Go Beyond Airbnb with These Alternative Lodging Options
New platforms are popping up for house swapping, pet sitting, and more.
When it launched 15 years ago, Airbnb was just an opportunity for a few guys to rent out their apartment to folks in town for a conference. But fast forward to today and the site has become a popular lodging giant—and a complicated one at that. Market saturation and years of wavering supply and demand thanks to things like COVID and rising competitors have meant skyrocketing nightly rates for guests—and income loss for hosts. Meanwhile, the company has faced an increasingly long roster of privacy and safety complaints, issues with brand standards, changes in regulations, and concerns about gentrification. As guest callouts continue to go viral, former customers are wondering if they should just go ahead and book a hotel.
Hotels are great, but they’re hardly your only option. A handful of alt-lodging sites have emerged for those seeking the unique and homey feeling of Airbnb's offerings without all of the potential downsides. These sites offer more novelty and, seemingly, a less problematic approach to the homestay market. And according to Drew Seitam, founder of home exchange platform People Like Us, “the sharing economy is booming.”
If you’re looking to try a new approach to lodging, options range from pet-setting to non-simultaneous home exchange—and there are plenty of perks. You can travel light, bring your furry friends along, leverage your nomad flexibility, and have a truly immersive journey. Here are some top picks.
Home Exchange, commonly known just as HE among its original subscribers, started decades ago and now has over 270,000 houses available in all sizes and styles. Dreaming of an Italian villa, an Appalachian cabin, or a row house in Amsterdam? HE has it. You can even choose from really specific filters if your ideal vacation requires a grill or bikes. HE is also a certified B corporation, so when you join, you know you’re supporting an org that is dedicated to social and environmental consciousness.
HE membership costs $200 annually and includes unlimited stays—as much as you want for as long as you want. This long-established site also has 24/7 customer service support.
Kommu fills in the gaps between a hotel stay and sleeping on your buddy’s couch. The concept is pretty straightforward: You know how you have acquaintances putting down roots in amazing places all over the world? Well, with Kommu, those are all potential stay matches—friends of friends, old and new, who just can’t wait to host you in their homes.
It’s super easy to use, too. Just download the Kommu app, connect it with your already established social and business networks, find a home through someone you already know, and set whatever terms you’d like. And the more network channels you open up, the more the world is at your fingertips.
Kindred is where home swapping meets traditional vacation rentals; these are real residences, but with some organizational and brand oversight. Kindred homes are accepted on a rolling basis depending on market demand, and must be approved before they’re offered up to guests. And the company offers some cool benefits for hosts, like damage coverage, free cleaning services, and a complimentary guest kit.
There are no upfront fees to join Kindred, but there are some additional service costs after you book. Still, a few hundred dollars for a week in Bali is not a bad deal.
Home Exchange’s wealthy sibling, the Home Exchange Collection is meant for those seeking an air of luxury in their swaps. It’s best in class for five-star comfort in dreamy locales. You don’t just trade houses on HEC; you trade lavish lifestyles, and create lasting connections in the process. These homes are vetted by the site for their beautiful design and opulent amenities, and are guaranteed to be completely private.
Membership is on the pricier side at $1,000 for 12 months, but the annual fee gives guests unlimited access to gorgeous houses all over the world. You’ll need to get your house certified prior to any exchanges.
People Like Us is a home exchange platform that offers both traditional and premium homes, is typically welcoming to pets, and reaches six continents. But what really sets the platform apart from the rest is its dedication to forming lifelong friendships. People Like Us is known for putting on fun events to keep the warm, fuzzy travel feelings thriving (like a global Secret Santa) and has a social feed where members can chat about their upcoming plans. The platform also just partnered with World School Home Swap, making it an especially great fit for families.
This site is also pretty affordable. $225 gives members three years of endless exchanges and comes with what PLU calls a “globe,” a token for a non-reciprocal visit that puts you first in line for the most coveted destinations. This means you don’t have to worry if your home isn’t in a top spot, because your chances of scoring that romantic Parisinian flat are as good as anyone’s.
You might have heard of WWOOFing before—the org has been around for over 50 years, but has grown considerably alongside the rise of ecotourism and slow travel. The voluntourism platform is all about prioritizing educational and cultural exchanges on organic farms. WWOOFers stay on farms and participate in day-to-day agricultural activities like bread-making and harvesting cut flowers, and receive complimentary room and board for their time. Working wanderers can choose from farms from over 130 countries and can often stay as long as they’d like. It’s a great way to dive into the permaculture scene and really get to know local residents.
WWOOF’s membership costs vary by country and the number of people traveling together, but in the US, the fee is $65 per couple for a year. Note: Membership to one country doesn’t give access to others.
Workaway is similar to WWOOFing, but less farm-centric and with a focus on learning. Opportunities include anything from babysitting, to sailing, to wildlife rescue, and you’ll find it’s a great way to volunteer abroad without agency costs. Hosts and guests write detailed bio pages specifying what they’re looking for, and then the matchmaking begins. Workaway has over 50,000 project opportunities in 170 countries for solo travelers, couples, families, and groups—and yes, the volunteer work comes with housing.
A Workaway membership is global. It’s $49 per year for one person or $59 per year for two, though the site often has sales.