According to the U.S. Travel Association, travelers spent approximately $158.4 billion on traditional lodging last year. If those travelers had instead spent their lodging dollars for a nontraditional room — say from CouchSurfer or Airbnb — they could have saved a substantial amount of money. How much? A study conducted by Priceonomics showed that travelers saved almost 50 percent a night by booking a room through AirBnB versus staying in a traditional hotel.
Saving money isn’t the only reason why travelers have been turning to these Internet sites that connect travelers with homeowners who want to rent out rooms or other spaces in their residences. Many people seek these types of rentals because they prefer the intimate, more personal feeling that they get from staying in a local person’s home rather than spending the night in a bland hotel room.
The New Lodging Choices
Today, the Internet allows just about any homeowner the ability to become a landlord or bed and breakfast proprietor. While the concept of couchsurfing or home exchanges is relatively new, it’s becoming an increasingly popular trend. In fact, even upscale travel site Conde Nast Traveler — which traditionally showcases five-star, astronomically priced hotels — recently ran a favorable piece about Airbnb and CouchSurfer. If you haven’t heard about some of these sites, you may be wondering what they offer and how they work.
This site allows homeowners to rent out a room or their entire house to paying guests. The Airbnb host may be present in the home during your stay, or may not be present at all.
With CouchSurfer, it is expected that the homeowner will be around during the guest’s stay. Although, the experience varies from house to house, some homeowners will invite the couchsurfer to eat with them or even show them around. At the very least, most will be happy to give recommendations on things to do and places to see to their couchsurfing guests.
HomeExchange is a site that allows homeowners to swap their homes on a short-term basis with other registered users. Say you want to go to Paris. Through HomeExchange, you would look for a homeowner in Paris who would be interested in taking your home so that you could stay in his home. While no money changes hands between the homeowners, HomeExchange does charge a membership fee.
The properties on VRBO are rental units listed by their owners. Because this site is one of the biggest of its kind, you’ll find over 540,000 rentals available on VRBO.
As with anything to do with the Internet, be cautious and do your due diligence before committing to a room or a couch. Always check references and call phone numbers to speak to the owners of properties you may be interested in renting. In addition, you should talk to a company regarding identity theft protection, just in case you lose your wallet or documents, or have them stolen while on your travels, especially if you are planning on going on a long trip and hitting a number of different couches.
Avoid sending money by wire transfer if at all possible. Travel expert Christopher Elliott has written several articles about unfortunate souls who have been bilked out of thousands of dollars by online thieves. In many of these cases, the scam artists had hijacked the email accounts of the actual owners of VRBO properties. Unwitting potential renters would then end up contacting and paying the thief instead of the actual home owner.
However, with a little bit of knowledge and a great sense of adventure, home exchange and couch surfing can be great additions to your next vacation. So start planning your next trip, and begin brainstorming what you’ll do with the money you save!
Guest post from Paige Callahan