Airbnb – Words of Warning

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.

airbnb Paris warning

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

Girl Gone Gallic     

 

  20 comments for “Airbnb – Words of Warning

  1. December 8, 2015 at 2:52 am

    Those gut feelings are never wrong!

    Words of wisdom gained from your creepy experience. We have only recently begun using Airbnb and have been very happy, but of course we were travelling as a couple. Had I been single I don’t think I’d have given a moment’s thought to any possible dangers, so your post is a valuable warning. The thought of what could have happened to you is really alarming; well done you for escaping. Shame you couldn’t have clouted the ‘host’ with those boots.

    Full marks to Airbnb for finding you alternative accommodation. They seem very well organised and responsible.

    • December 13, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      AirBnB was flawless in their response, not often that I can say this these days. Gut feelings are there for a reason; I just needed a reminder!

  2. November 23, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Sadly the whole industry is splattered with bad eggs and I am so sorry you got caught up with one such egg. AirBnB has so much to offer and we list there … but as we are new we only have a handful of reviews … and we certainly don’t offer any “funny business” – we just haven’t had a lot of bookings, as yet, through them. So glad you were OK though and your tips are very sensible. #AllAboutFrance

  3. November 6, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Oh my goodness! That is scary. I am so glad you got out of there safely. Bises from #AllAboutFrance

    • November 9, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you, I am too! …and I am glad to say that location is no longer available on AirBnB so no one else will have the same bad experience.

  4. November 6, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Wow! How scary! Thankfully you kept your wits and escaped!

  5. Christy Swagerty (whatupswags)
    November 6, 2015 at 3:34 am

    I adore AirBnB BUT I have officially decided to only rent from females when I travel alone. I had had several positive experiences and tried a listing with tons of positive reviews (but a male host) and it just got weird. I was relieved to leave, and will not be booking from male hosts when I travel solo ever again. It’s unfortunate to have to be extra selective, but it’s also necessary in a world where not everyone is happy being only platonic! 🙂 Lesson learned, and happy to keep using AirBnB within my parameters. I’m really glad you got out of your situation A-OK!!! Thanks for sharing through #AllAboutFrance!

    • November 9, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Exactly what I am trying to convey. One bad experience does not mean AirBnB is untrustworthy, but use caution especially for us solo females travelers.

  6. November 5, 2015 at 4:53 am

    Wow, what a creep!! Thank goodness everything was ok. That’s a great tip to keep the customer service number on hand – something that I never do. I’ve had really great experiences with Airbnb, but I’ve also only used it with my husband or with a handful of friends – never as a solo female. I agree – it is really important to read those reviews carefully – I’ll only stay at a place with preferably 10 reviews or more, but in big cities I go with ones that get 30-40+ reviews. Hope you have better experiences with Airbnb in the future! #AllAboutFrance

    • November 9, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      He did creep me out from the get go, but I was trying to keep an open mind. Next time I will listen more attentively to my gut!

  7. November 5, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Wow what an awful experience and thank goodness the host didn’t actually try it on, that’s just too scary. I think your tip about not staying in someone’s house as a single female traveller is very wise. However B&Bs have existed long before Airbnb was even dreamt up and I don’t think this should be blamed on Airbnb but rather an unsuitable individual who somehow managed to get through the system, just like he could on Booking.com or VRBO. I’ve had my place listed on Airbnb now practically since it started (6 years almost) and have stayed in plenty too and have never had a bad experience. I also list my place with plenty of other booking sites (TripAdvisor, HomeAway etc) and they have way less security than Airbnb. Booking.com for example doesn’t give a damn and good luck getting any help from them if needed! So while I think all your tips are very useful for first timers to renting a place through any portal, I don’t think this experience should put you off and I think it actually highlights how good Airbnb can be, in an emergency.

    • November 5, 2015 at 11:11 am

      I don’t want to give the wrong idea, just a word of caution. 99% of the time AirBnB is awesome, that’s why I wanted to try it. But, it is wise to keep your head squarely on your shoulders and be particularly cautious if you are a single female (especially for you young cuties out there). It only takes one horrible bad experience, even if it falls in that 1% of the time. Don’t let it be you!!!

      • Christy Swagerty (whatupswags)
        November 6, 2015 at 3:39 am

        Sucks to be young and cute! Dang it! 😉

  8. November 5, 2015 at 2:53 am

    Verrrrrrrry strange, so glad you got out of there safe and sound and found a more suitable rental. I’ve used Airbnb but only full apartments and not shared rooms. I wonder why he lied about the address? Makes no sense. And how did that even happen if they require verification? Seems like Airbnb has some explaining to do but at least they did the right thing and helped you out. I like Airbnb (aside from cleaning fees) because I can use my American credit card whereas some of the European sites require a bank transfer or a French card when I’d rather pay in dollars. Let’s hope your next Airbnb experience is a better one! #allaboutfrance

    • November 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      AirBnB responded extrememly well, it was the best part of the experience. I felt supported and unjudged through the entire process, and the follow up was awesome as well. The best customer service experience I have had in a long time!

  9. emilycommander
    November 5, 2015 at 1:16 am

    Oh my goodness, what a horrendous experience. Well done for getting out of there, and thank you for the tips.

  10. glenn
    October 7, 2015 at 11:56 am

    whewww. People are crazy.

  11. September 20, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Wow! how scary for you, good to hear Airbnb are investigating.. I would have been out of there like a bandit with my boots as well! Thanks for sharing your horrible experience as it is so easy to get complacent so your tips are useful. I have only used Airbnb once before but booking a stay as a couple in a property with over 30 positive reviews but it’s scary to think some unstable hosts can take advantage of this accommodation platform.

    • October 4, 2015 at 11:28 am

      I think it’s great as a couple, but I will think twice about booking again on my own !

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