Image: @sightsofsara taken by @michelle.lawrencee

American Tourist Held ‘Hostage’ In Iceland By Guest House Host

"We are going to be calling Booking.com and reporting her so no one has to go through this as well."

Whether your travel skills are rusty after The Cough That Stopped The Globe or whether you are new to the game entirely, there are a lot of mistakes you want to avoid making when checking into foreign abodes.

One of them is not being conned into handing your passport over to anyone that could later hold it over you.

From the Netflix hit The Serpent (which, based on a true story, shows an international gem smuggler hold backpackers hostage with this exact trick, and has been described as “murder porn in prestige packaging“) to Airbnb’s frequently asked questions page, where users debate, what, exactly, is the norm, when it comes to what hosts can ask you for, this is an issue that has been discussed many times.

But that’s a topic for another day.

What you’re here for is a story that shows why you should think twice before giving your passport to your guest house host. And TikTok user Sights Of Sara has just the tale.

Sara, who is a travel blogger from Rochester, NY, took to TikTok to share a clip about the time she claims she was briefly “held hostage” in Iceland, with her friend, by the lady who ran a guest house they were staying in.

Fortunately, they had not given the lady their passports. But their story still goes to show why you really want to avoid handing them over whenever you can avoid it.

Watch the video below

“We were staying at her guest house for free in exchange for helping her around the house.”

“We did everything she asked us to and after a couple of days started to notice her strange behaviour.”

“The next morning we packed and when we tried to leave she wouldn’t let us.”

“She accused us of stealing her red jumper and demanded to see our passports.”

“Then she stood in front of the door and refused to let us leave.”

They call someone else at the guest house for help, then a discussion can be heard where they debate what the deal was in the first place with the host.

The host accuses them of simply having changed their mind about wanting to stay there, before the video ends with the phrase “the police came and let us go almost immediately.”

Sights Of Sara wrote in the TikTok comments: “We are going to be calling Booking.com and reporting her so no one has to go through this as well.”

The story goes to show how important it is to keep crucial documents like your passport with you, not your host, so that you can leave a dwelling at any time if you need to.

As one TikTok user wrote in the comments section: “Glad you didn’t give her your passports. PSA: NEVER give someone your passport.”

Another user wrote: “I’ve been wanting to go to Iceland, but I’m so terrified of staying anywhere because all the places seem kind of like this.”

In response, Sights Of Sara wrote: “It’s really safe honestly. This was just one bad one.”

Another user claimed a “similar situation happened to me in France during my study abroad.”

Yet another user asked, “What’s the thing about Instagram.” To which Sights Of Sara wrote: “She wanted us to help make an Instagram but since we left early we didn’t.”

The Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs advises, in the section of its page dedicated to: “What do I do if a travel provider wants to hold my passport?”, the following:

“Cruise companies and hotels in some parts of the international travel industry have a practice of holding the passports of their clients. If you have concerns, raise them if possible before confirming your booking. You may be able to explore options such as providing a copy or scan instead of handing over your Australian passport.”

As for Airbnb, this Community Centre page is informative.

An Airbnb user asks the following:

“Hi! I’ve used Airbnb a couple of times, and it’s the first time my host asked me for the Passport copies. I’m hosted in Portugal and she said it’s for paying taxes. I distrusted this information of her request because I always talked to my host in Portuguese and just this message was sent in English.”

“Anybody know if is it common ask passport information in Portugal? And is safe to provide this information?”

The following response has been marked as an “accepted solution” by Airbnb.

“In Germany there is a law (Bundesmeldegesetz) which requires the following information from all guests – no matter if they are just tourists or on business travel – for all lodgings as hotels, guest houses, camping grounds, holiday apartments and also rooms inside private homes:

  • Full last name and first name
  • Home address
  • Date of birth
  • Nationality
  • Passport number

A copy of the passport only can be taken from the host, if the guest agrees, but the host has the right and the obligation to verify the passport and to check the number with the original document. After one year, all this information has to shredded.

I know, that there are some Airbnb and other private hosts who don’t apply this law, but in case they get controled they need to pay hughe fines and also they may get an interdiction to rent out their space.

I am not involved in other European countries laws, but I could imagine that similar laws exist in one or the other country.”

Traveller has previously answered a similar query too. In an article entitled: “Should you be careful when providing passport details to Airbnb hosts?” they write: “The most common reason that Airbnb guests are asked to provide photo ID is when a host requires it.”

“As a guest you may be staying in someone’s home, or in close proximity to their living quarters.”

“It seems only reasonable that your host should want positive identification, and the reassurance that comes with their guests having provided photo ID.”

Traveller adds: “Airbnb already has your credit card details but this is no guarantee that the person who comes to the door is the same as the person who made the booking, and Airbnb is only acting to safeguard the person and property of its hosts.”

The author of the piece also shares: “As a frequent user of Airbnb myself I have supplied photo ID.”

“There is no such thing as totally bulletproof personal data and I’d be more inclined to provide my licence than my passport.”

Basically, though, it’s always better to provide a copy rather than the real thing when you can. And it’s preferable not to hand over your passport at all, if you can avoid it.

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