Have you heard about airbnb ?
It’s a super popular worldwide website for booking accommodations with private parties. By staying in someone’s home rather than a hotel, it allows you to better immerse yourself in the local culture. The host often can also often give you insider tips that would be hard to come by otherwise.
I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this resource that I recently decided to give it a try on my four-day trip to Paris. I started by doing a search on the website with the options I needed: easy on the budget, instant booking, elevator, and close to transportation. With airbnb, you can book entire apartments or just a room depending on your needs.
Several options came up, so I read the reviews and looked in detail at the descriptions avoiding high cleaning fees and large deposits, and inflexible reservation policies. Once I had it narrowed down to three choices, I contacted them all to double-check availability – only one came back as positive so I booked it right away (my trip was just days away).
This particular rental was a room in someone’s home, with amazing views over the rooftops of Paris and a great terrace to enjoy it all. I would have to share the common spaces with the owner, but I figured what the heck the handful of reviews all rave about the place and the host.
In order to book an accommodation, you need to verify you are who you say you are – which is reassuring since these safety checks occur on both sides – renter and host. The process is pretty simple, just upload an ID, plus phone number and email verification (it stays private and only airbnb has access). It only took a few moments to receive my reservation confirmation. All seems good !
My first clue that something was wrong was when the address didn’t match what was on the reservation, but it was just a little off and I thought it was just a mistake or something (not!). The second clue for those of us who are superstitious should have been that it was at the top of a high-rise > on the 13th floor… Friday the 13th is actually a lucky day in France (and a great day to play the lottery there), so I also ignored that warning.
I arrived as we had arranged, and was amazed at the views – even better than I had imagined. What a glorious place to watch the sunset !
It however quickly went downhill from there… When the host started talking about “ménage à trois” and offering to have me to stay in his bedroom, I knew I had a huge problem! The room wasn’t even a room but an alcove with a bed and zero privacy. It still had those fabulous views with the Eiffel Tower sparkling through the night, but it was impossible to enjoy as I was terrified. I booby-trapped the area around me in case I fell asleep, but with every creep of the apartment – and that was all night long being in the penthouse of a highrise in a wind storm – I was on edge and seriously concerned about the potential of a midnight visitor.
Gladly nothing happened. The host seemed to have some mental health issues, so I was a little worried about what would happen should I upset the host. It was late evening when I arrived, so I just kept things as light as possible and planned to make a getaway as soon as he went to bed. Unfortunately that was not until early the next morning when the host finally fell asleep as he had been up all night.
I then tiptoed out like a bandit with my boots in hand, and sneaked out the front door leaving it slightly ajar so the noise of a closing door would not wake him… Being discreet with my huge suitcase wasn’t exactly easy (note to self: why does my suitcase always seem full of bricks?), and I descended the elevator with heart pounding before slipping on my boots. The front gate was locked but I managed to input the code by stretching my arm through the fencing (there is probably an easier way but I just wanted out of there) – my escape was nearly complete ! I made a quick dash out the gate and then headed straight to the metro to regroup and figure out a new plan. Whew ! That was close… In hindsight, I should have left right away, not having a back up plan was my mistake…
I called AirBnB as soon as I was in a safe place (thank you Starbucks!). They were really incredibly helpful, and did not question a thing. I was fully reimbursed and they quickly found me another place to stay with Liliane, this lovely little old harmless lady who thankfully has a thing for roses, tapestry, and embroidery rather than three-somes… Airbnb’s safety team also followed up with me so they could do a full investigation. The host will thankfully likely get booted from the service as besides the harassment he also lied about the address (so if I was murdered or other in my sleep, no one would actually know where I was).
Don’t let this nightmare happen to you!!!
Here are my airbnb tips for what TO DO :
- DO book well in advance
- DO travel with a friend
- DO read all the reviews, pay careful attention to the host, discard any with even a hint of past problems
- DO make sure there are at least a dozen reviews for any accommodation you are considering and that they are not new to airbnb
- DO only book accommodations where you are the sole occupant (no room rentals)
- DO keep the customer service number handy and have a backup plan in case of problems
Here are my airbnb tips for what NOT TO DO :
- Do NOT book airbnb as a solo female traveler; you just have no way of knowing from whom you are renting. If you just can’t avoid it, then chose a female host.
- Do NOT book at the last-minute as you will have less opportunity to make a safe choice.
- Do NOT book shared spaces such as a room rental.
- Do NOT ignore feelings of discomfort or inconsistencies in the reservation.
I wasn’t expecting any issues, it’s not like I’m in my twenties anymore. It’s a little bit of a wake up call for me, as I was getting a little complacent…
Anyone else have any close calls with airbnb? My friend swears by VRBO as he feels it is easier to sift through and find the gems in the many listings, but I think I will just stay with Booking.com for now.
Happy (safe) travels,
-Girl Gone Gallic