In addition to home exchange, my favorite sharing economy lodging option, there are a lot of companies facilitating peer to peer rental (and free) lodging. This article provides an overview of the current market and hopefully will help you find the best place to look for your next vacation rental or host.
My table of companies in the peer to peer rental and hospitality business can be found here. Most of these companies operate globally, but there are a few focused on just one country, like Kozaza which rents traditional homes in Korea, or just on one specific population, like Misterbnb which caters to gay men.
There are also some interesting variations on the standard peer to peer rentals. A few sites facilitate people trading labor, housesitting, dog sitting or other services for lodging: Trusted House Sitters, Staydu. And others facilitate free lodging via hospitality exchange: Couchsurfing, Bewelcome, FOFtravel.
Some higher touch rental options in this market may appeal to those looking for a more luxury vacation experience, where the company careful selects the properties as with Interhome and Waytostay, or includes breakfast and supper (BedandFed), or even offers hotel-like amenities in the homes (One Fine Stay and Holiday Velvet).
And I have to mention the company through which you can find backyards to use as camp sites: Camp in my Garden.
If you are just looking for a standard lodging rental there are a number of good options to consider. Airbnb is in the news practically every day lately (at least in the U.S.), between the disputes over legality of the service and their recent $10 billion valuation, but my research into the sharing economy for travelers uncovered a lot of competitors, some just as big or even bigger than Airbnb. The two largest websites in this market, based on number of properties listed, are Airbnb and Homeaway, each with around 600,000 properties. Homeaway acquired VRBO, one of the oldest vacation rental sites, and integrates their content along with vacationrentals.com and a bunch of other smaller sites. With about 300,000 properties each, three other websites offer good alternatives to these top two giants: Flipkey, Wimdu and Housetrip. Flipkey is now integrated into TripAdvisor, giving property owners access to the millions of people who use that site for travel resources and information. And Housetrip is focused on European properties so that’s good option for a trip to Europe.
An easy way to search a bunch of the peer to peer lodging sites is through Tripping which will return results on hotels from booking.com that meet your search criteria, in addition to integrating content from a bunch of peer to peer rental websites, though they don’t include the top two (Airbnb and Homeaway). Alternately, Vakast entered the fray in 2013 offering services similar to Tripping and they include Homeaway in their search. My suggestion: if you want a standard vacation rental that’s not in one of the special categories I list above, and in a location for which I haven’t identified any companies focused specifically, I’d search in three places: Airbnb, Tripping and Vakast. That will cover the vast majority of options out there. But consider trying out some of the specialty peer to peer lodging options. I’m getting lots of good cheap vacation ideas from Camp in my Garden, including camping with sheep farmers in the Pyrenees in the south of France.