You’re off on a vacation. Only instead of booking a hotel and renting a car, there is a brand-new way to travel that’s gaining steam, Likes, and retweets: shared economy services.
Now you can wake up in somebody’s bedroom overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Airbnb. And rent a Zipcar for an afternoon picked up from one of many convenient locations. Or find a shared Wifi signal with Fon. You can even leave your dog behind on a DogVacay.
Welcome to the world of shared economy services. It’s revolutionizing the way we live – and the way we travel. And not only do many of these services boast a bottom-line advantage when compared to the traditional services they’re replacing, but they can sometimes provide a social benefit as well.
Perhaps the biggest and most popular shared economy service is Airbnb, which was figuratively born on a literal air mattress. You can rent a room, a house, a castle, a boat, even a tipi or a private island with the rental service.
Airbnb has been operating since 2009 and now has more than 3 million lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 190 countries. (We mentioned the private island, right? Good, just checking.)
Anyone can be an Airbnb host – which leads to quirky, off-the-beaten-path finds for the savvy traveler. By booking an Airbnb, you can live like a local, in someone’s apartment or home for a night…or longer. And now with the company’s new Experiences, you can even listen to live jazz or watch art unfold in front of you.
The best way to find a reliable Airbnb rental is to thoroughly check out the ratings on each listing. And bonus: going the Airbnb route can help save you money with many rentals costing much less than your typical hotel or motel.
But do your research first. If you need a private bathroom or kitchen access, make sure that’s included in the Airbnb. Many Airbnb rentals can truly be a communal experience, with access to group spaces, while other Airbnb listings can offer the privacy of an entire home.1
Forget about renting a car for the day or the week; with Zipcar, you can drive a rental car by the hour. (Granted, an hour goes a lot further in the outskirts of Omaha than the famous gridlock of L.A. or Northern Virginia).
Zipcar is a car-sharing service where members can unlock Zipcars in participating cities and countries around the world and use it for an hour, a day or a week. With Zipcar, you have to join the service, either on a monthly or annual basis. It costs $7 per month or $70 per year.
Members can find vehicles with Zipcar's mobile app, online, or by using their phone and access card to unlock the door and find the keys inside. Driving rates run $8-$10 per hour or more for the day. But gas and insurance are included in the price.
If you’re a frequent traveler, hopping from city to city, Zipcar may be the option for you. You’re not tied down to a car for an extended period of time and you don’t even have to worry about parking. You just “zip” in – and out of – the Zipcar when you need it.2
In cities where having a car is more of a hassle than not, bike-sharing is the way to go.
Many cities in Europe and the United States have hopped on the bike-sharing wagon. For example, New York’s Citi Bike program has 10,000 bikes in 300 stations. You can rent a Citi Bike for the day for $12 or get a three-day pass for $24.3 It’s a great way to get around the city and the program offers suggested routes from the Central Park loop to the High Line.
Other U.S. cities with great bike share programs include Washington D.C., Chicago, Austin, Boston and San Francisco.
If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to check out the bike share programs in Paris, Shanghai, London and Barcelona — and bike through the city streets like a local.
Finding a reliable WiFi signal is critical when traveling – and sometimes can be hard to find. (We don’t advocate hijacking the private WiFi of folks too trusting to password protect their connections.)
Enter Fon, a WiFi sharing service where users share their connectivity around the globe. To use Fon, you need to have a WiFi-capable device and purchase a pass for a Fon account. Like Zipcar, you can purchase Fon passes for as short as an hour or up to 30 days. Fon passes can be purchased through the Microsoft Store.
With 20 million hotspots around the world, Fon is available in the United States, but it’s more popular in Europe and Asia.4
Shared services aren’t just tied to travel – they can even extend to clothes.
If you’re headed to a gala dinner, a special event on your trip, or simply want to look like a million bucks, you can rent a high-end designer dress for the occasion with Rent the Runway.
With Rent the Runway, you get to wear designer clothes from top designers such as Diane von Furstenburg and Tory Burch at a fraction of the price. Rentals last for a four-to-eight-day period and cost 10 percent of the item’s retail price tag.
Wear the dress, wow the guests and return it to Rent the Runway!5
For many people, leaving your pets behind when traveling can be a challenge.
Kennels are pricey, loud and noisy – and it doesn’t make you feel so great to think of your four-legged friend in a cage while you’re traipsing around the world.
With DogVacay, you can leave your pooch with a host who will take care of Fido in their own home or your own. Most sitters charge a flat fee, such as $25 per night; you can browse a sitter’s profile and find the best fit for your dog. It’s cage free, personal and your four-legged friend will get more one-on-one attention than in a kennel.
With DogVaycay, you also get 24-hour-customer service, premium pet insurance, and even daily photo updates while you’re away.6
Travel is all about seeing the world in a new way and gaining exposure to new experiences.
And there’s no better time to see even more of the world – in a brand-new way and often at a better value – than by using the tools of the “sharing economy.” Find a plan to protect your pre-paid travel expenses.
Mike Ward is a copywriter, family columnist and sometimes comic who lives in Richmond, Va. with his wife, two young kids, and two mutts. He likes long road trips and rooting for losing sports teams.