Destination Wednesday: 19 Tips For Staying Safe At Alternative Lodgings

Alternative lodgings can be a great way to see the world and meet new people ... as long as you follow some simple safety tips.
Alternative lodgings can be a great way to see the world and meet new people … as long as you follow some simple safety tips.

Unless you’ve been living in a rolled-up newspaper in a septic tank or been held prisoner in a hotel room without free Wi-Fi, you know that the world of travelers’ lodgings has been completely turned on its ear over the last several years. Led by Airbnb but also driven by a burgeoning vacation-home-rental market and a resurgence in the popularity of hostels, these new lodging options have changed the way we think about the places where we hang our hats when we’re away from home.

With all these options come new safety challenges. No longer is the hotel-lobby pickpocket the only thing a safety-conscious traveler has to worry about at his or her lodgings. Now there are hosts, renters, miscellaneous visitors, and other guests, many with backgrounds unknown, operating under or outside of a patchwork of protections and a load of liability concerns.

Here’s how you can protect yourself and your possessions when you stay at these new lodging types.

Vacation Rentals

Our Sharyn Alden did an outstanding rundown on vacation rentals earlier this year. We highly recommend you check out her full piece, but here’s a quick summary of what she recommends if you rent a vacation home directly from a homeowner or their agent:

  1. Check out the place in person whenever possible. If you’re vising a destination, and think you might like to come back, check out rentals in the area, or have a local friend check out places for you.
  2. Rent with a credit card. Credit cards give you some protection if a rental goes bad. Even if you pay with something other than a credit card, make sure there’s a paper trail.
  3. Rent a place with maintenance and security either on site or on call.
  4. Opt for some of the fee-based protection packages that a rental company generally offers – as long as they’re reasonably priced. Protection packages usually cost less than $100, and are based on the cost of your rental. At that price, they’re well worth it.

Room Rentals

Here are some of the top tips recommended by our friends at Airbnb:

  1. Check out your hosts. Verify phone numbers, look them up on social media, check references, and read reviews left by other guests. You can also request that your prospective hosts complete profile verifications.
  2. Read listing descriptions closely, especially the house rules and the cancellation policy.
  3. Pay and communicate on Airbnb. The best way for Airbnb to help you is if you leave a virtual “paper trail” within Airbnb, so if you need to communicate with your host, communicate through Airbnb’s messaging system. If an Airbnb host or a prospective host contacted through any other rental service suggests you complete the rental outside of the service, or asks for cash or a cash-like equivalent, the red flags should go up.
  4. If something seems not right during the reservation process, don’t book it. Back out and contact Airbnb.
  5. Talk to your host. A good host (and most of Airbnb’s hosts are very good) will know the area, what to do, where to go, and how to stay safe.
  6. Get travel insurance. ExactCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection will pay you for lost or stolen luggage, and provides 24/7/365 worldwide travel assistance, from any device and through any channel.
  7. Make copies of documents and keep them safe. Keep one copy of your documents with you, in a separate place from the originals, and then keep a copy back home, with family or friends.
  8. Be a considerate guest. Sometimes the best way to stay safe is to be nice. Look at it the other way ’round: Does being inconsiderate or belligerent make you safer?

Hostels

  1. Buy a lock – make that a couple of locks. One lock for your bag and/or locker and another for your laptop can go a long way toward dissuading potential thieves.
  2. Keep your wallet light. Don’t carry a lot of cash or credit cards, and keep your important travel documents separate from your wallet. (However, some cash is always necessary, and more than one credit card is highly recommended.)
  3. Buy a small bag for valuables, and lock it in your locker.
  4. Invest in some theft-proof clothing. We love the Pick-Pocket Proof Pants made by Clothing Arts. They’re not cheap, but they look great, wear forever, and definitely dissuade thieves. A good money belt or traveler’s pouch also comes in handy.
  5. Read reviews. There are unsafe hostels out there, but many of them have already been called out. Check out what other travelers say before you go.
  6. Stay at a hostel with security.
  7. Always stay alert. New friends are not always friends. Trust, but verify.