Travel accommodation offers more options now than ever before – from staying at a welcoming family home, to hiring a private ski apartment high in the snowy mountains, or even staying on a houseboat in one of Europe’s picturesque canals. The options are plentiful.
Websites like Airbnb have changed the world of travel accommodation by giving people the opportunity to hire out their homes to travellers, all the while dealing with them through a secure online platform. Not only does this provide security to both host and guest, it also allows for genuine interaction between travellers from different backgrounds.
Airbnb has been a huge catalyst for the movement towards truly immersive travel and it’s also a great way to cut accommodation costs. However, as with anything there are some risks involved. Here are some of the more common risks associated with these services, what you can do to avoid them.
When booking accommodation on Airbnb, use the same initiatives you would use when booking any accommodation. Here are the top things to consider:
1. Location, location, location
Research the neighbourhood your accommodation is in to check that it’s safe and handy to the attractions you plan to visit. Google street view can be a good way to see the neighbourhood for yourself, and check it out in advance. If you’re not happy with the neighbourhood, or can’t find enough information about it, try asking the host directly – after all, it is likely they’ll want you to have a good time in their home town. Many hosts can provide information about public transport options if you want to get to certain areas, too.
2. Word of mouth
Read reviews by people who have stayed at the property, as fellow guests are usually a reliable source of information. Reviews are a great way to find out smaller things that may not be listed about the property too, such as a narrow flight of stairs or perhaps noisy neighbours. If there aren’t any reviews, consider booking somewhere with reviews that you can trust.
3. Be a skeptic
If it sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. A good trick is to use Google image search. This allows you to upload an image into the search bar, by clicking the camera icon and following the instructions. If the images show up as a different location or website, or from a stock image library, it can be a sign that the property doesn’t exist.
4. Lockable storage
If you’re booking a room in a shared home, check in advance with your host whether the door to your room is lockable, or whether there’s a safe or secure locker available for your use. If not, consider looking for somewhere to stay that meets your security needs. Alternatively, leave your valuables at home when you travel and keep important things, such as your passport and wallet, with you.
5. Internet payments
Most importantly, never wire any money or make payments outside of the Airbnb site. It’s also important to never disclose any private information to anyone via email. Airbnb will only ever ask for your details via their booking site and will pass your payment securely to your host. If you’re ever in doubt about paying online, check that the URL of the payment site starts with ‘https’ – that means it’s a secure site. If you’re at all unsure about making payments on Airbnb, you can find a full list of instructions and things to watch out for here.
> Common scam alert
If you receive an email asking for private information or requesting you to wire money, do not reply - even if they look official. Airbnb will never ask for your details via email, or ask you to pay outside of the site.
6. Shared or solo
When booking, be careful to check whether it’s a room or bed in shared accommodation, or an entire house or apartment to yourself. There are a few things to take into account with shared accommodation, including security risk for your stuff, considerations such as curfews and noise, or not getting along with your roommates. If you’re interested in meeting others and prefer shared accommodation, it’s a good idea to get to know your host via Airbnb. Each property listing has an introduction to the host and their interests, but if you want to know more, just ask them!
If you’re not sure about sharing your accommodation or you’d rather just have your own space, it’s worth booking an entire property to yourself. Being the only one with access to the accommodation gives you much greater security when it comes to keeping track of your stuff, not to mention a bit more privacy. You can still contact your host by phone or email if you’re after tips on places to see or how to get there, too.
Get travel insurance as soon as you book your accommodation, so we can cover you if you have to cancel your trip due to an unexpected event. It’s a good idea to check with your Airbnb host first, as they may be able to refund or transfer your booking.
Different Airbnb properties have different cancellation policies and it’s a good idea to check which one applies to your chosen property. The type of cancellation policy will be listed on the accommodation’s booking page, so take note before you book. If your plans are likely to change, it’s a good idea to choose properties with a ‘flexible’ or ‘moderate’ cancellation policy. A full outline of all cancellation policies is listed here.
