When you’re traveling and need a place to stay, hotels are a great solution. They’re convenient, you can find one almost anywhere, and they can be a pampered retreat from real life (wouldn’t it be nice if someone made your bed every day?). But they can also be quite pricey and even run-of-the-mill. So, why should they be your only option?
Well, they’re not. By using these three organizations, you can mix things up and find some excellent and unique accommodations—for a fraction of the price of a hotel. (And in some cases, even for free!) Before booking your next trip—or staycation—check out these sites.
Airbnb puts a modern spin on the old custom of taking boarders in. But you don’t have stay in the homes of random folks off the street—rather, Airbnb matches hosts and guests by using profiles, detailed descriptions, and references, so everyone is comfortable and protected.
Accommodations through Airbnb can range from a cozy room in the host’s house, a tent in their backyard, a treehouse, a yacht, a loft, or a five-bedroom villa on the Mediterranean Sea. In almost every destination worldwide, you can find accommodations on the cheap (prices start around $25 per night), or splurge on decadent digs (still for a fraction of what you would pay a hotel).
Aside from saving hundreds of dollars in lodging expenses, I’ve enjoyed my Airbnb stays for the extra human touches: bicycles to borrow, recommendations from the property owner on places to explore and restaurants to try, a kitchen to prepare some meals in, and great conversations with interesting hosts from around the globe.
(Bonus: Check out our Muse profile of Airbnb—it’s also a great place to work!)
While Airbnb usually guarantees you your own space—be it a private bedroom or an entire villa—Couch Surfing will give you the opportunity to get more, well, cozy with your hosts. Read: you crash with a stranger.
Okay, it’s a little safer than that. Couch Surfing is based on a community of travel enthusiasts who want to open their homes up to others. That’s why you can go camping at an eco-community in Costa Rica, stay in a flat in London, or park it on a ritzy couch in Palm Springs, for absolutely nothing.
Guests and hosts alike create profiles on the Couch Surfing website, including reviews from previous surfers, allowing both sides to learn a bit about and carefully screen each other. You can also specify what types of guests and hosts you’re comfortable with, such as singles, families, men, women, and specific age ranges. Finally, the site offers a verification system, so you can be assured that the people really are who they say they are.
The site isn’t entirely free—the community frowns on freeloaders who do all the surfing and none of the hosting—so be prepared to reciprocate. Yes, it sounds a little sketchy at first, but if you use common sense when choosing your hosts and guests, it can lead to a cheaper trip and the opportunity to meet fascinating people across the world.
Mind My House
If you’re looking for a private vacation and are willing to spend a bit of money and effort, house sitting can be the perfect answer. Websites like Mind My House matches house sitters with homeowners who are itching to travel. It’s up to you to email the prospective homeowner and convince them that you’re the right one for the job, which is where that extra effort comes in. You’ll also need to pay $20 for the opportunity to explore the homes up for grabs and the utilities during your stay.
If it’s going to be something you want to do more than once, consider how you can make yourself a more desirable house sitter. Some sitters go out of their way to get excellent referrals—cleaning the home, stocking the freezer with baked goods, and leaving the pets very happy.
But despite the extra effort, you’ll get staying in a house (by yourself) for next to nothing. And with lengths of stay anywhere from a week to months on end, it’s perfect for if you really want to really explore a destination without breaking the bank.
Tell us! Have you tried these hotel alternatives? Any other sites you’ve used while traveling?