Every year, thousands of travelers choose to stay at a privately rented home through many sharing services, such as Airbnb and HomeAway. For the most part, many of these situations end with positive experiences, new friendships, and good memories of a vacation well spent.
However, for some travelers, the experience of staying with a local can turn negative in a heartbeat. One traveler wrote to Matador Network about their friend being drugged by an Airbnb host before evacuating to safety, while another traveler told The New York Times about being sexually assaulted by their host.
While these stories are the exception, it drives home the fact that danger lurks around every corner, even on vacation. Staying at a private rental is just another way travelers may inadvertently put themselves directly in harm's way. Before staying at private accommodations, be sure to have an emergency plan ready. Here are five ways you can prepare yourself before staying at a private home.
Research the host and note red flags
Before going through with the private rental, many websites will allow you to communicate with the host and answer any questions you may have about the properties. This gives both parties a sense of security prior to their stay: the host gets to know the person they will be boarding, while the guest will get to know the person opening their home to them.
During this phase, it is critical to have all questions answered before completing the booking process. If those questions don't seem to add up, then do a little more research on the person and the neighborhood their home is located in. If you don't feel comfortable with the host or location, or the information doesn't add up, then find a different host.
Inform friends or loved ones of your travel itinerary
If you decide to stay at a private accommodation, it is important that others know where you are staying, in the event of an emergency. This does not mean broadcasting your itinerary for the world to know – but instead, sharing your plans with one or two people close to you.
By sharing your itinerary with select friends or family, you are setting a backup for your travels. In the event of an emergency at any part of the trip – including while staying at a private accommodation – someone at home always has a way to reach you while traveling.
Have an emergency contact while traveling
Equally important as having someone who knows your itinerary while traveling is someone who can contact in the event of an emergency. As a result of one traveler's experience at an Airbnb rental, staff members for the person-to-person rental service are instructed to call local authorities if an emergency in progress is reported to them.
Having an emergency contact who can reach out for help on your behalf can be a lifesaver while abroad. If you have no friends who are able to be an emergency hand, consider purchasing a travel insurance policy, as an insurance providers may act as a liaison in an emergency.
Note emergency numbers for your destination country
Emergency numbers around the world are much different than in North America. While 9-1-1 is the emergency number for many North American countries (like the United States and Canada), other nations often have different emergency numbers. For example, most of Europe uses the emergency number 1-1-2, while Mexico uses 0-6-6.
Before traveling, make sure to note the emergency number for your destination country, including specific numbers for police, fire, or medical emergencies. Even if you are traveling with no local cell phone service, many cell phones will connect to an emergency number as long as they can connect to a cell phone tower.
If you feel endangered – leave immediately
If at any time you feel that your life or well-being is threatened by a host, the prudent thing to do is to leave immediately and contact the local authorities for help. If you cannot contact local authorities, then look for a safe place to surrender: police stations, fire stations, or even certain publicly accessible places can be a safe place where travelers can call for assistance.
While privately rented accommodations can lead to fun and powerful memories, not all experiences end well. By researching your host and making an emergency plan, you can be prepared for the worst before staying at an Airbnb rental, or other privately rented accommodation.