The Sharing Economy: How to Find the Cheapest Travel Accommodation

Living & Spending, Shopping Savings
on August 22, 2014
Beach Rental

If you had a friend at your travel destination, wouldn’t you rather stay for free with a friendly local than pay for a hotel room? That’s the idea behind the sharing economy, which simply refers to regular people sharing resources instead of purchasing them separately from businesses. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’ve probably participated—whether on vacation, or simply paying a visit to friends and family. 

There are a few types of travel accommodation that use the sharing economy model—vacation rentals (directly from the owner), house sitting, home exchange and couchsurfing, which we’ll cover here. They’re often a lot more economical than conventional travel accommodation options.

Home Exchange

If you’re a homeowner, consider the fact that your home will be sitting empty while you’re on vacation, which leaves you paying both a mortgage and the cost of accommodations while you’re traveling. Home exchange eliminates this problem.

With home exchange, you allow guests to stay in your home, while you make use of theirs. You’ll have to find a partner who owns a house in the right destination, and you’ll have to coordinate your trip dates, but in the end, you’ll both enjoy free travel accommodation. 

It’s understandable if you’re nervous about letting strangers into your home while you’re away, but experienced home-swappers say negative exchanges are very rare. You can make sure your home exchange will be a smooth one by getting to know your exchange partner as much as possible before the trip through emails, video chats, phone calls, or even actual meet-ups. If you’re still apprehensive, you can always remove or lock away valuables and breakables each time you open your home for a swap.

Home exchange websites generally charge membership fees. To try home exchange, start with Intervac or Homelink.

House Sitting

Sharing Economy: Finding Cheap Travel Accommodations

If you’re not a homeowner, one way to snag free travel accommodation is to offer up house sitting services. In this arrangement, you’ll be living in someone else’s home while it’s vacant, performing maintenance tasks and taking care of any pets and plants, bringing in the mail, and so on.

House sitting can be quite competitive, with many hobby house sitters vying for the same gigs. That’s why it’s important that you create an attractive profile with a lot of information about yourself. You’ll want to maintain good communication with the homeowner before and during the stay. It’s natural for the homeowner to want to know what’s happening at home while away, and you should of course be willing to accommodate in exchange for a free place to stay.

The three most highly-recommended house sitting websites are Trusted Housesitters, House Carers and Mind My House. Each of these sites charges a membership fee before allowing users to contact homeowners. However, users can browse the listings for free, so take advantage of this feature before you sign up for membership. Look for listings in your travel destination and only sign up once you know the site offers listings you’re actually interested in. 

Vacation Rentals

Sharing Economy: Finding Cheap Accommodations

When you stay at a vacation rental, your host is not a faceless hotel corporation. Instead, your host is either a homeowner or a small-scale landlord. Typically a single individual is in charge.

The accommodation spaces are quite varied. You can choose to rent a couch in the living room, a bed in a room that you share with someone else, a private room in a house that you share with a family, or an entire property. There are all sorts of property types:  urban apartment units, single-family houses, even tree houses and houseboats.

Thanks to the Internet, you can get to know strangers and their homes well enough to share their living spaces. Vacation rental websites typically use ratings and reviews to help you decide whether one place would be safe or comfortable enough for you. 

For the cheapest vacation rentals, use AirBnB—this site has significantly more listings of shared rooms and private rooms in shared houses than its competitors.

If you’re willing to pay a higher price to get more privacy, you have the option to rent whole properties on AirBnB and other websites like it–VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), for example. Instead of checking a list of rental websites one by one, you can use Tripping, a great search engine developed specifically for vacation rentals.


Couchsurfing is more casual compared to other sharing options listed here. Once you know your trip dates, simply find a host with good reviews on the Couchsurfing website and make your arrangements. No money changes hands, but it’s common for the guest to treat the host to a meal or offer a small thank-you gift. How long you can stay depends your agreement with the host, but Couchsurfing is generally geared toward short stays of three nights or fewer. 

With Couchsurfing, it’s important to find a good host and to be a good guest. This exchange is all about goodwill, so be kind, be considerate, and spend some time socializing with the host.

Interested in more ways to save money and travel cheaply? Visit and follow along as Deia B offers regular advice and resources for ways to do just that.


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