The hotels are full this summer. Vacation rentals are too expensive. So where do you stay?
That’s a question I quickly had to answer when I arrived in Athens for a month-long visit. My vacation rental fell through at the last minute. And the usual suspects, Airbnb and Vrbo, had a limited and expensive selection.
Then a friend suggested I check out Blueground, a network of furnished apartments in 25 cities. The monthly rate of about $1,300 was much less expensive than a comparable vacation rental. My unit had new furniture and appliances and was in a safe neighborhood.
National hotel occupancy rates and prices will soar to near pre-pandemic levels this year, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. And vacation demand is up 27% from last year, according to a forecast from AirDNA. That has left many travelers scrambling for alternative accommodation arrangements.
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“If you’re trying to visit a place that everyone wants to travel to, at a time when everyone wants to travel, you’re going to run into pricing and supply issues,” warns Andrew McConnell, CEO of the vacation rental revenue management company. Rented.com. “You have to be flexible and be creative.”
Alternative accommodation options range from long-term housing to monasteries. Many are less expensive than traditional hotels, though there are one or two restrictions you should be aware of before you go.
A network of corporate housing and flexible living spaces could be available to you as an Airbnb alternative. Yorgos Kleivokiotis, director of marketing for Blueground, says most of the company’s guests are moving to an area or on a temporary work assignment. “But we also have customers who are digital nomads or on vacation,” he says.
Another extended living concept, Mint House combines the comforts you’ll find at home with the perks of a hotel. Units have full kitchens and come pre-stocked with groceries for a longer stay. Think of it like Airbnb meets a hotel, but with more technology.
“We offer short-term and long-term stays and can accommodate any travel purpose, from family summer getaways and corporate retreats to solo digital nomads,” says Will Lucas, CEO of Mint House.
There’s also Sentral, billed as a flexible and connected community, offering homes in walkable neighborhoods in Atlanta, Austin, Miami, Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, among other locations.
Sentral CEO Jon Slavet says this summer is shaping up to be one of the busiest travel seasons on record, it’s a great time to visit a city you might not have previously considered, like Nashville or Denver. “Explore and be creative with your hosting,” he says.
These non-traditional lodging options are often cheaper than a traditional vacation rental and almost always less expensive than a hotel. But there are restrictions. Some extended or flexible living companies have minimum stay requirements.
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Swapping your home with someone else, or home swapping, has also become more popular during the pandemic. Various platforms allow you to do that. The platforms charge a membership fee, but keep in mind that their members save “thousands” of dollars on hosting. They include HolidaySwap, HomeExchange and Love Home Swap.
“Home exchange allows travelers to experience their destination like a local, make connections with other members along the way, and use the money saved on accommodations for travel experiences,” says HomeExchange spokesperson Jessica Poillucci.
Americans rediscovered camping during the pandemic. But today, campsites offer more than just a place to pitch your tent or hook up your RV. They are becoming “glamping camps” with exclusive services to compete with hotels and vacation rentals.
“We’re seeing a lot of glampgrounds offering unusual accommodation,” says Sarah Smith, founder of camping app The Dyrt. For example, Boone Cocoon in North Carolina has a canvas treehouse above the woods with access from two suspended pedestrian bridges. Other unusual lodging options include Yonder Escalante in Utah, where visitors can stay in renovated vintage Airstreams.
Glamping options are popping up everywhere. If you’re visiting Colorado and can’t find a place to stay, you can check out Royal Gorge Glamping Tents. The site, located about an hour west of Colorado Springs, features tents with luxury bedding and amenities, private patios, rings of fire, and stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. (Yikes, they’re also luxury-priced. Tents start at $219 a night.)
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What happens when someone goes on vacation? They are looking for a babysitter (and often have to pay them a lot of money). But what if you could stay in the house? That is the idea behind houseitting.
Jessy Hamel, a travel planner, has been recommending sites like Trusted Housesitters and Luxury Housesitting to her clients lately.
“Your accommodation during the trip is free, but it usually comes with some job like taking care of pets or tending someone’s garden,” he says.
With hotels and vacation rentals full again, it’s good to know there are still plenty of places to stay. If you think outside the traditional lodging box, you’ll find other lodgings, and maybe have an affair too.
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Try These Unusual Hotel Alternatives
a monastery Convents and monasteries can be profitable alternative accommodations. Many of these institutions charge much less than a hotel and often include meals. Alec Pow stayed at a monastery in Putna, Romania, recently. The monks refused the money from him and fed him. “But you really have to stay quiet and avoid listening to music or making loud sounds, especially at night,” says Pow, who edits a website for consumers. Visit Monasteries.com to learn more about staying in one.
A bed and breakfast. No, it is not an Airbnb, a real BnB. You may not find a small inn on your favorite travel site because they only accept reservations by phone or through their website. Travelers often overlook these small houses. But they may be worth checking out during a busy time. “You might be able to find something within walking distance,” says Tiffany Bertram, owner of Tiffany’s Bed and Breakfast in Bismarck, Arkansas. “And that area may not be as crowded.” (Note: a bed and breakfast can be a bit more expensive than a hotel, but true to its name, breakfast is included.) Go to Bnbfinder.com to find a bed and breakfast near your destination.
A covered wagon. In Downey, Idaho, you can stay in one of six covered wagons that will make you feel like a settler walking the Oregon Trail. The Conestoga wagons have real canvas domes and wagon wheels (including the table base), a king-size bed and a bunk bed (although mattresses are extra), air conditioning, and charging outlets.