Airbnb for dummies

I've written several articles where I've curated rentals both domestic and internationally and each one comes with caveats for every location. Here are my tips for your most foolproof booking.

Photo courtesy Airbnb Bali rental 5197293

Photo courtesy Airbnb Bali rental 5197293


When you enter your location destination check the map that populates. Some locations will not be close to the city you select, sometimes as much as 90 minutes away! The more restrictions you put in like price, rooms, beds, etc will give you fewer results and it expands your distance options. 

If you're traveling for a very location specific reason (like a wedding, business trip, amusement park/attraction) this is going to be of paramount importance. If you're traveling to explore an area and will have a vehicle this may not be an issue and even add to your enjoyment of the trip.

If you don't speak the native language filter to have a host who can communicate in your own language.

Read reviews

Ideally, you want a rental that has several reviews that go into the current rating. One 5-star rating isn't the same as 137 4-star ratings. Look at the detail of both 5-star and 2-star reviews. Why one person rates a 5-star  may not matter to you and a 2-star rating because there weren't enough beds won't be a bother if you're traveling solo.

Look for comments that contain detail about activities in the area that you didn't know of before in the event you want to add that stop in your daily activity planning.  If you like to cook many of your meals in the rental you can learn how far and how good the markets are in the area, how well the kitchen equipment is stocked and if there is a wine opener. Details matter.

A piece I did on Big Bend National Park in Texas and it features a rental which has a challenging plumbing situation due to the remote area which some guests weren't prepared for. The host stated this in the description but the guests experience using it is what future renters will want to know. Big Bend is several hours from an airport so you'll know you need a vehicle and some rentals aren't off paved roads.  Details matter.

Guests that praise a responsive host is a great testimony. If you're in a foreign country this can be key because you don't have a hotel concierge.

Photo courtesy Airbnb Stockholm 22385748

Photo courtesy Airbnb Stockholm 22385748

Look at photos

How big is the bathroom? Is the kitchen spacious enough for you to cook a family meal? Rentals in Karachi, Pakistan may have 6 beds but 4 of them could be in one sleeping room.

Home size norms are different in each country so you want to get a sense of what to expect before you arrive and manage your expectations.  Photos really help you to mentally prepare.  I've seen rentals with no windows in the bedroom. Would this matter to you?

Photo courtesy Airbnb Santa Monica, CA rental 7460366

Photo courtesy Airbnb Santa Monica, CA rental 7460366

The price you see isn't the price you pay

The devil is in the details. Read fees carefully. Cleaning fees vary tremendously as well as the fee paid to Airbnb (or VRBO) and that can tack on $150 - $1000+ to your final bill.  A large ski home rental will need a larger cleaning crew than a studio in Baltimore. You can't always shop by price because of this. Look for a range, go a bit lower in your search if your budget is tight to allow for fees.

Some locations are seasonal hotspots so inputting your dates of travel can double your cost or half your cost. If you're on a tight budget and flexible with dates try the tail end of the season.

Contact the owner

Fast and friendly response is key.  If you don't see details about how to get the keys (or entry code) and where to leave them, the condition you're expected to leave the rental in when you leave (dishes, laundry, trash, etc) ask the owner just before you're ready to book. Owners rate you just like you rate them.

Is food delivery available nearby? Are there enough pillows for your comfort? Think of your day to day needs. Rentals are not hotels. Most will come with a coffee maker and general cooking equipment, dishes, glasses and eating utensils. Some countries do not have tap water that is safe to drink (not just Mexico) so ask the owner if you don't already know.

Check-in time should appear in the listing as well as check out.  This is important to allow for cleaning time especially if it's a multi-unit building where many are vacation rentals like ski or beach resorts. There are limited cleaning crews and none of us wants to arrive to a rushed cleaning job.  If you don't clearly see the times listed ask the owner during your initial contact.

By following these tips you're sure to have a successful rental experience with minimal surprises. 

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Through A Child's Eyes. Cuban Food Comes To Miami


I was a child in Miami when the Cuban people started to immigrate into my city. I watched South Florida turn into a melting pot of cultures before I even hit puberty.  It was pretty neat and being that kids are so adaptable I ate it up.  My family is a bunch of blue and green eyed fair skinned WASPS. Exotic looking children with those gorgeous liquidy ink black eyes started to assimilate into my classrooms. They had a vibrant energy and foreign accents which I was a bit spellbound by.  Up until my few short years on this earth, my food life had a whole lot of usual suspects found in the 1970's South Florida cuisine. Conch (fritters, ceviche, salad), key lime pie, stone crabs, ocean fish (grouper and mahi-mahi namely)  and a barbecue place called Shorty's on Dixie Highway - which now has multiple locations (and I still remember the unique taste of it to this day).  Additional non-exotic but delicious food catering to the Jewish crowd are some of the best delis around including the now closed ultra iconic Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House in Miami Beach on Collins Avenue.  Those baskets of table rolls found their way not only into seniors' handbags, they ended up in mine too.

