wanderlust on a dime: how peer-to-peer travel is taking over the world

Photo Credit: Freddie Marriage

Photo Credit: Freddie Marriage

$2,500 for three nights at a three-star hotel was not my idea of a steal.  This past fall, I was planning to strike off an item on my bucket list and attend the World Cup this summer in Rio de Janeiro – six days of soccer, beaches, amazing views, and an entirely different culture.  I had miraculously found a cheap flight to get there, but while looking up hotel packages, all I could find were these types of “deals.”  And please note, the $2,500 was the per person price.  For someone who had just bought a house (and let me expound, an old house that needed lots of TLC), this was not panning out well.  I decided to go off the beaten path and Googled local bed and breakfasts in the area.  Lo and behold, up popped a link to airbnb.com.  I clicked on it, and all of a sudden, the clouds parted and the angels started singing.  Alleluia!  This was exactly what I was looking for.

Airbnb is just one of the many peer-to-peer based travel businesses that have popped up in recent years.  With the economy tanking across not only America but the world in general, many individuals were trying to a) cut costs and b) make additional income.  And peer-to-peer business has enabled both of these to happen.  Simply put, these businesses allow people from across the world (New Orleans to Rome to Toyko!) to rent out their homes or cars or bicycles to travelers visiting their city, thereby earning additional income for items they already have AND saving travelers big bucks.  What could be better than that?

According to an article in USA Today,[1] the peer-to-peer (P2P) industry grossed roughly $3.5 billion last year, and it’s easy to see why.  These platforms allow individuals to advertise, book, and pay for these services, all with relative ease.  It also gives the traveler more options than the traditional hotel stay at the Marriott or car rental with Avis and offers you that local connection.  Many times, the individuals you rent from are also more than willing to give you “insider tips” – the best restaurants, shops, and sites.  There are dozens of these P2P websites online, but here are my favorites:

AIRBNB (www.airbnb.com):  As stated before, this website allows you to rent entire homes and apartments or just rooms within them from over 35,000 locations across the world.  When navigating the website, all you need to do is specify you travel dates, the type of rental you are looking for (i.e. entire home or just a room), and your price range.  The listings will all have pictures of the unit, along with a description, reviews from previous renters, and a profile of the owners of the home/apartment.  Normally, you have to send in a request to the owners and must wait for their approval before officially booking the rental.  I didn’t have many issues regarding the owners not getting back with me, but I do suggest reaching out to at least 3 different places to ensure you get one of them.  And once you book with one, the website will notify the others that you are no longer interested in theirs.  Great, right?

VAYABLE (www.vayable.com):  In a nutshell, Vayable is the marketplace for guided tours, given by locals.  Again, the process to search these is simple – enter in where you are traveling to and select the type of tour you are interested in (art, adventure, food, etc.) and voila! Multiple tours (often at much cheaper prices than the typical group packages) are at your fingertips.  The great thing about this website is that it offers you options that you normally wouldn’t receive from most tour companies operating in these cities.   Plus, each guide is pre-screened and the tours are reviewed by the Vayable community.  I think the site is especially fitting for those who have extended stays in one place or have been to the area before.   Many of these tours give a “behind-the-scenes” look in their city, which can be fabulous when you’ve already hit the typical tourist spots.

SPINLISTER (www.spinlister.com):  Ever been to a city and thought, “If only I had my bike here.”  Well, instead of renting one of those Wal-mart style ones for $15 an hour, visit Spinlister and get one for $15 a day.  That’s right, on this website, individuals will rent out their bikes, skis, and snowboards to visitors in their city and at a price that definitely beats anything else you will find.  All you do is search the city, find your ride, and send in a request.  Once it’s accepted, you schedule a meet up time with the owner, and the bike/skis/snowboard is yours for however long you agreed to.  As of now, there aren’t too many options on the website, but considering the P2P industry is steadily growing, I predict many more will become available soon.

P2P travel isn’t for everyone, but for those of us on a strict budget and willing to have a unique travel experience, they can be a great option.  Even though I am no longer traveling to Brazil (trust me, my dad is thrilled about me staying on American soil), I had originally planned to book a room in an apartment for 5 nights for only $600 TOTAL.  Talk about a savings!  Granted, there are trade-offs that come with that price – I would have been sharing the apartment with the owners and it’s definitely not a luxury suite.  On the plus side, however, I would have been living with locals who could have given me the insider scoop of the area AND have a full kitchen to cook in, which would have also saved me a good chunk of change while there.  And for me, that would have been worth saving thousands.

Photo Credit: Nicolo Di Giovanni

Photo Credit: Nicolo Di Giovanni

[1] Clark, Jayne. “Making Connections via Peer-to-Peer Travel.”  USA Today.  31 January 2014