Bloomberg — As global temperatures hit all-time highs, you might be dreaming of escaping the city heat by booking a well-deserved vacation. You wouldn’t be alone if you couldn’t afford it, though. In the US, 60% of travelers say inflation will affect their decision to travel in the next six months, and 57% say the same of airfare prices, according to a March 1 survey from the market research consultancy Longwoods International.
Flights, hotels and car rentals have become increasingly expensive for Americans. Even without inflation, last-minute summer getaways can be prohibitively costly. Limited inventory and high demand send prices soaring. And spontaneous plans come together too quickly for travelers to implement many money-saving tips or gradually scrape together a travel budget.
There are indications that airfares, at least, are starting to taper. But when it comes to accommodations, a bare-bones budget doesn’t have to mean staying at a hostel. (Or even a fancy hostel.) Instead, consider these four ways to travel cheaply this summer.
If you’re willing to open up your own home when you go away, you can eliminate almost the entire cost of accommodations via home swapping—where you literally trade houses or apartments with someone in another part of the world for a set amount of time. Companies such as Home Exchange and Kindred make this as easy to arrange as a vacation on Airbnb—the latter lets you browse through a list of available swaps with people who are interested in visiting your home destination, though you can also save a trip on your wish list and get notified when a match appears. (The site operates primarily in Europe and North America.)
Miami-based Devon Zuegel says home swapping changed her life. She joined Kindred in 2021; she and her husband have home-swapped for a total of 77 nights since then. The maximum fee per night is $25 for a simple house swap on the site, making a weeklong stay in a Manhattan two-bedroom cost roughly $475 for the average user. (That includes a cleaning fee all travelers pay on each booking—typically $150, before and after each stay.) But the Zuegels pay for Kindred’s Passport service, a $600, yearlong all-you-can-swap subscription.
“For us the subscription is a no-brainer because we get so much use out of it,” Zuegel writes to Bloomberg via email. “It really pays for itself.” In a rough calculation, she says the trips she’s taken via the home-swapping platform would have cost her around $40,000 if booked on more conventional channels. Had it not been for Kindred, she adds, she likely wouldn’t have taken many of these trips at all.
By contrast, Home Exchange has a one-size-fits-all annual membership of $220—and doesn’t include a mandatory cleaning fee. Content creator Alyssa Lauren says that even if she takes on that expense herself, she spends less than $200 per two-week trip—rather than the $3,000 to $5,000 she’d otherwise have to budget.
A caveat: The platforms may only accept applicants based on the desirability of their home locations. Kindred, for instance, accepts only 15% of its applicants, primarily screening for residents in its active service areas. It also onboards members with training modules that include a thorough Code of Conduct, with co-founder Justine Palefsky saying that the company “gathers feedback on all trips and has a strict one-strike policy for any major violations.”
Not everyone is a cat, dog or bird person. But for those who are, pet sitting can be another avenue for affordable accommodations. The popular website TrustedHousesitters, for instance, provides free housing to members who are willing to offer daily walks and feeds (plus a few belly rubs, natch). Annual plans start at $129 and include identity verification. It operates somewhat like a traditional babysitting portal, with sitters writing up profiles with their interests and qualifications and applying to open jobs.
Courtney Brady has visited six European countries thanks to pet sitting. “It has been the perfect way to travel,” the 36-year-old tells Bloomberg via email, estimating that on one long trip, she shaved some $5,000 to $6,000 off her travel budget this way.
Pet parents (who pay similar annual fees for access to the sitter database) receive applications for their listings and choose whoever they think best fits the bill. They can also review sitters afterward, creating a system that encourages shared trust.
Summer Van Life
Van life has had numerous spikes in popularity since its origins in the 1960s, both pre- and post-pandemic. Lately it’s become an emblem of digital nomad workers, with some 3 million Americans living out of their vans in 2022, according to Statista. While it may seem like a big full-time commitment, summer van-lifers who can rent mobile homes for a shorter period of time can leverage the opportunity to experience some truly magical places. The trend has taken root in other parts of the world, too.
“I think the main reason I bought my first van was because I wanted to see the world from another point of view,” Alex Ovies, a 22-year-old from Madrid, writes to Bloomberg via WhatsApp from his travels.
Ovies bought his van in 2021 for €3,700 ($4,153), then spent €600 retrofitting it into a mobile home. He’d been saving for more than two years and has since taken his van to places such as France, Scotland and Spain.
This year, Ovies left his van in Edinburgh (it had a broken diesel filter) and rented one from a private company. Overall, he says, he and his girlfriend spent €500 each for an eight-day trip to Ibiza: €350 for the van, €50 for the flight from Madrid and €100 for food and gas. “If I had traveled going to hotels and living the Ibiza life, I would have spent more than €2,000,” he estimates.
As for the cost of the abandoned van, Ovies says he made back his investment before having to ditch it. Now he uses Yescapa to find holiday motorhomes—it lets users pick dates and locations for pickup and drop-off and then connects them with vehicle owners looking to rent. “The person I rented the van [from in Ibiza] bought it two years ago,” he adds. “He has already paid for 100% of it.”
By definition, Workaway will add some work to your vacation: Its job listings work on a barter system, in which the pay is free room and board. Generally, travelers are expected to work five hours a day doing tasks that can be as varied as taking care of horses or online marketing. Conditions and agreements such as payment, sleeping arrangements and duration vary, but a rigorous identity verification process is included for safety. (There’s also an emergency help service, as an extra precaution.)
Joining Workaway is fairly easy: You create a profile, get verified (typically within 24 hours) and pay a $49 sign-up fee. That opens up access to 50,000 projects in 159 countries—of which some may be a better fit for your skills and desires than others. Duration can vary, with some projects spanning a week and others lasting as long as a year.
Issei Nakano, 24, used Workaway as a college student in 2018 to immerse himself in Mexican culture. After paying $400 for his flight from Boston, he spent two and a half weeks working as a receptionist in a hostel in San Luis Potosi. The experience allowed him to travel around the area and improve his Spanish. If he had stayed as a guest at the property where he was working, the accommodations alone would have cost $250 to $350. “It was definitely one of the most unique and fulfilling travels that I’ve ever had,” Nakano says.
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