Enter in the food culture of my new South Florida cohabitants.  About a million Cubans came to my city in a fairly short amount of time and the new exotic foods came swiftly along with them. 

Cuban Coffee

In my house, it was pretty old school coffee. There were no Starbucks, Keurig machines or in- home barista units.  You had Taster's Choice, Chock full o' nuts, Sanka or my father's. He is Swedish which means boil grounds in a pot of water and toss in an eggshell. It keeps the luscious dark liquid clear.  Cultures that enjoy coffee also have a type or style that is the hallmark and how it is enjoyed can vary. My observation of the Cuban ritual version came from Cuban coffee trucks set up in parking lots initially. I would see older Cuban gentleman sitting outside of these trucks on lawnchairs enjoying tiny cups of thick dark coffee along with fat cigars.  Perhaps reading a paper, sharing stories with fellow countrymen or just solo enjoying the hot sun on their face.  Cuban coffee is hyper sweet and the sugaring process makes it more viscous than regular espresso.

The yellow canisters of café Bustello were flooding the coffee and international food aisles in our Publix and Winn-Dixie stores.  The day my dad brought some home it was downright exotic. No joke.

Guava Everything

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My young ears did not like the sound of this fruit. Guava paste, guava pastries, guava jam, etc was showing up in bakeries, grocery aisles and in the produce section.  None of us in the family knew what to make of it. Formerly markets dominated by key limes and oranges saw this fruit was strong-arming its way in. Once I tried a guava pastry my mind changed and it changed fast. Pastelitos de Guayaba may or may not have the addition of cream cheese. I found I liked it either way. This is a traditional Cuban pastry as the guava tree thrives in the tropical climate Cuba enjoys.

Black beans and rice

Goya products lined grocery aisles and inside those blue labeled cans were things too mysterious and exotic for a south Florida child to understand. Namely all those beans!

Beans honestly were the first thing to catch me off guard. The only bean I knew as a kid was a fresh green string bean. Cuban food isn't exactly big on the green vegetables. What is a black or red bean? Here goes the exotic card again. After my mother told me the story of her childhood and playing with dried beans (toys for children of farmers) one of her cousins got one stuck in his nose. Grandmother wondered one day why his nose was so red and tender. Upon tilting his head up and fishing around with her crochet hook she pulled out a sprouting bean. I suppose this is why my brother and I never had dried beans around in our toy box.

I saw piles of black beans and rice on plates in cafes we passed by. A strange color but unforgettable and intriguing to my young curious eyes. It took about a year but as a family, we tried it. The flavor of cumin was entirely foreign to me. The concoction is a dietary staple in the Cuban food culture. It is laced with oregano, onions, olive oil, sometimes bell pepper and garlic-and cumin of course. Black beans make the rice a purple hue and stud the dish like delicious exotic jewels.

The Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwich at Oro restaraunt Houston

To this day I am thankful for this mix of deliciously layered items between two bread halves. This was street food in carts on Calle Ocho, 8th street Little Havana area.  They were popping up in deli's soon after.  Delicious roasted pork sliced, boiled ham, pickles, mustard and swiss cheese pressed on a plancha or not. I like it either way.  It's fatty sure but it always tastes light. I blame the mustard and its condiment trickery. Pickles are there for backup magic. Tricks you into thinking there are a few hundred less calories.  You do not order a Sandwich Cubano with some customizations like leaving something off or extra something else. That throws off the whole balance. Just eat it as is in its sheer perfection.

Plantain Chips

Without question, this is my favorite item that found its way into my Publix produce area.  I am thrilled to find them in my new state of residence. There is nothing quite like a plantain chip.  I remember my first few years of eating them before several companies started to produce them. They were paper thin, sweet, starchy, crunchy, salty and oily.  It was an instant addiction haunting me and I had to have a near constant supply. They have personality but it's unobtrusive. Exotic yet comforting.  If you can find the right manufacturer of them today I promise they will have the same impact on you. 

I am grateful for all the delicious delights I was introduced to by the vibrant Cuban people. For without them I could still be eating Pringles and drinking Sanka.