The sharing economy model is not just a buzzword used to spark discussion of Uber’s latest developments. It is a real way to use technology to your advantage. It is a way of identifying where time and resources intersect. Applying the “sharing is caring” principle learned in kindergarten, we can save money by directly interacting with someone else. Both parties benefit.
We have compiled some suggestions to enhance your next vacation with the sharing economy. These sharing ideas will help you immerse yourself in the culture, make friends, and have invaluable travel experiences. You can use many of these tools right here in your home country, as well as abroad. You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to benefit, but if you are, consider these suggestions to move your trip outside the standard travel industry.
Rather than staying in cookie-cutter hotel rooms, you can use a vacation rental from online platforms like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9Flats, HomeAway, or VRBO. This allows you to rent either a room or a whole dwelling. You can upgrade your style, be right in the action, or live like a local, rather than sleeping in a bland, expensive hotel in strictly touristy areas. It can also help you save money, especially if traveling with your family, reveals Alexis Tchuise from World Travel Adventurers. She visited Iceland with her family of four and used Airbnb to stay on a farm complete with horses, rabbits, and kittens. She explains, “By staying at Airbnb’s, we could prepare some of our meals at the Airbnb. Grocery stores are much more reasonable there than restaurants, so Airbnb is a great option for Iceland. In addition, many of the hotels there allow a maximum of 3 people per room, which would have required us to rent 2 rooms and split up, which we didn’t want to do. Staying at Airbnb’s allowed us to all stay together and have more space to relax.”
A variation of the Airbnb experience is Couch Surfing, a hospitality network that offers not only a place to stay, but a way to be more integrated into your travel experience through first-person interaction with your hosts. Solo traveler Daisy Li from BeyondMyBorder explains, “Having used Couchsurfing during most of my travels, I definitely believe that the platform enhances my trips. Most hosts were eager to show their city or provide guidance for the must-visits within the area. I've not only been able to travel more locally based on these suggestions but was also given the chance to better understand the culture of the country as I spend my time with local residences. This has definitely led to trips that were more enriching. And not to the mention the hundreds of friends I've made along the way!”
Shel Horowitz from Going Beyond Sustainability suggests trying a similar experience with Servas:
“In 1983, I discovered Servas, founded in 1949 to break down barriers between cultures by facilitating homestays around the world. As a peace organization and registered UN NGO, it offers homestays in about 150 countries. The US office is in northern California. Back then, we had to write postal mail way in advance, and wait for a yes or no. Now, of course, it's much easier with email.
Unlike Couchsurfing, Servas requires all members to be interviewed and screened. Unlike Airbnb, no money changes hands between the host and traveler. Usually, when we travel, we contact Servas hosts first, and if we can't find one, we go to Couchsurfing.”
Horowitz is such a proponent of Servas that for the past couple of years, he has even served as an interviewer for the organization.
If you love pets, want to stay somewhere for free, and get a more local experience, consider booking your travel around a house or pet sitting gig to up the ante. Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva says, “When I started housesitting 10 years ago, I had no idea I was a "sharing economy" pioneer. For the past decade, I've lived in people's homes at no cost and cared for their pets while they vacation.” She has used housesitting to vacation in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including Ajijic, Mexico, where she visits every spring and fall.
With housesitting, the options and savings are endless. Travel Blogger James Cave from Portugalist says, “I've saved thousands and possibly even tens of thousands in accommodation costs by house sitting.” He goes on, “House sitting means looking after someone else's home (and usually pets) while they're away on vacation. You walk the dog, feed the cat, and keep an eye on the place, and, in return, you get to stay there for free. Aside from the membership prices of the house sitting website (which varies from around $20 to $120 per year), no money is is involved. Free accommodation is obviously the main benefit, but it isn't the only one. You also truly feel that you're "living like a local." Looking after the pets, although it's the work aspect, is actually a lot of fun as well.” You can check out postings via Trusted Housesitters, House Carers, Nomador, or Mind My House. Check out the Portugalist guide for tips and tricks.
One trend that lets travelers do some good while seeing the world is to volunteer on vacation. “Volunteering while traveling gives an individual immense self-satisfaction that he/she is giving back to the community or the environment rather than just adding to the carbon footprint,” explains Kunal Jain from totravelwith.com. “Volunteering also gives you a perspective on how things work and don't work in other cultures and countries. By volunteering and by being in the field, you come out cherishing what you have more than ever and don't take things for granted.”
