Navigating Airbnb: Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods on Vacation

san francisco the mission district

During the week of Thanksgiving, my fiancée and I booked a night in San Francisco away from my loving family to snuggle and have some sex. Unfortunately, my groovy mood was hampered by the nefarious crackheads ambling below our lovenest, also known as the apartment I’d rented on Airbnb. And it’s all my fault, here’s how you can avoid my mistake.

For those unfamiliar, Airbnb is a great resource for long or short stays in cosmopolitan destinations around the world. Logging onto the website, you can surf through numerous apartments and rooms that people let out for significantly less than a hotel room and usually not as sketch a hostel. Lord knows, I’ve done my travel on a shoestring budget and the best I ever had was a hostel on the water in Sintra, Portugal. The facility was new, spotless and had hardly any occupants, but unfortunately mine wasn’t the normal hostel experience. A typical stint would be feigning sleep in a room with two to four perfect strangers while clutching your backpack so no one steals your passport, money or sniffs your underwear, the weirdos. It wasn’t the most relaxing time however, Airbnb markets itself as a conduit for normalcy in a foreign place but my booking went left.

After combing Airbnb’s San Francisco listings, which were mostly ridiculous “stay on my couch while I sleep on the bed right next to you and my cat walks on your head!,” I found several spots in the hip Mission district. Now the Mission is known for several things, which as a Bay Area baby I should’ve recalled: superb Mexican food, cute bars and crackheads. Now, I remembered the first two of the three descriptors but distinctly forgot that when I rode the B.A.R.T. train to the 16th and Mission stop earlier this year to meet a homie for tea, shit was seedy at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. The afternoon, folks. And I had to walk by the man shouting unintelligible incantations on Mission itself to Valencia, one street over, which is where the cutesy Mission everyone talks about is actually located.

Instead, the fiancée and I pull up and park on Mission and 17th, only to have some dude who’s clearly out of his mind open our car’s passenger door, to which my fiancée says “What the fuck are you doing? You don’t know what I have in this car?” True, but to be fair all we had was my nephew’s car seat and some sour gummies. Then, as we walk down Mission to pick up our apartment keys from the local Smoke Shop we pass a good number of homeless, heroin addicts, crack heads, dealers and prostitutes. Now, drug dealers, homeless people, heroin addicts and hookers don’t scare me but I’m African American and crack heads make the hairs on the back of my neck fly. The street was teeming with underworld characters and it was only 7pm. Right, what the hell? Then, fiancée and I go grab drinks in Oakland with friends and return to Crack Alley, also known as 16th and Mission where our apartment is, at around 1:30 a.m. and the street is completely clear. Like oddly empty and quiet as if you’d walked into Times Square and no one is around, which means the police obviously cleared off whatever shenanigans would usually be happening. This only makes me feel more anxious and that night in the apartment, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up every hour on the hour, it was the worst. I should’ve just called my girl at The Claremont Hotel in Berkeley for a favor.

To be fair, this is my first strike out with Airbnb. The fiancée and I used them all through Europe this summer while we stayed in Barcelona and Paris and it was wonderful. We had French doors in Barca and an amazing restaurant downstairs from our place in Paris that had to best mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted in my life, but my boo revealed a secret tip — he’d street viewed every place that we’d stayed to make sure we didn’t end up in the Crack Alleyways of Europe. Smart guy.

So what’s the lesson, travel ladies?

1) Always research the city and the neighborhoods where you’re staying by asking friends who are locals or using tools like Trip Advisor for clues about the area’s true colors.

2) Never, ever choose your Airbnb location in a rush. Patience can mean a good night’s sleep.

3) Find the hipster neighborhood, it’ll have easier access to great restaurants, bars and clubs so you’ll be able to walk or take a short cab ride home.

4) Google Street View. Google Street View. Google Street View. If I’d just used this tool, I’d have remembered our rented apartment was a scene from a Walter Mosley novel.

5) Don’t be afraid to check out hotels, sometimes the money is worth your peace of mind.

ps. SF’s Mission district is not all crack alley. The police and such have pushed all of the craziness to Mission between 16th and 17th. Oh and the Tenderloin, but if you choose to stay there, I mean … 

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