Beyond Hotels: The Best Sites For Finding Affordable, Owner-Rented Lodging

by  Darren Murph | Dec 13, 2013
Hotel room
Hotel room / Kwanchai_Khammuean/iStock

Where’s the first place you look when you need a place to stay? A hotel app? A frequently-used travel reservation site? Without question, hotels have an enormous amount of mind share when it comes to lodging – but they’re also costly. In fact, many hotels charge you for extras you may not even use. But a new wave of lodging sites have cropped up, enabling travelers to stay in private homes, house boats, castles, and much more. Let’s take a look at some options for avoiding a typical hotel stay...

Airbnb: Pegged as starting the owner-rented revolution, the site contains a massive collection of homes, condominiums, and other lived-in spaces to hole up for a night or more. Each listing is by a pre-vetted individual who takes responsibility for their home, and allows travelers the chance to stay in places they might never otherwise choose. I’ve spotted eco-friendly huts perched atop actual trees, as well as entire mansions for rent in Key West during the summer months. The benefit here is the popularity of the site; you’ll have hundreds of options in major urban areas, and the sorting function makes it dead-simple to narrow down the possibilities.

Tripping: If you're looking to throw the net wide in your vacation rental search, this is your site. With a single search, you can look for properties on more than ten sites, including HomeAway, FlipKey, and Roomorama – three of the biggest. This means that Tripping features more than a million listings in 36,000 cities. So you'll find great owner-rented properties in marquee cities like Paris and Los Angeles, but also lodgings on the New Hampshire lakes, in Camps Bay, South Africa, and on Vancouver Island. I'm also a big fan of the hard-to-miss "deals" button at the top of the page, which features beautiful rentals from around the world, most for less than $100 per night.

HouseTrip: Known as the Airbnb of Europe, HouseTrip is an excellent tool for locating flats and shared apartments (among other things such as full-on castles) in the European Union. Granted, HouseTrip has listings all over the world, but there's a higher density of European members on HouseTrip, giving you more options and better pricing as the competition heats up.

Travelmob: If you’re unimpressed with options elsewhere, and you’re looking for an ideal place to stay in the Asia Pacific region, try Travelmob. It’s designed to provide short-term villa and apartment rentals primarily for those heading to Singapore, China, Malaysia, and the surrounding region. Perhaps most useful is that you’ll find listings and information about these places in the local language as well as in English.

VRBO: Shorthand for "Vacation Rentals By Owner," this is a great site to find larger homes and extended stay options. Many listings on VRBO are for entire homes (or sections of homes) that owners wish to rent for a significant part of the year. If ever you’ve dreamed of testing out a new area for a few months with no strings attached, VRBO can help. Most owners are willing to negotiate on price, particularly if you’re willing to stay for a long period of time. I’ve found this site particularly useful when looking to spend several months overseas; a lot of owners buy second homes in foreign lands such as Costa Rica, and use VRBO to secure a bit of income on the property even while they’re away.

Couchsurfing: It’s the most extreme option, but there’s a huge perk: it’s free. This site was founded with the goal of connecting like-minded budget travelers. The gist is simple: you find your destination, and you scout out a free couch where you'd like to crash. In return, the person who opened up their home can expect similar treatment when they need to head somewhere. It’s a “pay it forward” approach, and despite the hesitations that most people have, the site has a tremendously impressive track record for being forthright and safe. This tends to work best with solo, young travelers who are carrying their entire life in a backpack, but intrepid wayfarers of all ages can apply. The comfort level may vary night to night, but it’s tough to balk at the price.

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