Some volunteering programs even let you earn room and board abroad in exchange for your services. Check out Volunteer HQ, REI, Diverbo, and HelpX for some ideas about how volunteering can make your trip more meaningful and easier on the pocketbook.
You can take this strategy a few steps further and just go ahead and find a job in a foreign country. Many programs and positions cater to people willing to help teach English, like TEFL and ESL Cafe. You can also look for a touristy job through AdventureWork. Whether you decide to volunteer or get a job, this option can help with your travel budget while giving you opportunities to share your experience in a myriad of ways.
As an alternative, you can also trade help with gardening or housework for a free stay through WorkAway. This site is a way to find families, communities, and causes offering to host you for an exchange.
What better way to acclimate yourself to a new environment than with a home-cooked meal with a local family. By sharing a real cultural experience through Meal Sharing, Urban Adventures, or Eat With, you can find new friends and experience authentic, traditional cuisine.
Consider BeWelcome and Hospitality Club for the best of both worlds. Similar to Couchsurfing, these services help you save money with free meals or accommodation while getting a true cultural experience and meeting actual locals.
Another way to use the sharing economy while traveling is by taking advantage of e-scooters. Scooter-sharing networks are all the rage, with a newly approved program in San Francisco, and ongoing availability in cities around the world, like Washington, D.C.; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Santiago, Chile. Depending on your location or destination, you will have to double-check to see which apps to download. Companies like Scoot, Bird, or Skip require an app download. Once you download and set up payment info, you can use an electric scooter to get around town in lots of urban and tourist-heavy cities. This way, travelers can conserve energy for more important things, like eating ice cream and walking up to Quasimodo’s bell tower at Notre-Dame.
An alternative mode of transportation “provides more convenience, flexibility, and choices for travelers,” says Fang Meng, Associate Professor at the Univesity of South Carolina's School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management. Meng explains that car sharing and alternative rental services “can be cheaper and better fit your travel schedule and location en route and on-site at a destination.”
One alternative way to share your travel experience is with a carpool. You can use services like BlaBlaCar, Karzoo, and Waze Carpool to find people headed your way. Catch a ride and split gas money costs. This works great for those who may be traveling between two cities that are a bit un-navigable or that don’t have direct public transit routes. Jessica Armstrong from Glamping Hub explains, “[U]sing applications like ride sharing make for excellent options to get from destination to destination as many of our sites are off the beaten path and are in rural locations, so by driving and offering your seat in your car up to a traveler or as a traveler, hitching a ride to get to where you need to go, saves time and money.”
Ridesharing is a great way to meet new people and get a more personal experience than a bus ride, according to travel blogger Priyanka Dalal, who used BlaBlaCar for a trip from Lisbon to Seville last year. Her driver—who was originally from Turkey—shared “insider tips into Turkey as well as Portugal.” Likewise, the “diversity of conversation” during the drive was also aided by two other passengers from Germany along for the ride. “The whole ride was very relaxed and comfortable,” she says.
If you prefer more autonomy or would rather drive yourself, consider using a car share. You can avoid the typical rental car experience by renting through peer-to-peer networks like Turo, Drivy, and Car2Go. Rather than using a car owned by a rental business, these networks offer an online marketplace for a fee to rent the car of regular locals living in an area. You benefit from an expanded vehicles selection, while the car’s owner makes a few bucks on the side. Whether you want a luxury or vintage rental, or just cheaper rental rates, this is a great option.
Forget driving. Did you know that there is even a Turo-type peer-to-peer sharing site for boats and yachts? Samboat has 30,000 boats from around the world for consumers to browse and book.
If you are a solo traveler, you don’t have to be.
Just because your partner, friends, or family aren’t traveling with you, doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone. Find like-minded individuals through services like Globetrooper, TripTogether, Travello, and GAFFL, a platform that helps people find travel buddies to split costs with. Akib Amin from GAFFL shares an experience on a recent trip to Arizona: “I found three other travel buddies on GAFFL to share costs and explore the Grand Canyon together. It saved us a lot of money and we all became really good friends.”
With these communities, you have a variety of options: look for people to join in your entire trip or find fellow globetrotters to do day trips with when you reach your destination. The benefits of either are available for millennials and baby boomers alike.
Whether traveling at home or abroad, you can broaden your horizons geographically as well as culturally and socially through these shared experiences. Whether you opt for short-term rentals, volunteering and working to save money, or utilizing the shared economy for scooter or car travel, you can always find a helping hand and an open door to improve your experience. Try our suggestions and let us know how your trip was enhanced.
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