Airbnb Lessons Learned

A horror story and a few warnings

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I’ve always been the type to find a hotel deal on a site like Groupon before opting to sleep in a stranger’s home, but figured I’d give this Airbnb trend a try for a weekend trip. I came across a quirky studio with a fully equipped kitchen, a TV and two comfortable looking beds, and it allowed dogs—so said the listing. What we got when we arrived was not what I booked online, but … apparently it was.

While Airbnb has created a much more personal method of travel that has helped many vagabonds see the world while making new friends without breaking bank, this is a different story.

We met our host and he took us to a place that was actually a lot nicer than the one I had booked. He quickly realized he made a mistake and told us to pack up; apparently he had no idea who we were or what exactly we had booked. Weird, but OK, it’s travel. We went with it. We followed him to the next studio, a tiny and suffocating one.

There was one dirty-looking bed and kitschy photographs of yellow Ferraris lining the walls. The carpet was red with teddy bears. A shower curtain with yet another teddy-bear print separated the “kitchen” from the room, and by “kitchen” I mean a plastic table, some chairs and a fridge that stemmed from another century. As you may have guessed, the TV was non-existent. Could be considered quirky and unplugged, but it gets worse.

There was only one socket in the entire room, which was occupied by that vintage fridge. The bathroom … I’ve used toilets on construction sites that were cleaner than this. Oh, and did I mention there was no running water?

When I laughed our host off with a not-so-friendly, “no way, Jose,” he took us to yet another apartment. We walked in and straight back out. By this time it was close to midnight and we were not impressed. We left our host and proceeded to ask around for a cheap hotel that would allow a dog. We got turned down everywhere until finally a hotel receptionist called a friend of hers who had a little guesthouse. For 20 euros less than we had paid for the Airbnb pad, we stayed in this lady’s cozy little garden house with three huge, comfortable beds, beautiful pottery pieces (made by her) and even a little garden area. So, I guess it turned out for the best.

Upon contacting Airbnb for a refund, the problem was resolved swiftly. But the experience did leave me wary.

While the whole concept of Airbnb is of course brilliant on various levels, it does bring its uncertainties. Anyone who has ever looked through real estate ads online will know that the descriptions offered by official websites and renting companies aren’t always trustworthy—the same is true for Airbnb. As with any other online booking service, there are crucial things to keep in mind.

1. Use the Airbnb Payment Option

This might be a bit of a “duh” point to some, but for people who are using the service for the first time it may not seem all that weird that the host would ask for a direct transfer to their account—after all, they are renting out their own house/room, right? If you don’t pay through Airbnb’s option, you are freeing Airbnb of all responsibility. It is vital to use the Airbnb safe payment system in order to be secured against fraud and unpleasant experiences.

2. Triple Check the Emails

Unfortunately, there are hackers who have made it their mission to scam trusting Airbnb guests out of their money and/or personal information. They will contact you by email posing as an Airbnb host or the company itself, demanding payment or personal details such as your bank account number or documents of identification. Typical telltale signs are bad grammar, suspicious looking email addresses or urgency. Try Googling the email address; if a host has burnt a traveler, they might have made that info public somewhere to help future travelers.

3. Don’t Rely on Reviews

Ever wonder why people seem to be leaving fantastic reviews for Airbnb accommodations that look disgusting? It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re high maintenance. Up until recently, Airbnb reviews seemed to operate on a “I’ll pat your back if you pat mine” policy. This means that a negative review about a host was often retaliated by a negative review about said guest. Luckily, that has changed and people are more comfortable being honest and writing neutral or nice reviews.

4. Talk to Your Host Beforehand

The idea of renting a bedroom in the house of a complete stranger can be rather daunting. Therefore, it’s always wise to get a better sense of who your host actually is. Email may be the common form of communication today but it’s not necessarily the safest. A quick chat on the phone can go a long way in establishing trust and will give you an idea of what the person on the other end of the line is like.

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.

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