travelling over 7,000 miles from Seattle to NZ to celebrate Thom’s 60th birthday with Bruce, we enjoyed a week on Waiheke Island off the coast of Auckland before the big day.  On Saturday we boarded the ferry to the mainland, picked up our tickets in Auckland and made our way to Mt. Smart Stadium.  Along the way we dropped off a bag at our roadside motel, hastily booked when we discovered the damn ferry didn’t do a late night run to the island and we would no doubt be stranded sleeping on a ferry terminal bench if we didn’t take action.  Those that have been to a Bruce Springsteen concert know that he has great energy and can play.  ALL. NIGHT. LONG. When we saw Bruce in LA and Seattle last year, he played for four hours straight.  Which is awesome if you don’t have a deadline to cross the ocean to your lovely airbnb cottage.  Not daring to leave the concert early, we decided to grab a few hours rest at the “no tell motel” before going back to the island the morning after.  Wise we are.

For this concert, Bruce had two opening acts which was unusual because he usually works alone with no opener.  Arriving just in time to be one of the first 500 in line, we got the coveted pink bracelets and #’s written on our hands.  The NZ stadium crew were very organized, walking in 100 fans at a time in order to avoid chaos.  We got to know some lovely people while we waited in the shade of the trees outside the gates.  Thom was even interviewed for a NZ podcast.  While Thom’s sign didn’t get Bruce’s attention, it did solicit lots of comments from the crowd as did his “Icky Trump” protest shirt.  My hubby-always ready to discuss politics-is not shy about voicing his opinions.  Luckily this crowd was very anti-Trump so many lively discussions ensued when they asked us, “WTF-how did you elect that wanker?”

Finally inside, we were about three rows from the front of the stage.  WOWOWOW!  As many times as Thom has seen Bruce, this was the closest he would get.  Ever.  Fitting for a journey as long as ours.  When interlopers without #’s on their hands tried to cut in front of us, the friends we made standing around us including a NZ policeman, joined voices in protests and summoned security to move them behind us.  One entitled lady thinking she could just cut in front of me was cussed out by Thom and others, with the cop counselling Thom not to touch her to avoid getting kicked out of the concert. Wouldn’t that have been awful?  But, properly restrained but still giving her what for, Thom did not get ejected.  Standing firm, we “policed” our area and made sure we kept up close and personal with Bruce.

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The openings acts, Jet and Marlon Williams, were good but everyone had come to see Bruce and the E Street Band.  Finally the 40,000+ fans got him as he strolled out in his trademark checkered shirt and belted out Darlington County.  Steve Van Zandt was of course his usual crazy self with his head scarf and floral pants.  When Bruce declared it was “ass-shakin time” they turned and let their bums do the talking.  Impressive.  Interesting, the crowd in the stands were seated and fairly quiet unlike the standing mob on the floor where we were.  Bruce eventually ran to the sides and got them engaged but they were definitely more reserved than the US crowds that danced for 4 hours straight last year when we were in LA and Seattle.

Next to us all night was a couple from Italy who had planned their vacation to NZ to see Bruce at Christchurch and Auckland.  Dedicated.  Another woman also interviewed with Thom for the podcast had taken a 36 hour flight from India.  Crazy.  The gentleman in front of me helping with crowd control in our group was from Poland.  Everyone had stories to tell about Bruce and the impact he and his music had on their lives, making it easy to bond quickly with complete strangers.  I will always remember them fondly.

While he sang hit after hit, the moving rendition of “41 Hands” brought tears to my eyes as I saw everyone raising their hands and feeling the heartfelt lyrics so relevant to the tensions we are all feeling today in our world, whether in the US or NZ.  The Boss ended his three hour jam with an acoustic version of Thunder Road.  Brilliant.  The concert of a lifetime.

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Bruce and E Street Band say good-bye to Auckland and the end of their world tour.

 

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Bruce ends the show with Thunder Road.