Last Updated: 2/2/2020 | February 2nd, 2020
In the decade that I’ve been traveling, the Internet has revolutionized travel. While not always for the better, there is no question that it has allowed people to share, connect, and collaborate in ways that haven’t been possible.
For budget travelers, this change has led to a plethora of new money-saving and community-building apps and platforms that have made travel even more affordable and accessible. It’s never been easier to connect with locals, get off the tourist travel, and experience the local pace of life.
To help you save money and connect with locals and travelers alike, here are the best sharing economy platforms for travelers.
Hospitality networks have been around for decades but they didn’t get popular until the creation of Couchsurfing.
Founded in 2004, this was one of the first sharing economy platforms to change the way people travel. Couchsurfing connects travelers with locals who are willing to give them a free place to stay (couch, room, floor, etc.). In addition to accommodation, travelers get a local perspective on a destination. It’s meant to be used as a form of cultural exchange and is used by travelers of all ages (and families too!).
Couchsurfing popularized hospitality networks and, with millions of members all around the world, it’s easy to use and find hosts pretty much anywhere. And if you don’t want to stay with locals, you can use the app to meet other locals and travelers for coffee, a meal, a visit to a museum, and other fun activities.
There are always meet-ups posted on the platform (including lots of language exchanges) and it’s easy to find travel companions on the app as well. (My Community Manager has used it to find road trip companions on a few occasions).
But there is more than just Couchsurfing out there. Other hospitality exchanges worth checking out are:
- Be Welcome
- Warm Showers (for cyclists)
- Purple Roofs (for LGBTQ travelers)
House and Pet Sitting
One of the most recent areas of the sharing economy to see major growth has been house sitting and pet sitting. As more and more people travel, there is a growing demand for house and pet sitters as most people can’t bring their pets (or farm animals) on a trip with them.
On the other side of the coin, more and more travelers are looking to travel slow. There are also tons of digital nomads out there who need long-term bases to work from as well. House sitting and pet sitting websites like Trusted Housesitters have done an amazing job at connecting these two demographics.
Much like Airbnb, there are profiles, ratings, and reviews to ensure the platform is safe for everyone involved.
I know bloggers who travel exclusively via house sitting, cutting their travel costs by as much as 30% a year! If you’re looking for a unique and fulfilling way to travel slow, try pet sitting. Because who doesn’t want to spend their time with cute animals?
Other house and pet sitting webistes you can use are:
Apartment Rentals and Paid Accommodation
Hotels are expensive. 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 answer your questions and a kitchen to prepare meals. It’s the best middle ground between hostels and hotels. I think Airbnb offers the most robust inventory for finding a spot in someone’s house, and I prefer them the most. (That said, Airbnb is far from perfect.)
However, it’s important to always compare 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 to Airbnb include:
Eat With Locals
Like apartment sharing, there are now meal-sharing sites that connect you with local cooks. EatWith lets locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that travelers can then sign up for.
You can pick from a variety of meals in each destination with each meal uniquely designed and priced (like Airbnb, hosts choose their own prices). Since each cook has their own specialties, you can find a ton of variety on this platform. The dinner parties are intimate, insightful, and are a unique opportunity to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make new friends.
Similar services include:
- Traveling Spoon
- With Locals (food tours)
In many countries around the world, taxis are incedibly expensive. As a budget traveler, you likely avoid taking them as much as possible. However, every now and then we all need one. Instead of calling a regular taxi, use taxi ridesharing apps to save you money.
Lyft is available around the world and is an affordable option of budget travelers. Uber is the other main option. It’s usually a little bit more expensive than Lyft but the cars are nicer and the service a little more professional.
Both options will save you money (especially if you use the “pool” option to share your ride with other potential customers). If you choose Uber, use code jlx6v to save $15 off your first ride. Other apps that replace taxis are:
Need a car for a few hours — or a few days? Rent someone else’s! Turo (which is available in the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany) allows you to rent people’s unused cars by the hour or by the day. Prices are usually cheaper than your traditional rental, and you’ll have much more variety too.
Car rental platforms are great for short rentals where a traditional company might be inflexible or overpriced. Other car rental apps worth checking out are:
- RV Share (for RVs)
- Trailer Made (For trailers and camper vans)
Rideshares are a convenient and cheap way to travel medium and long distances. Instead of taking the train or a bus, you can use ridesharing apps to find locals and travelers who you can, for a small fee, share a ride with.
It’s a popular option in Europe and, while usually not as cheap as the bus, it’s often much faster (and more comfortable).
Drivers are vetted and verified and it’s a much better way to get out of stuffy trains and buses, meet interesting characters, and take a mini-road trip. It’s one of my preferred methods of travel.
The biggest player in this space is BlaBlaCar, which is huge around Europe and a couple other parts of the world (like India, Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil).
If you’re traveling on a budget and want to have a more memorable experience, try a rideshare. It will save you money, time, and you’ll have a much more interesting experience!
Some other good ridesharing companies:
- Liftshare (based in the UK)
- Gumtree (UK/Australia/NZ)
- Kangaride (Canada)
- CarpoolWorld (Global)
- Share Your Ride (Global)
If you’re looking to travel long-term but don’t quite have the savings, consider a work exchange program. These usually entail volunteering at a hostel, farm, school, or NGO in exchange for free accommodation (and often free food as well).
Positions can last for a couple of days to a couple of months; there is tons of variety in the lengths of time as well in the positions available. You can find opportunities in pretty much every country and city in the world too.
Worldpackers is one of the best platforms to start your search in. You simply pay to sign up (most work exchange websites charge a nominal fee) and then you’ll get access to their database. You can search for opportunities, read reviews, and contact hosts directly to plan your next exchange.
If you’re on a budget and want to extend your travels, this is one of the best ways to boost your time abroad. Other great work exchange resources are:
The rise of “the sharing economy” has made it so much easier for travelers around the world to connect with each other — and save money in the process!
But more than just saving money, these platforms allow better access to destinations, promote new interactions, offer unique opportunities, and create a nuanced and intimate travel experience.
On your next trip, be sure to give the sharing economy a try. You’ll learn much more about the culture and destination, save money, and have a much more memorable experience.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.