Problems on arrival
We’ve had a few claims from people whose Airbnb accommodation wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The most common types of claims are:
Trouble getting in
Whether the pin code doesn’t work, the key isn’t where it should be, or the host doesn’t arrive to meet you, sometimes access can be a problem. The best way to avoid this kind of problem is to agree on arrival times and procedures with your host well in advance of arrival. Keep written records of any conversations about this, so you’ve got them if you need reminding of details. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, so even if you’ve got a set arrival plan that your host has agreed on, it’s important to have their contact details. That way, if someone’s running late you can keep in touch. If you’re not sure about co-ordinating your arrival, here are some tips on what to do.
Problems with property
We’ve seen claims where the lift or garage is broken at the property and unable to be fixed. That’s a problem if your rental vehicle is stuck in a garage and you can’t get around, or you’re 35 floors up and have a bad knee. Contact the host so they can get the problem sorted, or offer an alternative solution. If the problem can’t be fixed and it’s really impacting your holiday, get in touch with Airbnb to find out how they can help. It’s a good idea to take photos of the problem, especially if your host isn’t able to come to the property. That way, they can see what’s wrong and you have proof if you need it. Remember, your host wants you to enjoy your stay, so get in touch if something needs fixing so they can help you out.
Not up to scratch
Sometimes accommodation just isn’t what was expected. If your accommodation has been misrepresented on the listing, it’s important to get in touch with the host first to see if they can help. Airbnb has some tips on how to deal with this process here. It’s also important to remember that we can’t cover you if you simply decide your accommodation doesn’t meet your standards, so do your research before booking.
Lost or stolen items
Staying at someone’s home or a shared accommodation always carries a risk of your things going missing. The more people who have access to your things, the higher the risk. Here are some ways you can minimise them:
1. Common areas
By definition, belongings left unattended in public spaces are not covered if they go missing. We understand that some types of accommodation are communal though, so if you’re staying in a hostel or a room in a shared property, it’s important to take as many precautions as reasonably possible. Try to tuck valuables away out of sight, or in lockers or safes whenever possible. Check in advance if your accommodation has lockable storage for valuables. If not, consider booking elsewhere or leaving your valuables at home if you don’t absolutely need them on your trip.
2. Whole house hire
If you’re hiring an entire apartment or home on Airbnb, it’s far more likely your valuables will be safer than in shared accommodation. However, just like at home, things like burglaries can occur and it’s important to still take precautions with your stuff. Don’t leave valuable items sitting around in full view of windows or doors when you’re out, and if the property has a safe available, use it.
3. Proof of items
It’s always a good idea to take photos of your valuables before you go, in case anything happens to them and you need to make a claim. It’s also useful to have these photos if you’re asking people at your accommodation if they’ve seen your lost item! When making a claim for lost property, receipts are essential. When you’re planning your trip and packing your suitcase, make sure you have receipts for valuable items you’re taking with you. That way, if you need to make a claim when you return, you’re ready to get started right away.
If you damage something in your accommodation unintentionally, don’t worry. Most bookings have a security deposit component, and in many cases this will cover the item or repair costs. Contact your host right away to explain the situation and work out how to resolve it. It’s also a good idea to take photos before you clean things up, so you can show your host what happened.
If the Airbnb host charges you for any damages that were not covered under the security deposit, get in touch with us as we may be able to cover the outstanding costs. If you’re planning on using Airbnb on your next trip and have any questions or concerns, get in touch with us before you go so you know what you’re covered for. If in doubt, just use your common sense and be careful – just like you would be anywhere. Most importantly though, have a great time and enjoy some of the fantastic accommodation people around the world have to offer!
Have you stayed at a memorable Airbnb property on your travels? Perhaps you’ve had an interesting experience or run into problems that you’d like to share. We’d love to hear your stories, so we can spread knowledge and ideas to other smart travellers. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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