How to Use the Sharing Economy to Travel on a Budget

The Internet has changed travel. Sometimes hasn’t been for the better (one just needs to see how many people are checking Facebook in a hostel to agree) but it has allowed people to share, connect, and collaborate in ways that haven’t been possible before.

And for the budget traveler and culture enthusiast this change has been terrific. There are now so many more ways to travel on a budget as well as get the most out of your destination and learn the hidden secrets of the places you are visiting. Here are some top notch sites and services (some old, some new) that you can use to travel cheap and connect with locals.

Hospitality Networks
couchsurfing login
Hospitality networks have been around for decades but were really popularized with the creation of Couchsurfing. Founded in 2004, this old standby really took advantage of the web and brought together travelers and locals. It connects travelers with locals who are willing to give them a free place to stay (couch, room, floor, etc) and get a local perspective on a destination. It popularized hospitality networks and, with 7 million members, is now the biggest. I don’t use the accommodation service that much anymore since I like my own space, but I still value it as a resource to meet up with locals (you will find a lot of group meet-ups on the website). Some similar sites are Be Welcome, Hospitality Club, and Global Freeloaders.

For cyclists, check out the website Warm Showers, which is a free hospitality exchange for cyclists.

Apartment Rentals
airbnb homepage
Hotels are expensive and maybe hostels aren’t your thing, so what’s the next best choice? Renting someone’s apartment (or a room in it)! On apartment sharing/rental websites, you can rent a room, couch, or whole apartment at much cheaper rates than a hotel room. Plus, you’ll have a local host to show you around and a kitchen to prepare meals. It’s the best middle ground between hostels (and Couchsurfing) and hotels. I think Airbnb offers the most robust inventory for finding a spot in someone’s house and I prefer them the most, though it’s important to always check all the rental sites because, unlike hotel sites where properties appear over multiple websites, listings are at the owner’s discretion and some owners list their property on only one site. Similar services include VRBO, HomeAway, Wimdu, and Roomorama.

Camp in My Garden
camp in my garden mainpage
Camp in My Garden is a UK-based website started in April 2011 that is slowly expanding around the world. Its simple premise: connect campers to people who will let them camp in their backyards for a small fee. You have to bring your own camping gear but most properties will let you use their facilities (no peeing behind a bush!). Locations are found predominately in the UK and Europe but the site is gaining traction around the world.

Eat With Locals
eat with locals website
This relatively new website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Eatwith lets locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that people can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) and you can pick from a variety of meals (depending on what the person wants to cook). The dinner parties are small and a chance to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.  Eat With A Local, Meal Sharing, and Colunching are similar websites worth using.

Share a Ride
lyft to share  a ride
Need a ride? Check out Lyft or Sidecar and get locals to pick you and drop you off where you need to go. It’s about 30% cheaper than a taxi, though rates are “suggested” donations and the companies take a commission. I prefer it to Uber since they don’t have surge pricing (i.e. increased rates during busy times), it’s not a car rental service, and it’s less formal.

Share Someone’s Car
rent a car getaround website
Need a car for a few hours? Rent someone else’s. Getaround allows you to rent people’s unused cars by the hour. Renters and owners are vetted by the company, who also insures both parties in case an accident happens. It’s a good cheap alternative to more traditional car rental services. Rates start at $7 per hour. The downside to this website is that it is only available in a handful of U.S. cities. A more established service is ZipCar, though they are based mostly in U.S. cities.

Another alternative is FlightCar. FlightCar lets people parking at airports rent their vehicles to other travelers. All cars are insured up to a million dollars and users are verified and checked out ahead of time. If you are a traveler, this option lets you make some extra money for future travel. Like Getaround, it is only in a few U.S. cities. Other companies include:

Rent Anything You Need
websites to rent anything you need for travel
Need a tent for the day? A bike? A ladder? Skis? A beach chair for a few hours? Rent it from people who aren’t using theirs. Instead of buying new products, temporarily rent people’s unused stuff at a lower rate. It’s cheaper than buying something you may only need once or twice on the road and creates less waste. Websites that facilitate this service allow you to travel a lot lighter. Two websites that facilitate this are Zilok, Rentoid (Australia based), and Snapgoods.

