When calling the front desk is not an option. (Lars Leetaru/The New York Times)
Choosing an Airbnb over a brand-name hotel can save you a few bucks. It can also allow you to be in the thick of a neighbourhood while experiencing a more homey vacation.
But an important trade-off of staying within the booming home-sharing industry is that you usually don’t have a front desk or concierge — and in the case of an emergency, you are probably on your own.
That means extra planning might be needed to help reduce stress and let you best enjoy your time away, especially traveling overseas.
Over the past few years, my wife and I have stayed at Airbnb apartments in Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon and several other cities. While there are a lot of ideas online on how to stay safe, including suggestions from Airbnb, here are some tips we learned along the way about how to prepare for the worst, when calling the front desk is not an option.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
This one might seem quite obvious, but do your due diligence and really get to know the place where you’ll be staying.
It is usually best to find Airbnbs with many positive reviews and a very high positive rating. Read those reviews closely and look for red flags. Don’t just read one or two reviews — read 20 or more. Any hint of trouble is worth taking very seriously as you make a decision.
Lock It Up in a Safe
In hotels, I had grown accustomed to a fairly standard amenity: a small safe for important documents.
Safes are not widely installed in Airbnbs. In fact, I never could find one in a listing until our recent rental in Lisbon — a deciding factor among several strong listings. Upon arrival, I made sure our host showed us the safe and how it worked. I appreciated being able to lock away our passports, a second credit card and local currency, and not thinking about it much until it was time to depart. I even threw a towel over the safe so it wouldn’t be an obvious target in a break-in.
You can buy a small portable safe, one that fits in your carry-on. I’ve lugged around one that attaches to a pole or a pipe, and locks with a key or code. I usually find a discrete spot to stash it after I arrive.
Learn About Doors
If you stay in enough home shares, you’ll soon learn that there are all sorts of doors with different locking mechanisms. Take an extra minute when you arrive to have your host clarify how things work so that you don’t lock yourself in or out, or invite in unwanted guests.
On a visit to Paris, it wasn’t until a few days into our visit that we learned that we should have been locking a second security door. There was also a slightly confusing manoeuvre we didn’t know about when leaving that could have effectively locked us in the apartment at the end of our trip.
Without the help of a hotel staff, if a health emergency arises, you’ll be on your own. That makes it especially important to know how to get health care in a hurry.
A friend of mine learned that lesson when his young son closed his finger in a door at an Airbnb in Barcelona. Luckily, they made it to a hospital quickly, but it was a good reminder that it’s important to be prepared for a health issue.
Along those lines, be sure there’s a first aid kit — and you know where to find it.
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