How we decode Airbnb listings

Dear Tunester,
Are you planning on going on a trip soon? Maybe you’re ready to venture out and rent a place now that the sun is peeking out from the COVID cloud?

Well, I’m here to help.

As you know, my family is on a year long road trip this year. And along with learning how to carry only the essentials (like 3 basketballs,) how to homeschool three kids without losing it altogether, and how to cook pasta in a motel bathroom, we’ve also gained an expertise – decoding Airbnb listings.

On our trip, so much of our happiness comes down to the places we rent. We’re seeing some spectacular sites, but we spend most of our time hanging/working/schooling at home. Which means that the lodging can be a make or break.

In this last month alone we’ve slept in 8 different places. That’s a lot of opportunity for break.

To save you from heartbreaking dissapointment as you walk into the vacation home you’ve been pining over for more than a year, and to give you a glimpse into our exhilerating at times and also hairpullingly exasperating trip, here is a lodging dictionary to get you through your listing sifting.

The takeaway – don’t always trust what they say…

Lodging Terms Decoded:

  • “Cozy”  =  Tiny
  • “Rustic”  =  Run Down
  • “Character”  =  Old
  • “Modern”  =  Empty
  • “Roomy”  =  Small
  • “Quiet Hotel Room”  =  Nobody wants it
  • “Comfortable”  =  Overly Used
  • “Basic”  =  One Pot, No Shampoo
  • “Quaint”  = Hasn’t been renovated since the 50s
  • “Resort”  =  Hotel
  • “Conveniently Located Near Train Station”  =  You’ll hear that train whistle All. Night. Long.
  • “Homey Touches”  =  Fake Plants
  • “Remote”  =  In the Middle of F*cking Nowhere


Now I’ll illustrate these terms for you by using them in sentences.

(This excerpt is taken from my travel blog. Feel free to read more about our highs and lows HERE and to sign up for updates.)


After we left Arizona we headed to the coast with a stop along the way in Borrego Springs, CA. There we stayed at what has become our back up for when Airbnb fails us in some way (price, availability, appeal) – Time Share “Resorts”.

We actually love these “Resorts”. Airbnbs are demanding! In order for us to get a 5 star review, which we need to continue this lifestyle, moving day from an Airbnb is a 4 hour marathon of –  Scour! Strip the beds! Take out the trash! Wipe surfaces! Pick up the beads, balloons, feathers, game pieces, markers, shells, and other tiny things that kids leave in their wake.

When we stay in hotels, we don’t need their reviews, so we can leave it presentable, but not sparkling.

Not only that, “Resorts” have a pool. If you ask my daughter what her all time favorite places on the trip have been so far, she won’t say Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or Bryce, she’ll name the places that had a pool and/or foosball.

The most amazing canyons and mountains? Who cares! They want a pool.

From there we drove to the coast of San Diego where we had an emotional reunion with the ocean. We’ve driven from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the ocean is where my heart lies.

We arrived to a “Cozy” Airbnb that we had signed onto for two weeks. The minute we arrived to the narrow three story townhouse with one room per floor my heart sank. It was tiny even by New Yorker standards. Not only that, the neighborhood was packed TIGHT with homes side by side with narrow alleys between them.

After high fiving my neighbor through the kitchen window the next morning, I took my smoothie to the beach. By the time the kids had done surfing lessons and I spent afternoons riding the house bike around the bay and by the ocean, we were in love with Mission Bay.

“Cozy” living room in San Diego.


On our way to a surfing lesson through the cute alley.

San Diego reminded us a lot of Israel. A beautiful city on the sea. And Mission Bay felt like Jaffa with its tiny alleys that people decorated with plants and sculptures.

When our two weeks were over we reluctantly said goodbye to San Diego and confronted the reality that our money wasn’t worth much in Cali. I had bargained “Cozy” down, and had a lot of trouble trying to find another place by the beach. So as you can imagine, I didn’t arrive to our next “Resort” with the most positive attitude.

Ramona is a small suburban farm town nestled in the hills of CA. We mistakenly chose a “Quiet” room at first but transferred from the Batcave to a sunnier second floor room the next day.

They had bikes for rent and as I huffed up and down the hills passing views of mountains and farms, I fell in love with the new place. Plus, there was a pool…

Steep climbs up mean steep rides down.

Are you starting to sense a pattern here? 

After spending a magical weekend in LA with friends and family we felt a strong pull back to the coast. We wondered – Is it really completely out of our budget? Can’t we make it work?

And that led us to trying the “Roomy” one bedroom.

While Tsuri worked in the bedroom during the day, the kids and I crammed into the “Comfortable” living room with springs sticking out of the couch to do school and work.

I didn’t win any mom of the year awards for my performance that week. I realized that’s where I draw the line. I can homeschool them all day and I can pack and unpack endlessly. But I need a room to escape to.

(I did manage to do a show for the Jewish Museum in the middle of that living room with a green screen though  -superhero mom moment.)

“Roomy” one bedroom in Carpinteria.

Even though I counted down the days to leaving that place, I fully enjoyed my morning smoothies on the beach and wasn’t ready to leave the ocean. We spent the weekend driving up the coast and staying in “Quaint” motels with lots of “Character”.

In these places we all cram into one room but its only for a night so we come with different expectations. A clean working shower is the bar, not always met.

Me teaching a class on Saturday morning
What you see
What’s actually behind me


We knew our next move was to head inland where we belonged. The only house we could find in our budget was “Remote” and “Basic” but we went for it.

This is how that drive went – The vineyards! The pastures! The cows! The rolling hills! So beautiful! Wow we’re still driving. And driving… Now things are getting more and more desolate. Now we’re passing dilapidated homes, and now the kids are asking -”Why are there so many broken down trucks next to the homes?”

By the time we finally rolled into the driveway I had imagined a full horror scene and wanted to turn around and leave. It didn’t help that the sign at the end of the driveway said, I kid you not –

“No Trespassing – We’re Tired of Hiding the Bodies.”

The wifi network was called “stayout.” So.

The welcoming sign on the “Remote” house.

Once again, the next day came around and made everything better. The kids played basketball with a view, my husband and daughter made a fire, and I had my own room to escape to. I wasn’t panic-calling my family anymore.

Bball with a view


So dear traveler, I hope you took notes. It’s crucial to be able to decode descriptions on the listings. Next time I may tell you about decoding the photos too.

But keep in mind – you might have the same pattern I do. You might go into MOST places and hate them at first. But when the sun rises and you’re having your smoothie outside, you might just see the light and be happy to call it your new “Home” for a little while.


It all looks better in the morning. “Home” is wherever we are together.