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.
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.
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.
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?
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.