After almost 5 years of traveling, I barely ever veered away from the usual Kayak-Agoda-Tripadvisor routine. And while this has proven to offer some of the cheapest results, I’ve discovered a few even cheaper options in the last year. These alternative ways to travel require a bit more research and work, but well worth it in the end.
Airbnb, Couchsurfing and BlaBlaCar are all websites that allow “normal people” to network and basically share their resources for much cheaper than any airline or hotel. There are two ends of each (hosting and being hosted) that anybody can participate in and even profit from. All of them are review-based which ensures that everyone is respectful and honest – and if they’re not, they get a negative review. This will affect whether or not people will want to work with them in the future (and prevents the crazy-kleptos from being in the system).
So here are my experiences with each (and btw, nobody is paying me to write about this):
What is Airbnb?: Short and long term rentals, usually listed by owners or renters of the room/apartment/house.
I don’t know how we’ve never thought about doing this before, but this “travel hack” (is it just me, or is that term somewhat obnoxious?) is seriously genius. Not only does it allow us to travel more, but it gives us an opportunity to be spontaneous and can actually save us money by traveling. I told you, genius.
It started when I was looking for somewhere cheap to go for my birthday. We booked €60ish return flights to Brussels (thank you, RyanAir!) and then started looking for accommodation. While I’ve always preached about Agoda being my go-to, it hasn’t worked out as well in Europe (because unfortunately, only Southeast Asia has beautiful suites for $30/night). Instead, we’ve been using Airbnb to find the cheapest deals!
Now I know that there are a certain amount of risks when using Airbnb – but that’s why it’s so important to read previous reviews and use common sense. It’s also important to remember that you’re renting out somebody’s apartment/house. It’s not a hotel (although some Airbnbs have all the same luxuries and more).
So this got us to thinking – why don’t we rent out our apartment when we’re traveling? We checked out the prices around our area and saw that it was more than we usually spend on accommodation when we travel. So we uploaded photos, set up our listing and voila! – we had somebody to rent our apartment during our weekend in Brussels!
€67 isn’t bad for a weekend in Brussels! Granted, that’s not including all the food we ate (and OMG did we eat a lot of amazing food) or public transportation costs, etc. But we essentially had free accommodation plus some.
We decided to do this Airbnb-swap (if you will) again last week. Since it was so last minute, we went somewhere close by – Segovia. It’s only a half hour away on the high-speed train but it was nice getting away for the weekend, basically for free.
That being said, there are also risks when you rent your place out on Airbnb. Same idea though – read reviews of those who request to stay at your place and use common sense. We make sure not to leave valuables out and put them in a secure place. Also, it requires a bit of work – we bought an extra pair of sheets and now have to deep-clean a lot more often than usual :P. Other than that, it’s fairly simple and an easy way to travel cheaper! We’ve actually decided to list our place for most weekends and if we get any bites, we’ll book a last minute trip somewhere!
If you’re interested in joining Airbnb, you can use my reference code HERE to get a $20/€18 voucher (and this time, I will get a little bit of money – but everyone wins, right? :P)
*Note that this may not be a good idea if you’re renting and your landlord is strict or there are rules against this in your lease!
What is Couchsurfing?: A website where you can search for couches to crash on for free! You can also list your place for couchsurfers to find you if you're feeling hospitable.
I had always wanted to try Couchsurfing, but was a bit scared to just sleep on a stranger’s couch. I finally signed up for an account a couple years ago and started out by hosting couchsurfers in Busan, Korea. We hosted a handful of people from around the world and had an opportunity to show other travelers a more local side of Korea. Some were super low maintenance and were only there to sleep, others were eager to spend the weekend with us and accompany us to our favorite spots.
We were hosted via Couchsurfers for the first time over this past winter break. We opted to Couchsurf in the small French town, Hendaye, because it was a short stop on our road trip and we didn’t know much about it. Our host was amazing and showed us a great time. We drank wine and ate pâté on the beach, they taught us French expressions and overall gave us a very authentic experience we definitely wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that this experience was virtually free (the French are seriously the most hospitable and generous people).
One good tip when Couchsurfing is to give your hosts a small gift. The easy gift is of the alcohol variety – local [from where you’re from] kinds are always good and thoughtful, but anything really is a good gesture any host would appreciate!
What is BlaBlaCar?: A car sharing network that enables drivers to post listings of driving routes they're taking so others can pay to carpool with them.
We’ve actually only used this once but it was a great experience! During our road trip around Spain and France, we listed the last leg of our trip (San Sebastian – Madrid). You can set whatever price you want but they indicate what the “suggested price” is, which most people follow (give or take) to keep prices low. For this particular trip, our little carpooler paid us €26, which covered all of the toll fees on the way back home!
I can’t emphasize enough how easy and practical BlaBla is. When you’re driving, you’re already making the trip anyway and it’s barely anymore work to pick somebody up on the way. If you’re the passenger, it’s usually a bit cheaper than taking the train or bus! Easy peasy.