There are a couple of reasons not to stay in a hotel when you travel. Especially if you’re going to a big city (let’s say New York), just one night at a conveniently located hotel can cost you upwards of $300. Really wanted to try out Momofuku Milk Bar? Forget it. You might be in the East Village, but there’s no way you’re ever leaving that bed you paid so much to sleep in. Now just take a gander over to Airbnb, a site on which locals rent out rooms or apartments when they’re not at home, and you can find a lovely loft in the East Village for $65. Much better.
Whether you’re living in a local’s place, sleeping on their couch or pet sitting their dogs, don’t let your next vacation be dictated by an expensive, impersonal hotel or overcrowded hostel. Any one of these unique, often cheap alternatives can turn an ordinary vacation into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Paying for lodging is often the most expensive part of travel. House swapping is a great way to live in another part of the world for free – if you have a house, of course. Websites such as HomeExchange, Home Xchange Vacation or Home Base Holidays list classifieds for swappable houses. Most sites require a registration fee, but you can then advertise your house for the entire year. What’s great about a house swap versus staying in a hotel is that you’ve got perks like a fully equipped kitchen, telephone and internet. Be sure to screen candidates carefully, however – and no matter how great they sound, lock your valuables in a safe or give them to a trusted friend for storage.
So you don’t have a house to swap. No problem – find a house to sit! Plenty of people with houses or apartments are going on vacation. Maybe they have a nice garden that needs regular watering…maybe they have a Chihuahua that needs regular feeding and to have its scrawny little neck scratched. Some online boards allow you to advertise your excellent house-sitting services and search for empty houses alike, such as HouseCarers and MindMyHouse. TrustedHousesitters has a special niche service for those with pets. Other places you might consider looking for houses to sit are on university community boards and through churches and community centers.
Sleep on Someone Else’s Couch
Couchsurfing has been around for years and is a trusted resource for those looking to travel cheaply and meet interesting locals. All of the hosts are extensively rated and personally recommended, so you can feel confident that you’re not staying with shady folks. If you’ve never heard of Couchsurfing, the premise is simple. Hosts offer an extra bed or couch in order to take advantage of the same when they travel. Even if the idea of getting so up close and personal with a stranger doesn’t appeal to you, the community board on the Couchsurfing site is a mine of information on travel tips, from raising funds to volunteering to how to travel for cheap. Tripping is a similar service which emphasizes the importance of cultural exchange in helping travelers find homestays.
Sleep in Someone Else’s House
If the thought of grunging around on someone else’s couch isn’t quite your cup of tea, there’s the higher-class option of “renting” an apartment. Prices on Airbnb might vary from less than a hostel room to more than the classiest hotel, but you can find great deals in thousands of locations. It’s free to list your apartment on the site, and as a host, you can rent out an extra guest bedroom – or rent your apartment while you’re on vacation. As a renter, you can choose whether or not you mind if the host is there.
Hosts are heavily reviewed and receive a thorough background check. If you’re sure you’d like to stay in a room by yourself, take a look at Roomorama – though the prices tend to be a bit higher than you might find on Airbnb. (It’s also only available in major cities in the US and Canada.) Other great, similar sites are Vacation Rentals By Owner, HomeAway and Vacation Remix.
Happen to Have a Road Bike?
Warm Showers is like Couchsurfing for cyclists. After a long day of traveling on your bike, hosts offer a soft place to sleep and… a warm shower.
Looking for a service to collate all this information in one place? Check out RentMix, an engine that searches a number of online rental sites, including Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey. The site also has a budget limit, which is great for filtering your search by how much you want to pay.
So don’t let how much you can pay dictate where you stay. Living like a local is often the best way to get to know a new location while saving some money at the same time.
Photo Credit: All photos in this post are provided by Elisabeth Pfister.