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Guidelines for Evaluating the Safety of Lodgings Abroad

While the majority of Northwestern students who travel abroad do not need to arrange accommodations for their time abroad, some students who travel independently or with a small group may need to find their own housing. This resource is intended for students who have received a grant to conduct international research and must also coordinate all logistics of the trip.   

 Whether you’re staying in a hotel, an apartment found through Airbnb, VBRO or another type of home sharing service, such as Servas International or Homestay, a safety assessment of the property should be completed before you book your room. The below steps can help walk you through the evaluation process.  

 First, get a third-party verification of the accommodation site by carefully reading the reviews from other guests. Make sure the comments are recent. Read at least a dozen to see if the listing has any red flags or concerning trends. Airbnb, for example, uses advanced analytics to eliminate suspicious hosts or guests, and every booking is also given a risk score before it is confirmed. Also book with a provider that has a complaints department or a resolution service.

  • Try to stay in a unit that has a five-star/10 user-rating or is hosted by a “superhost,” which means the owner has been identified as someone who takes extra care to ensure the needs of the guest are met
  • Do not share an apartment with strangers. If renting through AirBNB/VRBO, only rent vacant apartments, not roomshares. Avoid shared bathroom arrangements and other shared spaces
  • When communicating with a host, it’s best to use the website or the app for all questions and dialogue. If you communicate with a host via phone or text, then the conversation will not be accessible to the platform in the event something goes wrong
  • Remember that arrangements made through Airbnb/VRBO are often personal residences that are not subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • One of the first things that should be completed after you’ve checked in is to do a thorough safety walk-through to identify anything that could be a risk to your well-being (e.g. no fire extinguisher)

Before booking a hotel room, travelers should read reviews on sites like TripAdvisor to learn more about the venue. For security information, TripAdvisor has a keyword search function that can be used to search for reviews that contain terms like “security” or “safety.”

What to ask/research when assessing an accommodation site:

 Room Layout

  • What is the general condition of the accommodation site?
  • Is there a balcony?
  • Are there evacuation plans? How many exits are there?
  • What floor is the room on?
  • Is the building located on a busy street?
  • Does the room have Wi-Fi internet access? Is it secure or is it accessible to the public?

 Building Access

  • Can guests access the building? Are overnight guests allowed? Are there local customs to consider regarding women and men visiting each other’s rooms?
  • Is there 24/7 security in the building? Is there a curfew or time when the main entrance or gates are locked?

 Fire Safety

  • What fire safety measures are available?
  • Are there any visible fire hazards?
  • How far is the nearest fire department to the accommodation site?
  • Are there smoke alarms?
  • Are there automatic fire sprinklers?

 Homestays

  • How are the families selected and vetted?
  • Can you switch homestays if a problem arises?
  • Will you be the only guest of the homestay family?
  • Will you have your own room?
  • Are there separate or shared bathrooms?

 Logistics

  • How far is the site to campus, classes or the conference location?
  • How close are grocery stores/markets to the accommodation site?
  • What useful stores/amenities are within walking distance of the residence?
  • How will you travel to and from the residence?

 Neighborhood

  • What is the general safety and security environment in the neighborhood? How would you describe the neighborhood? Would you describe the neighborhood as safe? Are there any “no go” areas in the neighborhood?
  • Is the neighborhood urban, suburban or rural? What is the area like during the day? At night?

 On-Site Apartment/Room Issues

  • What protocols are in place if a problem arises at the accommodation site?
  • Is there a 24/7 phone number to call to report an issue?

 Security

  • What security measures are in place at the accommodation site? Do doors have locks/deadbolts? Are personal safes or lockers available in rooms for storing important documents like passports?
  • Do first floor rooms have window bars or safety gates?
  • What type of lighting is in place outside of the building, in the lobby, stairwell, and hallways?
  • Are there CCTV cameras attached to the building? If so, are they actively monitored?