Housesharing: A Hotel Alternative for Frugal Travelers

Housesharing sites connect travelers with everything from rooms for rent to couches to crash on.

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3. Consider the extra costs. Couchsurfing is free, because the focus is on cultural exchange rather than the exchange of currency, but other sites charge on a nightly or weekly basis. Depending on the site or property you choose, you could be on the hook for other fees as well.

For instance, Airbnb charges guests a 6 to 12 percent service fee on each reservation, while other sites charge the host to list their properties. On top of listing or booking fees, individual hosts can charge their own fees, such as a cleaning fee, a pet fee, or an amenity fee (for use of a golf course, tennis courts, or other amenities). Some charge a security deposit as well, which is refunded after your stay if the property is left in good condition. These extra costs should be mentioned on the listing, so make sure to factor them into your budget.

[See 5 Rules for Short-Term Rentals.]

4. Plan ahead. You may score a last-minute deal, but the popular, well-reviewed hosts often book up quickly. That's why Harter booked her Berlin stay (with a SuperHost) a few months in advance. She traveled in May and estimates that she booked in February or March. It can take time for hosts to respond and since they have the power to accept or deny reservations, you're not guaranteed to get your first-choice property even if it's available.

That hasn't stopped Cole and Harter from reaping the benefits of housesharing sites. According to Harter, "in my experience with couchsurfing, I have a network of friends all over the world now. When people come to New York, they always stay with me. When I was in Scandinavia, I stayed with friends of friends." She adds, "it's not necessarily a connection you'll make staying in a hostel or hotel, because you're immersed in their lives."