Get a Personal Tour Guide
personal tour guides on vayable
Want to take a tour with a local expert? Connect with local guides and hire them for unique experiences through the website Vayable. A rating system for the guides allows you to know in advance if the guide/tour is worth your time. I enjoy and like this site because it allows you to experience niche, offbeat and interesting tours that bigger tour companies might not run (like a street art tour in Los Angeles). Plus, the groups tend to be very small, making for a more intimate experience. Local Guiding is another similar and good website.

The rise of “the sharing economy” has made it so much easier for people (especially travelers) around the world to connect with each other. People can now advertise and promote their local services and knowledge that allow travelers better access to destinations, people, and services in a way that saves people a lot of money and creates a more unique and intimate travel experience.

54 Comments
  1. I’ve tried EatWith twice now and most recently in Mexico City. Both great dinners and a good way to make new friends. It has become a new favorite of mine. You might have to host in NYC, Matt!

  2. Hospitality networks have been a great development. I would just like to mention Warmshowers, which is a cyclist hospitality network proving useful for thousands of bicycle tourers all around the world.

  3. Great article! I’ve been using many of these sites for a while now. Hadn’t heard of Camp in My Garden, though, which sounds awesome! Over the past few years, I’ve pieced together a living as an Airbnb host, TaskRabbit, and DogVacay sitter, while also renting out my car on RelayRides. Lots of opportunities here!

  4. Hey Matt,

    Great article with a ton of resources. While going through it, I noticed you missed out on BlaBlaCar, an excellent resource used in Europe for sharing rides with drivers. It’s much more economical than booking a last-minute train.

  5. Should a wiki be made of all these sites
    With some type of way of keeping it up todate
    Or a user rating system for its usability.

    We already have our wiki hitch
    And wiki nomad base cheap travel.

    Maybe an opportunity for a web guru to set up?

  6. Julie

    Thanks to you Matt we learned about helpx.net and have had amazing success with hosting travelers over the last few months.

  7. Had only heard of Couchsurfing and Airbnb before, didn’t realise there were so many other great resources out there! Thank you very much for sharing, going to get these added to my favourites right away – EatWith in particular sounds like such a great idea!

  8. I have heard of these before but it’s nice to see them in one post I can bookmark :) Sadly, so many of these I can’t use in India. For example, I LOVE couchsurfing, but have kind of quit it lately here. I’ve also wanted to try InterNations.

    • Hey Rachel,
      You can actually use a lot of these in India. If you are in Hyderabad do give me a shoutout plus I’ll treat you to a home cooked meal You can look me up in mealsharing.

      Matt,
      Thanks a lot coz I was looking to start a home restaurant and this is like the perfect time and post.

      Parul

  9. Great List Matt.

    I am a big fan of collaborative consumption. I’ve used several services from your list. And learned about a few new ones, which I will soon try out…

    We at HitTheRoad.ca like to think of ourselves as part of the sharing economy, too.
    Carsharing meets road trip. It was my experience in the sharing economy that got me thinking about new venues.

    David

  10. This is a great round up of websites. I have used airBnB for years but I have never heard of EatWith. I am definitely going to have to check that one out. It seems right up my alley since I like to eat and talk with locals!

  11. Wow, there is some great information in this post. I was aware of quite a few of them but Vayable is a new one to me. I am going to have to check that out.

    I actually booked my first Eat With dinner the other day, it’s for next week so I haven’t tried it out yet. But I will be in a city on my own, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to try something new!

    Incidently this same city i will be staying in a room from Airbnb. 19 euros for a private room instead of the 30-40 euros that hostels were charging for a bed in a dorm! I do love Airbnb.

  12. Chary

    Really such a great post Matt… Thanks a ton for sharing the information which will help a lot to save extra bucks and move on in this highly expensive travel times.

    Please keep on posting such great info in future too..

    Cheers,

    Chary

  13. Paul

    Matt, just want to say thank you for posting these awesome options for budget travel. These tips could make an enormous difference in my ability to travel long term. Thank you!!!

