A Beginner’s Guide to Airbnb

airbnb listingPhoto: Airbnb

For many of us, Airbnb is to travel what Match.com was to dating 10 years ago: You’ve heard about it, your friends are trying it, but you’re still not sure whether you can actually trust this thing.

The online site lets people around the world rent out their rooms, apartments, houses, caravans, and even castles–and has attracted over 25,000,000 users since launching back in 2008. So what exactly do you need to know before making a booking yourself–and how does a girl nab herself a last-minute booking for, say, a long weekend?

We chatted with an Airbnb spokesperson, Erin Aquino, to get the inside scoop.

StyleCaster: What are the top five things someone should look for in an Airbnb listing?
Erin Aquino: First, consider the listing’s ability to accommodate your group by looking at the number of beds and size of listing. Then check whether the host ID is verified, if property and host reviews are positive, that photos give a full representation of the property, and note whether the host is friendly and responsive to your inquiries.

How about last-minute booking? Is it possible? 
Utilize the many filters that Airbnb has on its properties to limit your searches to the exact listings you need. Airbnb’s direct messaging system makes it easy to ask questions to hosts, who often reply very quickly. Communicating and getting to know a potential host is useful when making a decision between two similar properties once you’ve narrowed down your search.

Airbnb CaravanPhoto: Airbnb

How do users know that a listing is actually what they’ll get?
We connect hosts with free professional photographers in many cities. These beautiful, high-resolution images help effectively showcase hosts’ spaces. Additionally, they’re stamped by a “Verified” watermark that lets potential guests know that a professional photographer has viewed the listing. Airbnb allows hosts and potential guests to communicate as often as they want prior to booking. Users can ask as many questions as they’d like about the listing they’d like to book directly to the person who listed the property. Reviews that demonstrate other guests’ experiences are also a useful tool when determining where exactly to stay.

MORE: 25 Comfy-But-Cute Outfits to Wear on the Plane

Where are some popular travel destinations across the US that you recommend for weekend getaways?
Try some of the most-booked cities on Airbnb, which so far in 2015 are New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and D.C.

Many people still feel safer booking accommodation through a traditional hotel. How do you guarantee Airbnb listings are just as safe?
The Airbnb platform provides a system that’s safe for both hosts and users through a specific trust and safety program. This includes verifying the IDs of guests and hosts, detailed profiles, confirmed reviews, and a direct messaging system that allows hosts and potential guests to speak before their stay.

Guests pay through Airbnb when they book a listing, and the payment is received through Airbnb 24 hours after guest check-in. Customer service is powered by real humans, and they’re available around the clock, anywhere in the world. Lastly, hosts are protected up to $1,000,000 with the Airbnb Host Guarantee.