We've all heard of Airbnb and Uber, arguably the biggest stars of the "sharing economy." This concept of individuals offering a service at below market rates to other individuals have really taken hold in recent years -- and have expanded far beyond lodging and transportation. Here's how to take advantage and enjoy great savings during your travels:
Sure, you can find traditional foods at restaurants when you travel, but you learn a lot more about the culture and everyday life when you are a guest in someone’s home. Plate Culture, Feastly, MealSharing, and Bon Appetour all allow you to search a database of dining experiences, make reservations, and show up for dinner. You might enjoy Swiss fondue in New York City for $23 per person, paella in Spain for $50, or Thai cooking lessons in Bangkok for $135.
Uber isn’t the only transportation provider out there. Quite a few companies allow you to pay a monthly fee to use other people’s car, including Zipcar, which has also become mainstream and starts at $6 per month. CityCarShare.org operates similarly at $10 per month plus an hourly rate, and other programs -- Getaround, Just Share It, and RelayRides --charge hourly and sometimes weekly rates.
Want to go a little further? Hitch a ride on a plane. Zigair, Airpooler, and Flytenow match you to empty seats on a two- to four-seat, single-engine airplanes. You pay only your portion of the allowable flight costs, such as fuel and airport fees, which could be half the cost of a commercial flight. For example, Cape Air charges roughly $275 to fly from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard. Zigair estimates the same flight would cost $120 on a private plane through its site.
Likewise, there's more to cheap rentals than Airbnb or Couchsurfing, a worldwide network of people who let travelers stay for free in their home. House sitting services like TrustedHousesitters.com and MindMyHouse might require you to look after the homeowners’ pets, but you get free accommodations in return. You may have to pay a fee to join these communities -- TrustedHousesitters.com is $7.99 per month, while MindMyHouse charges a $20 flat fee -- though that'll still amount to much less than paying full hotel rates.
You'll find some additional options on sites that are more niche. Campinmygarden.com is exactly what it sounds like: an opportunity to camp in someone’s garden in Europe, for as little as €5 ($6.23). SkillStay.com and FarmStayAmerica both offer free lodging in exchange for labor, or, if you plan to stay in one place for a little longer, The Caretaker Gazette lists caretaking jobs throughout the world ($29.95 for a one-year subscription).
Experience a new city like a local by connecting with those who live in your destination. Localfu sells $5 trip plans that take you to places guidebooks overlook, and Sidetour, Vayable, and i like local let you browse opportunities that you can join or schedule individually. Examples include volunteering at an art and music festival in the Philippines (free), a three-hour night photography outing in Paris ($175), and a four-hour Hawaii 5-0 tour ($80).
If you’re flying to Colorado to hike and camp but don’t want to bring your gear, you can rent it on the cheap. GearCommons connects you with locals throughout the United States willing to lend you their stuff for a nominal amount. You’ll find a tent, sleeping bag, and kayak all for $15 per day, just for one example. Similar sites -- some limited geographically to a region -- include Propaloo.com (Oregon and California), Outdoors.io (Denver area), Qraft, and Gearspoke.
Bikes & Boats
What’s a vacation without cruising toys? You can rent those from locals, too. For a bicycle, check out Spinlister, where beach cruisers go for $10 and hardcore mountain bikes for $50 per day. There are lots of savings in peer-to-peer arrangements with boats, too. In Miami, you can rent an 8-person Sea Ray for the day for $600 through BoatBound -- instead of the $850 for a half day or $1200 for a full day from a typical boat rental company. GetMyBoat, Boatbay, and Cruzin also offer boat rentals.
Finally, you can save money exchanging currency with other travelers through sites like We Swap and Currency Fair. While you will be limited by the amount and type of currency available at the time you want to travel, you can save up to 90 percent on international transfer fees.