We are saddened by the death of Dahlia Yehia, a young female traveler, artist and blogger. If you haven't read about this crime here is a link to the story - http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/07/world/nepal-earthquake-american-death/
We know how much traveling relies on the trust of people we don't know - we show up in each new city at the home of a complete stranger usually through Airbnb or a similar website and we rely on them to deliver a safe home for our stay. Travel and the sharing economy go hand in hand and according to industry experts the sharing economy is only going to become more popular for travelers in the years to come. We know that the sharing economy necessitates trust, but has its prevalence and ease lulled us into a false sense of security around the risk of being in the home of a stranger? Without meeting new people in each location, we are certain that our trips would not have been as memorable. We have been lucky - our biggest inconveniences have been waterbugs and dirty sheets, but thus far never our safety. Just like others of our generation, we are avid users of these sites. We love the idea of meeting people we've never met and trusting them to be okay human beings.
Our work is about designing products for women to feel safe while traveling. As we have gone around the USA on this particular road trip surveying women about their experiences, we have learned so much about the variation of women’s travel - our levels of comfort in new situations is widely varied, as is our tolerance for risk.
Both of us here at Designhype on this road trip naturally lean on the side of caution. Sometimes we get to point where we rule out housing, hang-out invites or rides home because we see even the smallest possible risk for sexual harassment, stalking, theft and more. There are definitely moments where we have overshot on safety and have missed out on a possibly good experience. It is genuinely a balancing act and not a science: having trust and openness to embrace the new to it’s fullest while accurately gaging the risks.
Before leaving NYC we had to get on the same page about how much risk we are each comfortable taking when we travel. As we started to plan we noticed the similarities in our habits - notably we both have only booked Airbnb’s from women hosts if we are alone. We don’t generalize about men, nor assume the worst. In fact, many of our male friends are excellent Airbnb hosts. However when it comes to housing we both remain more comfortable booking from women when we are traveling alone because we perceive a lower risk situation.
In general, neither of us shy away from using online methods of connecting with new people and places, so we question why we hold to our choice of host so firmly. I don’t know that there is a hard fast answer to that question either, but we can say that no matter how much we trust our own planning and responsible actions, we know that there is a level of uncertainty. This never deters us from traveling, but events like Dahlia’s death remind us of the very real risks and challenges that women face and the need to talk about it.
What else can we do to protect ourselves from the risks of the sharing economy, if anything at all? Do reading stories such as Dahlia's scare you away from traveling? How can we all help one another remain safer as women travelers? Please share your stories with us, we'd love to hear from you.