lessons we learned as Airbnb hosts, part 1

After we finished the cabin in late 2020, we rented it on Airbnb. It was a good side gig for us for a while, but then the extra work became overwhelming. (We both have full-time jobs, we have four kids, and the cabin was two hours from our home.) If we had set up the business differently from the beginning, I think it would’ve been much easier for us. Now that we’re planning to open a new Airbnb in a few months, I’ve been thinking about the lessons we learned and how we can run this new business more efficiently. I thought you all might be interested in hearing the top things we learned from our time as hosts. (And I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from being a host or a guest — please share your ideas in the comments!)

1. Guests really appreciate amenities.

When we were building and furnishing the place, I was really worried about money and wanted to save wherever we could, but John convinced me to invest in amenities that we’d want to use at an Airbnb. We spent a lot of time thinking about places we’d stayed in the past and things we wished those hosts had done differently, and I grudgingly admitted he was right. We made sure our kitchen had everything a guest might need to cook a real meal: nice knives, stainless steel pots and pans, cookie sheets, serving dishes, nice coffeemaker, dishwasher, garbage disposal, toaster, and microwave. (We also bought an InstaPot/air fryer, but I wouldn’t buy that again — it didn’t seem like many people used it.) We stayed there ourselves and cooked test meals so we could figure out what was missing, and it turned out we needed to buy more cutting boards, a colander, a peeler, and measuring cups and spoons.

Because the place was far away from any grocery stores (the nearest place to buy food was the 7-11, and that was 18 minutes away!), we kept a shelf full of spices, oils, peanut butter, breakfast cereal, etc. It didn’t cost us very much — most people brought enough food and didn’t need extra provisions besides olive oil and spices, and some people left their own unopened food on the shelf for the next guests. But when people needed the food, I was so glad we had it available. At one point, a couple driving to our place ran off the road, got stuck in a snowdrift, and had to walk about a mile to our place in the dark. Yikes! They couldn’t carry their food from the car, so they were really grateful and relieved when they saw pasta and marinara sauce on our shelf.

We provided coffee (I settled on Dunkin Donuts brand because people seemed to like it and it’s not terribly expensive) and sugar. I also made sure to stock the pantry with plenty of toilet paper and paper towels. I hate it when Airbnbs have only two rolls of toilet paper!

We also stocked the bathroom/laundry room area with extra supplies for guests. As time went on, we kept more and more items on had. After a year, we were stocking shampoo, conditioner, body wash, tampons and pads, laundry soap, dog shampoo, dog poop bags, bug spray, sunblock, materials to clean the grill, and black makeup towels. We also had a mini medicine cabinet with pain reliever, cough medicine, band aids, and a few other odds and ends.

We provided a selection of board games, too. I hate it when Airbnbs have only the bad/cheap games — you know what I mean? We spent a little more money to buy some games that our family likes to play. We bought them on sale on Black Friday, which was a nice bonus.

Guests seemed to really appreciate receiving a welcome gift when they arrived. We tried a few different options, including boxes of Girl Scout cookies, but in the end it was easiest to buy cases of wine and leave a bottle for each guest. We stocked sparkling wine, too, for people celebrating anniversaries or birthdays. I sent an email before each guest’s arrival with directions, the house manual, the door code, and some other info, and in that email I asked them to let us know if it was ok to provide wine. A few times people said they’d rather not have wine, and on those occasions we tried to provide something else (usually we grabbed some cookies from a bakery on our way to the cabin and left those as a welcome gift).

2. But guests don’t appreciate too many amenities.

Paradoxically, we found that when we went above and beyond, people didn’t appreciate it. This happened multiple times, but the best example was the family that rented the cabin for Christmas. They told us they were planning to celebrate the holiday, and John and I are big Christmas people, so we put up a tree, hung twinkle lights outside, bought small gifts for their kids, and left champagne and Christmas cookies. We had a lot of fun getting the place ready for them, but they had some issue during their stay–I can’t remember what–and left us fewer than five stars.

Plus, their kids went for a walk on our neighbor’s property, which turned into a huge deal. We wouldn’t care if someone walked on our property, but our neighbors cared very much, and they reported the incident to the neighborhood association and posted “No Trespassing” signs every few yards along the property line. Eek.

After about a year of hosting, when people asked for very specific things (e.g., some people requested particular types of wine as a welcome gift), we told them we couldn’t accommodate their request.

3. An electronic lock is key (pun intended).

We bought the August Home electronic lock, and I highly recommend it. (In fact, we loved it so much that we got one for our home, too.) It was easy to install, and I could create new codes for guests from my home, two hours from the cabin. What a timesaver! After a bad incident when the lock jammed, I hid a spare key outside in case of emergency.

This post is getting very long, and I still have more to share! I’ll be back with part 2 in a few days. In the meantime, I’d love to know: what lessons have you learned as a guest or host?

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