Bypassing hotels

Renting a room — or an entire home — can help you save money while seeing the world, if you’re willing to think outside the hotel box

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, one of many cities offering homestay options such as Airbnb.
The Szechenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, one of many cities offering homestay options such as Airbnb.

You’ve shuffled and cleared your schedule. You’ve picked a destination. You’ve got your flight booked. Now it’s time to think about where you’re going to unpack that suitcase and rest your head while you’re on vacation.

Where you stay while on the road is no trivial decision.

Accommodations represent a significant portion of the average vacation budget, if not the costliest expense. And nothing ruins your sleep like getting a room next to the dreaded ice machine.

If you’re looking to make your vacation dollars stretch, you might try the increasingly raved-about alternative known as home sharing.

Travelers can even rent tree houses — in places such as Atlanta and Belize — through Airbnb.

Home sharing (also often called homestays) involves booking a stay at an individual’s residence. There are many websites devoted to the business of matching vacationers with locals looking to rent out their homes or individual rooms., founded in 2008, is the most buzzed-about homestay broker, so we’ll start there, but and are also popular for worldwide travel, along with a and (Vacation Rentals by Owner), which has been at it since 1995 and is typically focused on renting entire homes.

While the trend of homestays (and homestay mobile apps) has grown into to a multi-billion-dollar industry — Airbnb alone is projected to earn $3.5 billion per year by 2020 — many people planning their vacations have either never heard of homestays or are simply nervous about trying them for the first time.

Here are seven reasons to consider a homestay for your next trip.

The Farm on the Coast guest suite in a barn near Newport, R.I., can be rented for $140 a night through Airbnb.

Save money

To get an idea of the possible savings involved with homestays, let’s take some hypothetical trips around the world and compare a typical hotel’s cost as listed on the popular travel-booking site Expedia versus the cost for homestays on Airbnb at the same place and time — May 2017 for our purposes.

  • First stop is Budapest, Hungary:

Expedia’s average price is listed as $80 a night.

Airbnb lists a multitude of stays between $13 and $50 a night.

  • Next stop, Shanghai, China:

Expedia lists a $150 nightly average.

Airbnb beats it, starting at $12 a night with an average cost of $58.

  • And finally, San Francisco:

Expedia averages at a whopping $249 per night.

Airbnb listings start at $40 and average $168 per night.

Meet residents

Meeting and connecting with locals and making friends is one of the most rewarding things about traveling (extreme introverts not withstanding). So while the option exists to rent an entire apartment or home to yourself and never actually interact with the owner, many homestays can involve sharing space in some manner.

This may simply be the act of picking up and dropping off a key with the owner at the start and end of your stay in a guesthouse.

It could also involve sharing a kitchen and exchanging cooking tips or swapping travel tales over glasses of wine. Some hosts offer sightseeing advice and helpful directions, and some hosts will even take you out on the town and provide hands-on guided tours of the city.

Potential homestay listings will usually describe the level of interaction they’re comfortable with or willing to give if you desire it.

Experience unique lodgings

With few exceptions (we’re looking at you, Las Vegas), if you’ve seen one hotel you’ve seen them all.

With homestays, you have endless possibilities to choose from while browsing online. Traditional rustic country homes and modern condo complexes are popular options. But if you want something truly special, homestays can help: How about a houseboat on the Rhine River? A centuries-old castle in Ireland? A tree house in Belize? You can even rent your own private island for the week.

And the layouts and furnishings can be just as unique as the structures themselves. Some offer the classic charm of a B&B, while others might be decorated with hippie shag carpet and strings of beads in the doorways.

Pick your features

Knees not up to taking six flights of stairs? Want to try your hand at cooking your own locally sourced meals? Need to do laundry?

Many homestay websites allow you to search specifically for homes or rooms that have amenities you want or need, such as in-unit washers and dryers, wifi, parking, pets, ground floor/elevators access and even hot tub access.

By communicating directly with hosts before you book your stay, you can further spell out any necessary or desired features you need.

Learn More

For more information about other up-and-coming homestays, see

Amy Sutton is an experienced world traveler with 14 countries under her international belt. She’s adding No. 15 this year by spending seven months in Vietnam.