Although for many decades travelers have been welcomed into the homes of relatives and friends and offered the couch as a cheap place to stay, it was not until this decade that this tried and true option was revolutionized by the internet. With the advent of Craigslist, Airbnb, and similar sites, almost anyone and everyone is offering up couches, spare bedrooms and even entire homes for rent as a hotel alternative. While the notion of renting a room in a friendly owner’s home may at first glance seem appealing economically, there are a few words of caution to be offered before you jump in head first.
Renting such accommodations pose risks to both pocketbook and safety. Here is why.
Hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns are almost universally regulated by local governmental authorities. Local statutes provide for minimum safety and health requirements. Establishments must has work smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, operating fire extinguishers, emergency exit lighting, and posted fire exit plans. I operate a B&B here in Chicago and can personally attest to the fact that each year we get a thorough inspection by the fire department, by the department of buildings, and by the department of health. If we don’t take appropriate measures to protect the safety and health of our guests, we do not get to operate.
Now compare those protections to what you get when you rent a night on a stranger's couch. Has that stranger devoted the same concern and resources to your safety and health? Do you know what you would do in a fire? How would you get out? Is there anyone on-site that can help you in an emergency? Is the location, building and apartment you are renting safe? Remember, you are staying in an unfamiliar city in an unconventional alternative to a hotel, motel or B&B. Ask yourself if the potential savings is truly worth the additional risks posed.
You should also be extremely alert for the potential financial pitfalls of renting such accommodations. If you send money to a stranger you found on the internet, is there going to actually be a place for you to stay when you arrive? Sites such as Craigslist are fertile ground for scam artists of all types. They will often go to great lengths to make their scams appear legitimate with wonderful photos of fantastic abodes near all the sites and available just when you are looking to travel and at unbelievable prices. Beware, they are often adept at making you part with your money. Check out the business and ask for references. Legitimate places to stay in most cities like Chicago has a website, a Facebook page, are on Google+, LinkedIn and other social media sites. Determine how you will get a refund if all is not as promised. Because of recent scams and problems with unregulated vacation rentals, many jurisdictions have adopted new local laws that require registration and licensing. Check the locale you intend to visit and check with the local tourism bureau or visitors center for further information.
Traveling to a new city is always an adventure. Make it a pleasurable, memorable one by heeding these few words of caution.