A Stranger’s House: Airbnb and VRBO Safety

By MS. LISHA DUNLAP, Staff Writer

Vacations are expensive. So when planning a trip, it makes perfect sense to explore non-traditional options to save money. One of the recent, more popular ways to save a little cash is to skip the hotel reservation, and rent a room or a house at your vacation destination.

Just picture it … avoiding a $200+ per night hotel room in, say, Daytona Beach and instead getting a beachside condo or bungalow for less than half of that. In addition to saving money, you also get privacy, the perfect view, a kitchen instead of a microwave, extra space, a welcoming atmosphere, and many other benefits that make for an excellent vacation at the beach.

But wait—is there a camera in the bathroom? Is that webcam live? Is that really a dead body in the garden?

These questions all sound like the start of horror movies, but they are actually real scenarios unsuspecting guests have encountered renting through Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owners). And although they are extreme circumstances, these scary stories are real—and will really send you right back home on the double. Fortunately, you can mitigate the risk of scary situations like these with some easy tips to consider before you book. Be prepared and you can help avoid a stranger’s house that is just too strange!

CHECK OUT STORIES of rental nightmares from Jet Set, Bravo TV’s online travel platform, including a dead body found at an Airbnb rental home near Paris! IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AIRBNB AND VRBO?AirbnbAirbnb connects homeowners to travelers looking for short term rentals, with millions of listings available around the world. Basically, anyone can be an Airbnb host and rent their space, from a whole house to just a single room. Search by experiences, location, restaurants, and homes at Rental by Owner (VRBO)VRBO features vacation rentals of all types, including houses, apartments, condos, villas, etc. advertised by homeowners. VRBO lists larger spaces for customers to have to themselves, rather than sharing with other guests. You can search for a rental or list your property at 1: TAKE THE TIME TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Do not just accept someone’s listing as the absolute truth. Search Google for the home’s address so you can confirm the location, size, style, and any other details. Also, do a quick search for information about the homeowners, looking for any complaints or red flags. Read reviews and ask any questions you have before you book, and if you are not satisfied, contact past guests for more information about their experience. Airbnb has a messaging system that allows you to ask the homeowners questions and address any concerns.


If you are not comfortable sharing a room, staying in an occupied home, or have concerns about the location, there are ways to filter out any listings that you find undesirable. Sort by the type of property you are interested in—you can even rent a houseboat if you would like—or look for a place near public transportation options. By utilizing the filters, you can better navigate through the initially overwhelming number of listings to find out if your final choice includes the important things … like a coffee pot.


Let a family member or friend know where you are traveling to and staying. Before you go, find the number for emergency services where you are staying. When you get there, familiarize yourself with the area, making note of any potential hazards. Airbnb properties are not required to contain safety equipment like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, or first aid kits, so you may have to be prepared if the host has not provided these items.


The most common creepy stories have been cameras or recording devices hidden where they should not be. Fortunately, you can do a quick sweep to ease your mind. Cameras may be hard to spot by the naked eye, but you can use your phone’s camera to take a closer look. Simply turn the lights off, turn your camera to selfie mode, and scan the room for red, purple, or blue glowing lights. Some places to inspect include motion sensors, smoke detectors, alarm clocks, wall clocks, plug-in air fresheners, stuffed animals, book spines, and cooking canisters. If you find something that concerns you, contact the owner and the site listing company immediately—and leave.

These simple tips can help you lessen the risks, but ultimately, be wary if you are unsure. And, if you are traveling alone or to another country, it might be safer to stay in a hotel rather than take any chances. Safe travels!