If internet has made travel easy with the wealth of information on travel sites and social media platforms, the sharing economy is playing a fundamental role for the budget-conscious traveller who wants to save money and travel cheap. Thanks to community networks we connect and meet people, and we learn from the locals. Furthermore it has changed the way we travel by making it a more a fulfilling experience.
The big rise of sharing economy websites is a clear sign that the ordinary traveller loves to make valuable and beautiful experiences and learn from the unique insider’s perspective. The sharing economy thus has reinforced the fact that travel is more about meeting people rather than just seeing places.
What is the sharing economy?
According to Wikipedia “shared economy” means a system where resources, assets and services are shared between individuals on a free or paid basis. This allows you in principle to exchange, rent out or hire pretty much anything. From a room, a car, a bike, a space, to a ride, a meal, a tour and any items.
Some of the popular sharing economy sites have been existing for a long time and basically they are community-based online platforms that offer any type of service for free. Some of them have evolved to the sharing economy business model. This includes paying a fee for collaborating with other members and obtaining a service or a product.
Top sharing economy companies
There are many sharing economy websites popping up every year mostly as start-ups or apps. As an avid solo traveller I am a lover of peer-to-peer websites that can help me leverage online connections and at the same time travel long-term in a sustainable way. I have picked some from the top sharing economy companies that can help you travel on a budget and cover accommodation, transportation, food, tours and more stuff.
Hospitality networks – Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is the queen among all hospitality networks. It has been around for +13 yeas and is the biggest hospitality network on the web. While it started as site for meeting up with people, it is mostly known as a free-stay platform. However it's much more than that. With over 7 millions users from all over the world and ages, it's a great hub for regular meetups. While most members offer a couch (or a bed) for free, they are also willing to share their knowledge of the place from a local perspective.
More hospitality networks are:
Warmshowers.com – a free hospitality exchange website for cyclists
Nightswapping.com – earn credits after every trip and get free nights.
Airbnb – Room & Apartment Rentals
Airbnb is the most popular site among all sharing economy examples. You can rent a room or an apartment at a friendly local’s property for a fraction of what you would spend in a hotel. As as solo traveller I know well what it means paying for single supplement or the full room rate.
According to a recent survey carried out by Schofields.ltd.uk who asked over 1000 solo travellers aged 18 and above, based in the UK, about their preferences. The outcome is that 44% of young travellers have used Airbnb to book their accommodation and 74% of those who stayed with Airbnb did so to avoid extra charges levied by hotels. This is how the traditional travel hospitality can learn from the sharing economy.
So to avoid paying for what I call the “invisible travel companion” in 2011 I started using Airbnb and since then it has become my preferred way of staying on my solo travels. If you want to give it try you can also use my personal link to create your airbnb account and get 35 USD off your first booking with Airbnb. Make sure you also donwload the Airbnb App to make the most of the service.
Similar accommodation rental websites are:
House Sitting and Pet Sitting
House sitting is a great sharing concept that allows you to stay in someone’s home, while they are away, look after their house and take care of their pets. It works on an exchange basis: i.e. free accommodation against house sitting. I find house sitting the best form of long-term sustainable travel.
Useful house sitting websites:
trustedhousessiter.com (the largest global site)
Ride-Sharing – BlaBlaCar
Sharing a ride has become a popular way of travelling around countries, especially within Europe. It’s an alternative to train and bus travel. BlaBlaCar officially has been operating since 2015 but before that it used to be powered by local communities in each European country. Mitfahrzentrale and Mitfahrgelegenheit were the German former ride sharing communities before BlaBlaCar took over to create the sharing business model. Now you pay a small fee (10%) for booking a car ride. The fee includes an insurance policy too. I have been using this service for +15 years as a driver and a traveller alike. It's my favourite way of going places in Europe, on the cheap. If you decide spontaneously to go away for a couple of days check out this site, I'm sure you will find a car ride for a lower price than a last-minute train or bus ticket. I love ride-sharing because of the great flexibility when travelling to destinations in a short time.
More ride-sharing companies in the world:
RoadMate (New Zealand)
GumTree (Australia, NZ and UK)
Share your Ride (worldwide)
Bike Sharing and Gear Sharing
If you are travelling and want to hire a bike for a few hours or a day, Spinlister is the right peer-to-peer rental website worth checking out. You can also rent snowboards, skis, surfboards, should you not be able to travel with your own gear.
Similar sites where you can rent out gear and any kind of item:
Gumtree.com (Australia, UK, New Zealand)
Cheap Taxi Service
Uber is the Airbnb of urban mobility. It is the most popular ridesharing company in cities worldwide. It's also a way for many digital nomads to make extra money. For similar ridesharing service:
Lyft.com (US only)
Food Sharing – Eat with a local
Eating a home-cooked meal is something many travellers rave about. That’s why cooking and food tours have become so trendy in the last years. Eatwith is another business model that allows travellers to book private dinner parties or home-cooked meals by talented local chefs for a fee. It's a high-end service.
Similar food sharing services:
Bonapptour.com – similar to eatwith but with less skilled chefs
Mealsharing.com – you can book a meal with your host from +15 USD
Sharing a local tour guide
There are many locals who can share a wealth of knowledge about the place they live. The easiest way to connect with the locals and discover a place through the insiders’ knowledge ist to hire a local tour guide. There are a few websites that bring travellers with tour guides together.
Here are some tour sharing websites:
How to use the sharing economy to travel cheap
Most of the above listed peer to peer platforms are available on the web and on mobile through sharing economy apps. Download them for free onto your smart-phone and use them from your mobile devices.
The sharing economy is definitely changing the way we travel for the better by allowing travellers to get personalised services from locals at a lower price. But it not only makes it easier to plan your trip and save on the travel cost, it also allows you to join strong communities of like-minded people who are willing to travel and lead a sustainable lifestyle.
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