For travel, the “sharing economy” can mean sleeping in a stranger’s bed.
But Airbnb normalized that concept for the masses. Now, many budget-minded travelers are skipping traditional hotels in favor of this alternative to find much cheaper lodging. Here are the three best peer-to-peer websites for finding the perfect place to crash while traveling.
Couchsurfing helped launch an entire generation of backpackers and millennial travelers. The concept is simple: strangers open their homes to other (mostly) vetted strangers in exchange for the opportunity to meet someone from another part of the world.
On its face, it might sound crazy. But, the site has thrived since its launch 2004, due in large part to a system that allows users to vouch for one another. It’s similar to eBay’s buyer/seller review system, ensuring that future hosts can vet potential guests to ensure their own safety. The website offers a well-established, tight-knit community of millions of like-minded travelers looking to connect with other travelers around the world. Unlike most other accommodation websites, it’s free. Tip: the best guests are those who opt to bring a housewarming gift for their host or chip in with light duties around the house (cleaning the dishes, cooking a dinner, etc.).
Airbnb took Couchsurfing to the next level by allowing hosts to act as ad hoc innkeepers and charge for accommodations. It’s arguably the most comprehensive site of its kind, as rentals vary widely from a basic futon mattress in a shared living room to a sprawling, seven-bedroom chateau in the south of France. The site has also gained popularity for its one-of-a-kind rentals which can be bucket list destinations in their own right. Looking for a tropical overwater bungalow somewhere in Asia? Check out this one in Bora Bora. How about a luxurious, ocean-view treehouse? There’s one overlooking San Francisco Bay. And this stunning fisherman’s cave house in Santorini is worth the trip just for the views of the Aegean Sea. Tip: cleaning fees can add up quickly but are often negotiable so don’t be afraid to haggle with potential hosts.
VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) works in much the same way as Airbnb but with a whiff of luxury. Where the latter often targets shorter term rentals for budget-minded travelers, VRBO is a repository for owners looking to rent their often-lavish homes to medium- and long-term guests seeking full-featured lodging with all the comforts of home. Many rentals offer full kitchens, laundry rooms, multiple bedrooms, and prime locations in the world’s most sought-after destinations. Rentals are typically offered on a per-week basis and owners tend to be much more hands-off. Tip: many owners provide deep discounts on long-term stays, so consider a multi-week (or even a month-long) stay if it fits your schedule and budget.