I was traveling up the Pacific Coast Highway as part of a road trip that had been planned pre-pandemic. Finally, after a year of lockdowns, my summer trip began in Los Angeles with the bustling city and the colorful people setting the tone for a great journey ahead. After a packed day and a quick nightcap, I headed to the Airbnb reservation in a quiet, suburban neighborhood.
Allow me to set the scene: there are five rooms in the house designated for Airbnb reservations. There is only one shared bathroom. I was awoken to a loud conversation at six in the morning in the room directly to the left of ours. Mildly annoyed, I figured that most of everyone in the house was up and about. Gathering my toiletries and towel, I made my way to the dark bathroom just across the hall. The water was scathing hot against my skin as I washed the shampoo from my hair.
Suddenly, a knock on the door. A voice mumbling as the door handle was jostled. My stomach in my throat. The door opened.
“I don’t know who you are, but you need to leave now,” he said.
The support team at Airbnb would question whether he had been too senile to realize what he was doing. The man who was repeatedly asked to leave, who left and shortly returned before verbally refusing to leave and attempting to open the shower curtain as I screamed for help? No, he was not too senile to realize what was happening. The illusion of safety is easy to grasp onto.
After all, you trusted a stranger to open their home to you. Why would anything bad happen if Airbnb tells you otherwise? It becomes easy to blame yourself. Did I lock the bathroom door enough? Did I not speak loud enough the first time? Reality sinks in hard when you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of these questions being thrown back to you by a stranger’s voice on the other end of the phone, telling you that you can trust them. Trusting another stranger to handle your traumatic ordeal with a stranger? How strange.
We were told that we would receive a refund, but the lingering trauma replaying in my head would stick with me for the rest of the trip. Our final reservation in northern California held four rooms designated for Airbnb with one shared bathroom between all of them. The illusion of safety was shattered.
The affordability and convenience of Airbnb will always be a draw. There’s no doubting that. Yet, the veil that serves as your safety while inside a stranger’s home is razor thin. Airbnb would never have known that the lock on the bathroom door was never going to function properly, or that the man in the room next to mine was never going to acknowledge a locked door to begin with.
For women to truly feel safe while booking with Airbnb, the shared bathroom would need to disappear. There is no way to guarantee a guest’s safety otherwise. All guests on a reservation should have an Airbnb account and receive a background check, not just the guest who booked the reservation. There is no way to guarantee a guest’s safety otherwise. Small steps towards something much larger.
As we checked in to our hotel in San Francisco, a wave of relief washed over me. A dead bolt on the door and the bathroom being located within our room meant a solid wall of safety, a brief interlude between the next dark bathroom down the hall of a stranger’s home.