By Taylor Boltz

It’s about the time for families to make the Big Trek to their spring or summer travel destinations. For some, that means sun, sand and ocean; for others, it means the mountains or a major city.  Wherever they go, they will need someplace to stay.

Forget hotels. The traveler looking for a good deal and a homelike environment should consider house sharing.

Remember that movie “The Holiday,” in which Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz’s characters swap houses to escape their real lives? It’s hard to believe that you can really find a home-like place anywhere in the world, yet it’s real. There are real homes, owned by real people, who rent their places per night and hope that you enjoy yourself.

Whether it is a beachside condo, a mountain view castle, or a rustic villa, you can find just the place for you. There are hundreds of different websites that seek to match homeowners with house-seekers. Where do you start? Well, let's look at three of the most popular.

The first: FlipKey.

This company, in which TripAdvisor purchased a majority stake in 2008, brags 300,000 vacation spots and was recommended by both USA TODAY and Travel + Leisure magazine.

The website offers rentals in 179 countries and has a “Travel Insights” series, or a collection of facts and advice about the where, what, when for people and vacations. It focuses on 25 popular destinations across the United States and, according to Vice President of Marketing Eric Horndahl, “‘Travelers planning their next vacation will have insider knowledge on when to go, where to stay, how far in advance to book and how much to pay for rental accommodations.”

This is also a site where you can rent out a property you own or manage if you need some extra cash. But note that the site recently increased its fees for property owners, the first such hike in two years. Even so, it seems FlipKey is focused on making both the guest and the owner happy in the end.

The second: HomeAway

This company, founded in 2005, is a part of a larger family of home rental sites like VRBO, VacationRentals.com, OwnersDirect, and Travelmob. It spans 190 countries and has over 1 million listed homes.

In 2013, the company produced a Professional Referral Network, a combination of 40 partners who, according to the website, vacation rental owners can contract to manage their listings and handle all guest inquiries and reservations. This means that renters have a significant number of companies to ask questions and book under.

The company recently revealed a new campaign: “bring(ing) to life the joy of ‘a whole vacation’ for the entire family—no matter how you define ‘family’” Chief Marketing Officer Mariano Dima said that the vacation rental “provides space and privacy to truly bond and create lasting memories,” and HomeAway wants to help families create those memories.

For property owners and managers, there is another rental model: a performance-based system, paying subscription fees no matter the booking numbers. They still have the typical pay-per-booking with no fees, but there is a 10% commission on HomeAway’s end.

The third: Airbnb.

Based in San Francisco and founded in 2008, Airbnb “connects people to unique travel experiences” in over 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Properties rent for any period of time: nights, weeks, months. It is the giant of house-sharing services, with over 10 million nights booked.

In 2012, the company added a wish list option—a place for dream destinations to cumulate and even share. According to the company’s statistics, “45% of users that login engage with Wish Lists.”

 In addition, the company launched “Neighborhoods,” also in 2012, which is a series of “hyper-focused travel guides availale in seven cities and roughly 300 neighborhoods to help travelers determine where they should stay in a city and, once there, how to get the most out of their home away from home.” With this service, the search for a vacation destination becomes more focused, more pointed, more catered to what the guest wants and needs.

Though designed as a one-night rental site and “to take the hassle out of renting out a house, a spare room, or even just a couch,” Airbnb is another great option if someone wants to rent out an extra room. It can even be a good source of revenue. In 2010, an article noted that a few people used the website to keep their homes from foreclosure. And this is still the case today. A 2013 article stated that “Airbnb offer(ed) something the old methods could not: reliability” and reliability is immensely important when renting out a room in your house.

Of course, there have been as many negative reviews as those that are positive. So, just as you would research the best hotel for the price, do the same for home sharing. Take your time, do your research, prepare.  

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