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Share and Share Alike: Using Person-to-Person Rentals to Make a Vacation More Unique

Sharing is one of the smartest ways to save money. Sharing garden tools with a neighbor, borrowing a hardcover book from a friend, lending a grill to a relative for a backyard party – little things like this make life easier and keep extra cash in our pockets.

So we asked ourselves, what would happen if we applied the same concept to a vacation? Websites have been cropping up that allow people to rent their cars, spare rooms, or even entire houses to each other for prices that are often much lower than traditional car rental services or hotels, making it possible to cut travel costs drastically – without necessarily taking a corresponding cut in comfort.

We decided to try out the biggest share-travel site of them all: Airbnb. This website allows you to book spare rooms, apartments, and houses for short- or long-term rental all around the world. Want to rent a room from a Czech couple in an old apartment in Prague's city center? They've got that. A well-appointed cottage in Cape Cod? They've got that too. What about something more offbeat – a parked Airstream trailer in Hawaii, a teepee in Denmark, a treehouse in Germany? Why not?

Our test drive of the site was a little more conventional. We found a room for rent in a luxurious ranch house on top of a cliff on the southern Oregon coast. At $100, it was significantly cheaper than hotel rooms in the area, and the ocean view could not be beat. The owners were out of town for the weekend – they left their house key under the mat – and we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet of the ocean view deck, the garden courtyard, and the cozy, clean bedroom. (As well as the company of the housecat.) Though our hosts were nowhere to be found, they left local travel information on the kitchen table (including useful hiking maps) and gave us restaurant recommendations over the phone.

But, as with anything, let the buyer beware. Airbnb allows guests to post ratings of hosts, so if you see any red flags, steer clear before booking. And if you find a deal that seems too good to be true, check if the hosts are charging a cleaning fee on top of the nightly rate – these fees can range from zero dollars to an incredible $75 and up, hiding the true cost of the rental.

Next step was a search for cheaper, more unique travel options? Bypassing Enterprise on our next vacation in favor of Relay Rides, a website that allows car or truck owners to rent their vehicles to other people for a day, a week, a month. Also, check out Sidecar and Lyft, sites that use a smartphone app to match amateur (but background-checked) taxi drivers to people who need rides, for much lower prices than traditional taxi services. Who knows? We might end up meeting some fantastic locals and finding local spots we never would have dreamed of finding on our own.

Happy travels!

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