Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry in ways unforeseeable twenty years ago. Together with Uber, it helped us break every common sense rule our mothers taught us, and for the most part, that’s been a good thing. Whether we like it or not, we trust each other now more than we used to. As a solo traveller, I have often had to consider staying in a traditional hotel or in an Airbnb. I have done both, and offer these three tips for evaluating a property before you hit the BOOK button on Airbnb or any other accommodation website like Overnight.
Is the location safe? Is it well lit?
If you read the reviews of a property and they are only written by men, do your homework. A few queries about the neighbourhood might reveal that where you are staying could be near a popular corner for an unsavoury crowd. I once stayed in an Airbnb space in Sydney that had great reviews — the host was a woman with cats. The reviews failed to articulate that a popular trendy take away directly across the road by day was a very busy spot for transsexual prostitutes taking their coffee breaks at 3 am because the restaurant had permanent furniture outside. The host’s room was not facing the street, so the conversations never reached her ears but certainly kept me up way late and discouraged me from coming home after midnight. A gaggle of prostitutes wouldn’t phase most men, however, made me feel uneasy. Another Airbnb I stayed in had an epidemic of ice addicts outside. That was not anywhere in the reviews and certainly a cause for alarm. The entrance to the terrace was not well lit. I fumbled with keypad and had to keep one hand on my suitcase to ensure it would be there when I got the door open.
If it is a shared room (like a dorm) or a house — who else might you share a room/space with?
This one is far more tricky to get a straight answer for, but no less important when you think about safety. I was recently in San Francisco for a conference. I saw advertised a “tech” style house with developers from big name startups. They advertised a minimalist room with two sets of bunk beds. This was certainly going to suit my needs for a place to crash after long days at the conference, however, what the listing failed to tell me was who else I might be sharing a room with. The first night I was alone and it wasn’t so bad. My “roommate” failed to make it back from his date, and I saw him briefly as he packed to depart. No sooner than he was gone, there was a new guy in his bed and by the end of the second day, I was now sleeping in a room with three strange men. I had no privacy, no lockers and I later learned, there was no vetting process according to the host and long term housemates. One of the “roommates” was an electrician, one a Brasilian doctor, and the other, I still have no idea. There were other women arriving during my four-day trip, however, they too were sent off to mixed rooms and forced to cringe through their stay. We huddled in the kitchen at one point and quietly asked each other “WTF”?
How often is the venue cleaned/maintained and when will amenities get refreshed?
If you are staying in a shared environment, this can be a key factor in the quality of your stay. Hotel rooms are cleaned daily and we take that for granted. In an Airbnb, you pay a cleaning fee, but it is never disclosed how and when your place gets cleaned. I have stayed in places for more than three nights and it was never serviced. Towels and sheets are provided but not washed or refreshed. Basic necessities like toilet paper and Kleenex should be provided by the hosts, or are they? If you are staying in a shared Airbnb, find out from your host what the cleaning schedule may look like, what items you depend on will or won’t be provided and how frequently they get maintained. Ask about rubbish removal, especially if you are staying for more than a night or two. The host may have expectations that you remove your own rubbish to a communal bin and it is best to know where the expectations lie.
The era of sharing is enabling more women to travel, and sharing a home is certainly a more affordable way to see the world, however, make certain you do your homework, ask lots of questions and review the reviewers. Every woman deserves to travel better & safer.