  14. Thanks for this post Matt. As I’m from Britain, although I live in Germany LOL, I have heard of some of these websites however, “Eat With Locals” and “Get a Personal Tour Guide” sounds great and something that I could look into in the next few months.

  15. awesome post! You normally only hear about the other travel bloggers mentioning Couchsurfing, but thanks for taking the time to do a thorough one!

  16. Aww sweeet article! You’ve mentioned quite a few that I’ve not heard of. I am def bookmarking this post for future travel! Thanks for the info, Matt!

    -S

  17. Great advice! Couch Surfing is pretty amazing. Wherever you go, even my small village in England, there seems to be somebody willing to host you. Workaway.info is pretty amazing too, if you are willing to work for your accommodation and food.

  18. This goes well beyond the usual Couchsurfing, Craigslist , etc recommendations in posts like this … Eatwith sounds AWESOME, and while I’ve known about AirBnB for a while now, I’ll be using it when I get back to Canada for sure!

  19. Wow, I definitely hadn’t heard of a LOT of these websites – thank you! Camping your way around Western Europe seems like a really fresh way to do the well-worn circuit. I also had a friend who cycled Europe and used CouchSurfing the entire time – she only paid for a hostel 2x in 3 months!

  20. I love this post. I have tried the carpool services and also air bnb and i love them. I am a bit cautious with couch surfing by havent tried it so i am not really a reliable person to talk about it, I prefer to meet someone first then build a friendship them crash in their couches if needed ^^.

  21. Good stuff! The collaborative eating (dining with locals) is something I was keen to try but never really did (definitely more for those with a bit more of a budget, I found, rather than budget travelers).

  22. Great list! We ended up volunteering at four schools in the South Pacific and were invited to more homes for dinner then we had nights to stay!

  23. Theresa W.

    Whoa, Matt, you forgot one of the best social dining/collaborative eating sites:

    EatWithMe.net

    It’s free, and anyone can post an event. They range from potlucks to picnics (and sometimes restaurant visits). I’ve made some great friends through it!

  24. Jason A. Ruiz

    Hi there!
    Do you know nightswapping ?
    By offering up your home or guest room to travelers, you earn credits that you can use to stay at other people’s homes abroad. It’s free!
    There are three types of nightswaps you can do :
    – A mutual home exchange, where you stay in another member’s home while they stay in yours.
    – You stay in a member’s home while they go elsewhere (or it is otherwise empty).
    – You stay in a guest room of another member’s home while they are there.

    Its’ great, isn’t it ?

  25. Great tips! I knew about a few of these and swear by airbnb, but some of these others are new to me and look like great resources. I will definitely keep them in mind next time I am traveling.

  26. Ravindra Pardeshi

    I liked your posts this one , one about language, and 61 tips. I am going to keep on reading them for my next trip to Europe.

  27. This is DEFINITELY a must-read blog if you’re trying to save money. We’re all about these tools also! Anyone ever try the car share sites yet? Thinking of doing that for one of our upcoming film trips!
    -D&J

  28. Ella

    This is a really great list! I’ve been a big fan of the sharing economy, such a great way to travel! Specially with so many budget airlines around the corner! Hands down Airbnb is the best when it comes to renting out a place.. but some other sites that I really loved to use using when I traveled around Europe was BonAppetour.com (for home-dining) and BlaBlaCar.com (for car-pooling).

    BonAppetour I guess is similar to EatWith, but has much more variety in several key cities around Europe with high value-for-money offerings.. while with BlaBlaCar, I traveled from Rome- Florence-Venice-Milan-Rome all under 100 USD. Really amazing!

    Hope to see more sharing economy platforms coming up!

    car-pooling: Blablacar.it
    home-dining: BonAppetour

  29. Thanks Matt, this article helped shed some light on these websites I knew nothing about. Upwork is also a great “sharing economy website” If you have a digital project like website or app, instead of getting a company to do it, why not hire a freelancer instead! They are much cheaper and you don’t have to pay the other run off costs associated with a company. Also good if you are a freelancer as you can travel and work!

Leave a Comment