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Every traveler has their own style. While some fall asleep long before the plane reaches cruising altitude, others are antsy throughout a red-eye. Some prefer the predictability of their favorite hotel chain, and others are forever on the hunt for one-of-a-kind stays on vacation rental sites.
The concept of having a true home away from home has soared in popularity since Airbnb made its debut a decade ago. But even before technology made home rentals accessible, many jet-setters invested in time shares, home swaps, and vacation rentals via agencies.
Especially for families who view space as a luxury and who can save a pretty penny by cooking most meals in their kitchen, home exchanges and rental sites are often the best option for getaways. Even for couples or large groups (say, for a bachelorette party), homes cut down on overall cost and provide a more private experience for celebrations. Taking note of this trend, even popular hotel brands, like Hyatt, have started to dabble in the vacation rental market with offerings around the world.
If you’re planning your next trip and excited about finding a hotel alternative or home exchange, this guide will help you navigate.
Founded in 2008, it’s hard to believe Airbnb has been around for more than 10 years. In that time, they’ve grown immensely, with six million listings in 100,000 cities and 191 countries and regions. This means you can pretty much guarantee you’ll find an apartment, home, room, or even a boat for a short-term rental no matter where your wanderlust takes you. In recent years, they’ve expanded to also offer Airbnb Experiences, which give travelers the opportunity to do destinations as a local would. Curated by experts within communities, you can expect everything from a cooking class to a street art walking tour and beyond.
Regardless of which Airbnb avenue you take, when searching for a place to stay, make sure to set the parameters for what you need from your lodging. Their easy-to-navigate platform allows you to choose a private room within a home or an entire place to yourself, as well as a plethora of amenities like air conditioning, car seats or strollers in house, WiFi, washers/dryers, and even pools or hot tubs. In the last year, they’ve expanded to offer Airbnb Plus, which highlights homes and hosts that have been vetted by the company and are rated highly for quality of service, design, and, of course, comfort.
To book: airbnb.com
Love Home Swap
As an Airbnb alternative, Love Home Swap is often considered the pick for coordinating home exchange. Unlike other popular vacation rental sites, the concept is more trading places, less renting. It was founded by a United Kingdom–based mother of two who enjoyed this type of arrangement for her family and wanted to create a safe marketplace of beautiful homes. On the platform, you can find more than 80,000 homes in 160 countries, all ranging in price, style, and amenities. Generally speaking, Love Home Swap gets major kudos from customers for the high-end appeal of the properties. You can find multi-bedroom apartments in many cosmopolitan cities, châteaus, villas, and all sorts of gems that will make your Instagram that much more impressive.
You don't always have to put your own home or apartment up for grabs during the same time period to book, though. Love Home Swap offers the option to swap at different times or to swap points instead of homes. This means you could technically book on the site without someone staying at your home, but you'll instead give them points (which can be converted to cash) for the stay. The best case scenario, of course, is to have your home listed, which will definitely cut down on the cost.
To book: lovehomeswap.com
VRBO (Home Away)
This Expedia-owned company recently joined forces with HomeAway to move forward as VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner). As the name suggests, it's a platform that gives homeowners the power to set up listings for their property or properties. As one of the best vacation rental sites, what sets VRBO apart is the accessibility to the folks whose names are on the deed. This is a big difference from Airbnb, which pretty much allows everything to slide from a shared room in a NYC apartment to a communal loft in Amsterdam. VRBO only offers vacation rentals — so you won’t be tiptoeing around anyone’s prized coffee mugs or wondering what’s behind a locked closet door.
The biggest fans of VRBO are families with kids since most of their listings are expansive and located in popular destinations throughout six continents. Nearly all listings will have a kitchen and kid-friendly offerings, but it’s important to read the fine print and also check the reviews before booking. The owners themselves are responsible for the upkeep of their vacation rentals, so to avoid being scammed, exercise your research skills to ensure a smooth, relaxing getaway.
To book: vrbo.com
Another Airbnb alternative, FlipKey is a new-ish marketplace that’s making its way up to compete with other vacation rental sites. It’s a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, and serves as their play to tap into the home exchange market. With more than 300,000 properties in 179 countries, you’ll find plenty of options for every type of vacay. Like VRBO, all of the homes are private, so you won’t have to worry about a temporary roommate interrupting your afternoon nap. Similar to TripAdvisor’s site, you are able to sort through a variety of features and amenities when you’re looking for the right place to book. Whether you want a condo, apartment or a villa, one with a pool or a hot tub, or one that’s walking distance to bars and restaurants, you can easily sort through hundreds of listings.
Using the wealth of information TripAdvisor has collected from travelers' reviews, you will also be given city guides, food blogs, and other helpful know-how that could make planning your trip easier.
To book: flipkey.com
This Europe-only rental site may be news to your ears, but it’s been around since the late 1990s. It was founded by three sisters and offers luxury vacation rental properties throughout London, Italy, Provence, and of course, Paris. If you’re staying in the City of Lights, nearly all of their listings offer views of the Eiffel Tower and are located in the tourist-friendly and accessible neighborhoods of the 6th and 7th arrondissement. To ensure an upscale — and often romantic — experience, a team member from Paris Perfect personally vets all apartments or homes.
Last year, the brand also launched Paris Perfect Shared, a real estate venture that allows guests to own a pied-a-terre in Paris at a much more affordable price. This means you can actually make an income from a rental — and travel at the same time.
To book: parisperfect.com
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