House swapping was an early adopter in the sharing economy, even before people started calling it the sharing economy. Recently, a multitude of new companies have launched services that help people “share” resources. Sharing doesn’t necessarily mean free, but it can translate into significant savings, especially for things that travelers generally need. And it can lead to some really interesting local experiences. Here’s my list of best sharing economy services for house swappers.
While you are enjoying a house swap, you may want a vehicle in your home away from home (if you didn’t arrange for a car swap as a part of the exchange). There are two categories that are particularly useful for travelers: Peer to peer car rentals and ride sharing.
Peer to peer car rental services like buzzcar.com, tamyca.de, and drivy.com expand car rental options beyond the traditional rental companies, and generally have at least slightly better pricing with more diversity of vehicles and pick up locations. If you are a car owner this is a fine way to earn some extra cash when you’re not using the car (and when you are traveling there are now a few companies like flightcar.com that pay you to leave your car with them at the airport). If you are in need of a car for a day or more this is a good option to consider, especially if you find rental car companies are too expensive in your location.
Peer to peer ride sharing is also catching on in Europe, Australia, and the USA. Drivers join a website such as Blablacar.com or Carpooling.com, where they post upcoming trips they are taking and how many open seats they have, along with a price per seat. Then riders can sign up to join those trips. Drivers and riders get reviewed, and in some cases you can select traveling companions based on features like how talkative they are. This is often cheaper than taking the train or bus, and a pleasant way to meet locals and travel in comfort without all the unnecessary stops inherent to public transportation.
Tours, activities, and local eats
Tours and guided activities are fun way to explore while traveling. These services are traditionally offered by commercial tour companies, but in recent years there have been a number of attempts to create a peer to peer travel experience marketplace. Of the companies in this business today, Vayable.com is the largest and most sophisticated. They offer a platform for people to buy and sell travel experiences, activities, and extended trips. Events cover a wide range of prices and experiences. My search of options in Barcelona turned up a $10 two hour roller skating tour, a $240 tour of the city in a convertible, and a $1,995 food and wine week, in addition to culinary classes, night life, photography, art, yoga, and a nudist beach visit, with most prices under $100.
A newcomer to the sharing economy is meal hosting. For travelers, this means an opportunity to eat in the home of a local, sharing a home cooked meal with locals and other travelers. There are a few variations on this theme, but the main option from sites like eatwith.com, cookening.com and mealsharing.com facilitates a cook hosting a group of people for a meal in their home. People attending might be locals in search of a good meal, or travelers looking to enjoy home cooking in the place they are visiting.
In some places it’s now possible to find vacation toys through peer to peer rentals. Companies like Boatbound.co and Getmyboat.com facilitate rental of boats from their owners. You can find all sorts of adventure gear including ATVs, bikes, kayaks, RVs, snowmobiles and surfboards on sites like Propaloo.com and Qraft.com. And for bike and snowboard rentals, Spinlister.com has built a strong marketplace.
For those who like to stay connected while touring around a new city, there are some free and shared wifi options that go beyond paying for a cup of coffee to use the wifi at the cafe. Fon.com offers a membership-based global wifi network, providing members with free access at millions of Fon hotspots worldwide. To join, you just buy their Wifi router and plug it into your home broadband connection. This network has very good coverage in the UK and France and a lot of hotspots in other parts of Europe. Japan and Brazil also have impressive participation. In the USA it costs $49 for the Fon router. That’s not a bad investment for long term wifi access around the world, especially if you spend much time in Europe.
For those who prefer to get their wifi at hotels or cafes, there are a number of companies like MyPublicWiFi.com which allow people to turn their computers into a WiFi access point, complete with firewall service if needed. If you don’t want to pay for wifi access, some web sites make it easier to find open wifi hotspots. Services such as OpenWifiSpots.com will display your nearby options on a handy map.
For travelers with pets, there is a significant additional cost, and no small amount of anxiety, associated with taking a vacation away from home. If you are going to do a home exchange, it’s worth looking for a swap partner who also has pets and is willing to swap pet care. This is free and you are already entrusting these folks with your home so it’s not a big stretch to also trust they will care for your pets like their own.
If pet swapping isn’t an option, you could look for a sitter. Expanding the options for pet owners, there are some peer to peer websites to help you find a good sitter. Companies like Dogvacay.com, Borrowmydoggie.com, and Holidog.com match dog owners with locals. They include reviews, match you with sitters based on criteria you can specify, and allow payment online through the website. Some even provide pet insurance.
Lastly, there is the option of finding a house sitter to stay with your pet in your home if you are doing a non-simultaneous exchange. Companies like trustedhousesitters.com, staydu.com and Ilidor.com which will match home owners with house sitters.