Travel Cheap Tips #1: Use VRBO, Homestay or Airbnb Vacation Rentals
It was in the midst of a midlife transition—from conservative married at-home suburban mom to divorced bleeding heart working urban mom—that I discovered my preference for showering outside with livestock. Since my divorce, I have figured out many ways to spend less money on my wanders and stay in unique places. The first in my series of travel cheap tips is to use VRBO, Homestay, or Airbnb vacation rentals for booking your accommodations.
One day, I was bathing in a Maui bathroom that was the size of my home-sweet-bedroom and the next I was showering outside next to livestock in Kauai. What I learned from this lesson in extremes was that, regardless of the amount of funds I had available for travel, I actually preferred gravel over marble. Corporate is too sterile for my taste. And, I’m willing to risk disappointment to get myself a bit dirty.
Four years later, I have lots of cool stories. Really good ones. Ones that I bet have be able to hold the attention of my future grandkids. Nearly all of them happened off the beaten path.
Don’t be nervous. Take my virtual hand and I’ll not only help you travel cheaper, but gather stories as well.
How Do Airbnb Vacation Rentals Work?
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is now the online travel community where millions of wanderers can list, find, book and pay for unique accommodations all over the globe.
They are a leader in the “sharing economy” movement, where individuals share their personal goods and services with strangers, typically through online hubs, for much less than retail. Remember the good ol’ days when neighbors traded and bartered with neighbors? Well, thanks to a crappy economy, the world wants them back. At the time of this post, Airbnb was in 34,000 cities and 192 countries.
To up the chances of a positive experience, not only does Airbnb require each member complete a verification process, but they must have a pretty detailed profile AND members watchdog each other through a rating and review system.
There is a bed somewhere for every personality and almost every budget—from a spot on a couch (or hammock), to a private room (in surf shacks, apartments, houses, and trees), to entire flats, houses, and villas (even castles). Wanna stay in a renovated Silver Stream trailer? How about a lighthouse or a windmill? They are all available.
Most properties are available to book by the night, while some require at least a week or month.
In San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, I had an entire studio apartment—with a full kitchen—to myself for about half what I would have paid for a bland chain hotel room in a less desirable area. When I arrived, the host sat down with me and divulged several juicy neighborhood secrets. As a result, I dined in the dark and had an eye-opening experience at a bondage street fair during my three days here. (I meant it when I said I had stories.)
My teenage daughter and I spent three awesome days in Murray’s restored vintage Airstream trailer in the hills of Malibu.
VRBO—Vacation Rental By Owner
Airbnb’s predecessor, VRBO (an acronym for “Vacation Rental By Owner”) is less of a community and more of a listing hub, but a worthy alternative. While they also have a review, sometimes you just have to listen to your gut and dive in.
Most of the 575,000+ listings require a minimum one week stay and are typically for the entire home, so I only venture here when I’m looking to hunker down for awhile.
It was VRBO, in fact, that introduced me to the joys of outside showers for which I will be forever grateful.
Another super affordable way to experience a place like a local and form a real connection is Homestay.
Unlike Airbnb and VRBO, you’ll never just get handed the keys. Every home has a host present who will warmly welcome you, show you to your room, and give you an authentic homestay experience.
As a host myself, I can assure you that your host will very likely give you an unforgettable travel experience for a small fraction of the cost of retail accommodations.
Don’t miss my other tips for traveling cheap—The Wandering Ex-Housewife’s Travel Cheap Tips! And, if you have a tip of your own or want to sing the praises of VRBO, Homestay, or Airbnb vacation rentals, PLEASE share in a comment below.