Have you ever seen a horror movie where the main character walks up to an unlocked door and enters? What happens? Do they ever live to tell the tale?
I almost died of paranoia while staying in an Airbnb in Irvine.
Not really. I’m being slightly dramatic. But, let’s start from the beginning.
Dr. Dre and 2pac’s “California Love” played in my head as I drove along Pacific Coast Highway, and cruised through Figueroa Boulevard heading toward Hollywood.
But, memorable than that, was my first stay in an Airbnb in Irvine.
When I knew I was going to attend the Women in Travel Summit, I had to figure out my accommodations immediately.
I decided to venture and try out the infamous Airbnb. Guests have shared their good or bad experiences entering their host’s homes and having either a nice stay or a stay from hell.
I surely didn’t know what to expect, but for sure, I wanted to be alive.
Scrolling through profiles of homes located a reasonable distance from Hotel Irvine seemed painstakingly difficult. You can never really tell how nice a place is just through photographs. And, even if the bedroom looked sleepable, the host was sketchy. There were so many options between reserving an entire house or apartment, or private or shared room.
Still, you have to read between the lines and hope to land on a good host for a great price.
My sights were set on Lisa, who lived within 10 miles of Hotel Irvine, walkable and less than $10 in Uber. I finally found the one.
She was a lone college student who posted pictures of a large room with a full-size bed. It was in my price range, so I requested to book the room.
To make sure this was the one, I asked questions regarding getting from Los Angeles airport to her home and the best transportation to do so. She was helpful and responsive to my needs. It was clearly a sign from heaven that this was going to be a good stay.
Fast forward to March 17th. At 6:59 am EST, I boarded my flight heading toward sunny California.
My day started with travel, then a taping of Fablife in Culver City with other summit attendees followed by lunch at a Thai restaurant, Sambar, nearby.
Like a true procrastinator, I hadn't planned out the next leg of my trip to get from Culver City to Irvine. Kindly, one of the women offered to give me a ride to my Airbnb, almost 2 hours away in LA traffic.
I didn't mind the ride nor the conversation with my new friend.
We talked about our travels, our purpose for attending the summit, our goals, passions, and then we ended up on a topic all travelers fear: hitchhiking.
I’m so glad I didn't have to hitchhike. It screams danger and certain death.
So my driver friend described one of her favorite books titled “The Kindness of Strangers.” It seemed to be a light-hearted and heartwarming tale, so I didn't expect what was to come. We talked about the spirit of traveling, and the kindness we encountered during our trips. My driver friend, particularly, spoke of the last chapter of the author's book (spoiler alert). (Note: This is written as described by my driver friend).
The author described a trip he had taken with his girlfriend to Mexico in her beat up and overused car. Upon returning to the US, the car broke down. Realizing the car was on its last leg, the author and his girlfriend decided against calling a tow truck. They decided instead to hitchhike. (The horror, the horror!)
A random stranger, a driver, and his girlfriend picked up the two and headed toward California. During the trip, the author's girlfriend became sick. One night while staying at a motel, the author describes having a moment with the driver. (That moment wasn’t made clear during the storytelling.)
Later, the author goes to sleep. When the author and his girlfriend wake up, they find the driver and his girlfriend missing along with their wallets. So, they hitchhike again. That time with truck drivers who helped them get to California. Some time passes, and the FBI knocks on the author’s door.
The FBI explained that the author’s credit card was used at a gas station where an attendant was murdered. The author reflected on the moment he had with the driver and believed that “the moment” was his and his girlfriend’s saving grace. That or because they wanted to get rid of them because of his sick girlfriend.
At the same moment my driver friend finished her account of the author's story, we pulled up to Lisa's residence. Fear struck me hard.
Before I unloaded my bags, I pronounced that I would walk up to the door to ensure someone was home. I knew someone was home because when I texted Lisa my expected time of arrival, she had mentioned that her husband would be at the house when I arrived.
Sidenote: Her bio didn’t include that she had a husband. Bad sign #1.
I approached the door and it was already opened. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the main character walks up to an unlocked door and enters? What happens? Do they ever live to tell the tale? Exactly. Bad sign #2
I pushed open the door and there stood a white-haired man with glasses on a cell phone talking to a woman. I believed her to be Lisa, my host. Beside him was a toddler who looked to be about 6.
I didn’t sign up for a family. I didn’t want the chaos and more importantly, to be outnumbered. I was on someone else’s property so they had all the advantage.
While I’m peering at the guy and his son, I’m contemplated running for the hills. Saying hell no to Airbnb and my booking fee of $161.
My mind was saying “hell no,” but my body was saying “stay, see how it goes.” Dare to say which I did?
Sidenote: Was I falling into the traveler’s trap of ‘nothing will ever happen to me’? Bad sign #3
I waved goodbye to my driver-friend and watched her drive away. With luggage in hand, I walked up the pathway to my temporary residence for the weekend.
I climbed the steps to the bedroom and twirled to see where I’d be laying my head for the next few days, the bathroom in which I’d be washing away the day’s events, and the family who’d tend to my needs if I had any.
I sat down and called my mom. Before leaving Miami, I didn’t tell her where I was staying, and for good reason. I didn’t want her to panic about my sleeping and living arrangements with strangers. It was too risky, she would think.
So as I dialed her number and sat listening to the dial tone, I pondered over my description of my room. Maybe I'd lie and say I was staying at the hotel, or with a friend, or state that a few friends and I decided to stay together. Whatever the explanation, it surely trumped telling her where I really was.
After my phone conversation with my mom, I was even more nervous. I sent her the address of the Airbnb and hoped she’d know what to do if I went missing.
To be sure the world could find me or suspect the right people, I blasted the address on social media.
To be honest, I couldn’t help but think about how the hosts were going to harm me, either through using a chainsaw to cut through the locked bedroom door, poisoning me, climbing through the window and gazing at me while sleeping, or trapping me in the room forever.
But, I had an equally sophisticated version of how I was going to protect myself and escape. At night, I blocked the bedroom door with their dresser and my carry-on luggage. This would leave me time to jump out of the window and make a run for it.
Not bad, eh?
Two days passed and I still hadn’t met Lisa. Bad sign #4
Twas the night before my departure that I met Lisa. She was much older than expected. I explained to her that I would be leaving my bags there until my shuttle picked me up the next afternoon. She agreed and refunded me a portion of my fee. She claimed that the bedroom pictured on her Airbnb profile was the one in her "old" place.
I gladly took the money and headed to the bedroom. I was fortunate to know that Lisa actually existed and wasn’t a ruse to trap an unsuspecting traveler.
Or, maybe there was something about me that persuaded her not to…
Whichever the case, I survived. Would I ever stay in another Airbnb again? Stay tuned to see.
BTW Happy Anniversary Month to Airbnb. *Side eye*
Experienced any bad signs as a first-time Airbnb user? Share them below!