Last summer, my boyfriend and I traveled from Toronto to Amsterdam to start a two-week trip through The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy. We planned our trip around making it to Venice, Italy, a city we have both always wanted to visit.
When we travel, we love feeling like locals, so Airbnb is our accommodation of choice.
Whether we rent an entire apartment or just have a room in a family home, as long as the location is good, we’re happy. For the first leg of our trip, we had nothing but amazing accommodations; the rooms were clean and the hosts went out of their way to be helpful.
When we booked our Airbnb in Venice, our hosts were a couple letting out a private room in their apartment in the heart of city. From what we could tell from the reviews and pictures, it seemed like a decent place.
Mid-trip, when we messaged our hosts, we noticed that only the boyfriend’s (let's call him Matteo) information was on the profile and there was a short edit to their bio that said the couple had split. Our initial booking had been made with the girlfriend, who seemed to be the one organizing the whole Airbnb hosting situation, but we weren’t concerned.
After exchanging a few messages with Matteo, he explained that he was going to be at a friend’s house when we arrived, but we could pick up the key at a café near the apartment.
When we arrived in Venice, we had no luck pulling up the address of the Airbnb on our map. After several minutes of confusion, we realized that the address we’d been given did not exist.
Blaming our faulty offline map app, we headed toward the general area to search for the café to pick up our keys. We figured once we found the café, someone there could give us the proper address. Looking back, I have no clue why we didn’t realize that we were being scammed, but for whatever reason we didn’t.
After nearly two hours of walking and asking countless people if they knew where the café was, we finally found it. Happy to drop our heavy backpacks, we headed to the bar to ask the barista for the keys. This is where things got bad.
In broken English, the barista did his best to explain that they did not have the keys and that we were the second group this week to come asking for them. Fortunately, the barista was actually friends with the ex-girlfriend and had Matteo’s phone number. He took his break and called Matteo.
After a brief conversation in rapid-fire Italian, he offered to walk us to the apartment, which turned out to be just around the corner. The kind barista offered to stay until we were let in, warning us that Matteo was a little odd, using the universal hand gesture for “crazy” to get his point across.
By now it was early afternoon and Matteo opened the door in a pair of boxers, obviously having just woken up. Visibly displeased with our barista, he begrudgingly let us in.
Right away we noticed how different from the pictures on the listing the apartment looked. Clothes and dishes were spread across the small living room and kitchen, and smell of smoke was strong.
Matteo pointed to the two doors that led to the bedrooms stating that he was staying in “our room.” The concerned look on our faces obviously overcame any language barrier, as he continued to explain that he was staying in the room we rented and we could sleep in the other room. We hesitantly agreed and Matteo went back into the bedroom and shut the door.
Only then did we notice that our new bedroom door wasn’t a normal door. It resembled an exterior door, with a missing pane of glass replaced with a taped on piece of cardboard.
Not surprisingly, the inside of the room wasn’t much better. The room we had booked showed pictures of a double bed, but this room had two single mattresses placed in a much too large bed frame covered in the dirtiest sheets I have ever seen. I’m talking stains from bodily fluids visible from feet away.
We checked around the apartment and didn’t see any spare sheets and not wanting to wake a host who was obviously not thrilled with our presence, we were faced with a decision; take off the dirty sheets and risk seeing an even filthier mattress, or cover it up with the not-visibly-dirty comforter and throw the pillows far away and hope we didn’t contract something.
We extended our sightseeing that day to try to limit the amount of time we spent in the apartment. We arrived back around 11:00 pm, exhausted, and to our relief Matteo was nowhere in sight.
Refusing to touch those sheets, we used our bags and clothes as bedding and tried to go to sleep, minimizing the amount of movement in an effort to touch as little as possible.
Matteo arrived home around 4:30am, and we listened to him watch TV until he finally passed out an hour later. We crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn and headed out for another day of sightseeing.
That night when we arrived back at the apartment, Matteo was gone again, but a note was taped to our door. From what we could understand, we were being asked to pay additional 20-30 euros for our stay on top of what we had already paid through Airbnb.
I was livid. Not only was the apartment nothing like advertised, Matteo had the audacity of asking us for more money.
We were willing to foot the bill and pay for a hotel or hostel for the night, but it was during the Venice Film Festival, and everywhere we contacted was booked solid. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were stuck there for another night and decided to contact Airbnb.
It was only after filing our complaint that we saw the other recent reviews. It appeared that all of the recent guests had experienced very similar situations to us, including being asked for additional money.
After reading this, we both agreed that there was no way we were paying more money, and the only way we could avoid it would be to sneak out while he was still asleep.
I’m usually the type of person that will do anything to avoid conflict, and if the apartment had been anything like it had been advertised, I probably would have just paid, even though I knew it was wrong. However, this place was so bad that I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation when we decided to leave without paying.
The first train to our next destination was at 7:00 the following morning. Neither of us were that keen on spending the night in the train station and we weren’t sure if there were buses off the island in the middle of the night, so we packed our bags and waited.
Matteo arrived home right on schedule at 4:30 am and went to his room. He hadn’t been home 10 minutes before someone came looking for him. The apartment buzzer started going off and was ignored, which resulted in the visitor screaming Matteo’s name outside the window. This also went ignored and eventually the person gave up and left.
To be safe, we waited another 30 minutes to make sure he was asleep before we made our exit.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly until we tried to actually leave the apartment. We didn’t realize that once the door was locked, we needed a key to open it even from the inside. So I snuck back to the room and grabbed the keys while my boyfriend waited with our stuff.
Up until this point, my boyfriend had been shockingly calm about the entire situation, unlike me who was at my wits' end. We finally made it to the front door of the building and when I was having trouble with the lock, my boyfriend finally snapped.
“CAN YOU HURRY UP AND OPEN THE DOOR?!” he hissed at me as I fumbled to open the latch. Finally on the street, we pretty much ran in the direction of the train station, not wanting to risk waiting for the vaporetto. The entire way to the train station we navigated the maze that is Venice in absolute silence and, for the first time since we arrived, did not get lost.
We arrived at the station over an hour early for our train but we didn’t care; we were just happy to be off the island. It wasn’t until the train pulled out of the station that we saw the humor in the situation and could laugh about our great escape from Venice.
We did end up hearing back from Airbnb a few days later, and they were very understanding of our situation. They actually reimbursed us for 50% of our stay and provided a credit for us to use for future trips.
While our trip to Venice wasn’t exactly as we had planned, it was certainly memorable.