I am a home sharing addict. I have used Airbnb (and its various competitors) nearly 100 times in dozens of countries all over the world. I thought I was getting really good at the process until my most recent Airbnb experience. This is a story of how not to check into an Airbnb.
My girlfriend, Megan, and I had an early morning flight from Dublin, Ireland to Dubrovnik, Croatia. We were in the middle of 2 months of travel and were looking for a little romantic getaway after having gone to a particularly eventful and social Irish wedding.
With bags under our eyes we navigated through the small stone streets of old town Dubrovnik. We followed the instructions our host had given us and made various twists and turns. The host had mentioned that he wouldn’t be able to check us in himself but he would have his mother waiting for us to let us in.
We turned the last corner and were greeted by an excited older woman with a very big smile.
She spoke with a very heavy accent (Russian) but we were able to decipher “Airbnb” and “welcome”.
The nice mother showed us to our room and sat us down to show us her favorite local places. She was very clear to note that she had just remodeled our room so we shouldn’t be surprised if the photos online didn’t match the room exactly.
We made polite small talk (she had grown up in Russia but had been living in Croatia with her son for many years) and she showed us that she would be living and sleeping behind a curtain in the kitchen.
She reassured us that we would still get the privacy that the Airbnb listing had promised. We would just be sharing the kitchen and the toilet with her.
As soon as Megan and I got back to our room, we talked about our unexpected roommate. The Airbnb reservation had clearly stated that we would be staying in a private apartment without roommates. At the same time, the room was fine and we agreed that little hiccups were just part of the travel experience. We decided that it might be fun to have a new local roommate. With a mutual smile, we decided now was the perfect time for a nap. Megan and I’s travel priorities are pretty simple. Good sleep trumps everything else with the momentary exceptions of prioritizing good food and good exploration.
Upon waking up, I couldn’t escape the feeling that something still felt wrong. I double checked the photos on the Airbnb listing and the room did indeed match. Everything was the same except for some structural joints on the ceiling. A result of the recent remodel? What type of remodel moves structural components but doesn’t include any upgrades to the room?
I looked over at my sleeping girlfriend.
Instantly, my perspective shifted. I can take certain liberties when traveling solo but with her? I started to worry about the inconsistencies in the host’s story. If the host had misled us about the details we had already discovered, what else might the host be keeping from us? Did her “son” actually exist? I hadn’t seen him in person or seen any evidence (indications that a male usually lived in the house, photos in the home, etc) that he actually existed.
I decided to call Airbnb to figure out what my options were. Airbnb’s support was friendly but not helpful. They simply said they couldn’t do anything over the phone and that I needed to e-mail their support team with photos.
After a series of e-mails, I got ahold of the host on his cellphone.
Host: “I got a call from Airbnb that you were upset.”
Me: “I am not upset but I are feeling a little misled, there are some non-trivial inconsistencies between the listing and the actual apartment. I simply called Airbnb to see what my options were. That is all.”
Host: “Do you not like the apartment?”
Me: “The apartment is fine, I just didn’t expect your mother as a roommate. She is nice and all but for the price I paid, I was hoping for something a little more private for my romantic trip with my girlfriend. Like what was promised in the listing.”
Host: “My mother as a roommate? She has a private office but that is all.”
Me: “She is upstairs sleeping in a bed in the kitchen right now.”
Host: “What does she look like?”
Me: “Umm, she is a short, older woman with brown hair and a typical Russian accent.”
Host: “My mother isn’t Russian! What is going on?”
Me: “Something is clearly wrong, can you meet me somewhere face to face?”
The host gave me a place to meet and I immediately looked at Megan. This isn’t right, we need to leave right now!
Who was the woman upstairs? Was she dangerous? Why didn’t her son know about her living in the kitchen? Was this the middle of an ax murderer story?
In a frenzy, Megan and I packed our bags. We peaked out the door and could hear the lady upstairs walking downstairs.
I grabbed both suitcases and like mice, Megan and I crept down the uncomfortably creaky stairs to the ground level.
Back on the street we were confronted by several very confused people. There was a tourist, the lady from upstairs and another local woman who was fuming and talking quickly in a language I couldn’t understand.
All at once, everyone figured out what was going on.
Unbeknownst to everyone involved at the time, two different Airbnb hosts had agreed to check-in two different sets of Airbnb guests at exactly the same time on exactly the same tiny road. The apartments were directly across from each other, less than 5 meters apart.
Megan and I had napped in the wrong apartment.
It had been a perfect storm of errors.
Having figured out the logistical mess, both pairs of hosts and guests switched sides of the road and checked in the appropriate guests. I e-mailed Airbnb to explain what had happened and Megan and I took another nap. It had been a long afternoon.