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Renting paradise: How to find dream lodging on Airbnb

Airbnb guests can book Bird Island in Placencia, Belize. Courtesy of Airbnb1 / 5
With locations around the world, Airbnb offers many accommodations including this rental space in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Courtesy of Airbnb2 / 5
From castles and treehouses to this RV rental in Los Angeles, Airbnb offers a variety of accommodations. Courtesy of Airbnb3 / 5
Unique lodging like this houseboat in Charleston, South Carolina, is available. Courtesy of Airbnb4 / 5
If you've ever wanted to stay in a cabin in the trees, Aibnb offers this option in Centre, France. Courtesy of Airbnb5 / 5

FARGO — Whether for a family reunion, wedding or vacation, booking accommodations can cause headaches and drain your travel budget all for a place to merely rest your head at night. Even more, sometimes finding a place to stay at all can be a challenge.

"There are places around the country and the world where oftentimes there are big events that

come to town and there's just not enough accommodations," says Jasmine Mora, Airbnb press secretary for the Dakotas.

When lodging shortages plagued the 2008 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and the Democratic National Convention in Denver, co-founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbie and Nathan Blecharczyk offered a much-needed solution. Airbnb (then called AirBed & Breakfast) was born.

The hospitality service allows hosts to make supplemental income by renting out their spaces, giving travelers unique options for short-term stays.

"We have spaces like a couch, a private bedroom or you can rent an entire home," Mora says. "You can stay in a mushroom dome in California, a tree house or a tiny house."

While average homes may be more common, guests booking through Airbnb have luxury options when booking bed and breakfasts, guest houses, backyard cottages or — to satisfy the bucket list — staying on remote islands, a castle or bungalow villa on stilts.

Through it all, creating and maintaining sustainable tourism is just one arm of Airbnb's mission. Home sharing — like bike sharing or ride sharing — is a step toward that goal.

"What happens a lot of times is people will ask their host for recommendations. 'Do you have any place you recommend for us to get dinner,' or 'Is there a local breakfast place you suggest we check out?'" Mora says.

Word-of-mouth recommendations not only elevate a guest's experience, they help to support the local economy.

Getting started on Airbnb

Using the website or app, users must first create a profile on Airbnb. (In fact, some hosts require guests to have a profile photo or verified ID in order to book.)

Once the profile is set up, guests can search for lodging by city, narrowing results by date and room type — a shared room, private room or entire home/apartment. Several filters such as price, amenities (i.e. kitchen, washer, wifi, laptop-friendly workspace, breakfast), facilities (i.e. pool, hot tub, gym, free parking) and house rules (i.e. whether pets, smoking or events are allowed) make finding appropriate lodging easier.

"Once you find a few listings or see one that you like, you're welcome to reach out to the host before you even do the booking," Mora says. "You don't have to wait until you've actually made the reservation." (Doing so ensures guests and hosts are on the same page with expectations, accommodations, amenities and more.)

While some hosts offer "instant book" options, meaning they don't need to approve every reservation, other list their property as "request to book" which requires approval.

Led by local hosts, Airbnb "experiences" give travelers unique access to the places and communities they stay in. Hosts offer "immersions" (multiple-day excursions) or one-day experiences, ranging from workshops and cooking classes for various skill levels to photo shoots, concerts and outdoor adventures, including long treks, surf lessons, paddleboarding and more.

Tips from the experts

When booking through Airbnb, consider these helpful hints.

• Read reviews. "The great thing about our platform is that it's based on reviews," Mora says. "As you are looking at listings and figuring out where to stay, one of the helpful things is to take a look at a host's reviews."

• Read descriptions carefully. Before booking, make sure to read lodging details. Often this is where hosts will provide information about check-in times, house rules and other special notes.

• Consider booking a "superhost." Superhosts must meet a list of criteria, including having completed at least 10 trips, maintained a 50 percent review rate and a 90 percent response rate, had zero cancellations (outside of extenuating circumstances policy) and maintained a 4.8 overall rating.

• Be a respectful guest. "After a guest stays with a host, both the guest and the host review each other," Mora says. As an Airbnb host himself, Andrew Young, 28, of Fargo rates his guests based on tidiness and "if they're on-time for check-in," he says. "I really recommend that to anybody who's booking Airbnb."

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

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