The Financial Problem
You desperately need a vacation, but you don't feel like a decent hotel is within your budget. You're not sure about staying in random Craigslist-sourced accommodations, and, unfortunately, none of your friends happen to live in the city where you want to go.
Take advantage of others’ extra space by booking a room (a couch, or an entire apartment) through an online marketplace for peer-to-peer traveling.
Check into what Time magazine called the "eBay for space." Airbnb has affordable listings for digs in 114 countries and over 2,500 cities around the world. The listings include everything from a whole vacation rental at a beach in Costa Rica, to a room in a rustic bed and breakfast in Canada, to a spare couch in San Francisco, to a rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Beyond that, there are fanciful options for renting out spaces as distinct as a castle, tree house, and lighthouse.
You can filter your search by price and room type. Each listing has a profile of the space and pictures (of the space, and often of the owners). It also includes Yelp-style reviews by past guests, who also have profiles on the site. Once you've found somewhere you'd like to stay, contact the host to set up a reservation directly through the site. You can pay online by credit card or PayPal; Airbnb doesn't turn your money over to the host until at least one day after you check in, to make sure that you don't encounter any Bates Motel-style unwelcome surprises.
If the idea of staying in a complete stranger’s home makes you nervous, you can narrow your options through Airbnb Groups. These are travel networks of like-minded people, such as alumni from your college, photographers, or wine aficionados. Once you’re a member, you can stay with--or rent your room to--other people in the group. Since you’re guaranteed to have a least one thing in common with your host, you know she’ll be able to make recommendations that matter to you, like the best photo exhibits or local wine bars to enjoy on your stay.
Our favorite part? You can make money from your own apartment by posting a room to the site. If you're away, why let your space sit empty, especially if there's a big convention in town? And, if you're in town at the same time, renting out your guest room—or couch—and playing host can lead to lifelong friendship. Or, at least a couple of bucks.