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By Andra Picincu/Sept. 2, 2021 9:50 am EDT

A growing number of travelers are looking for cheaper alternatives to Airbnb — and it makes sense. Insider reports that Airbnb prices are going up year after year. The average daily rate was 35% higher in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020. Most guests paid around $160 per night, which is similar to what you would pay for a hotel room.

Airbnb has also received a lot of criticism for its impact on housing prices. The rising popularity of short-term rentals not only reduces the housing supply, but also drives up rent costs, as noted by Forbes. Landlords in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Lisbon, and other major cities are now renting to tourists, forcing the locals to leave their homes. “If you can earn €3,000 a week by renting to tourists instead of €800 a month to a resident, clearly there is a temptation to do so,” Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor for Ecology, Urbanism, and Mobility, explained to The Guardian.

But Airbnb isn’t your only option. From couch surfing and pet sitting to volunteering opportunities, there are plenty of ways to travel on a budget — and have fun.

Stay with a local for free

Have you ever heard of couchsurfing? This practice has been around for over 20 years, bringing together people from all over the world. Couchsurfing.com, an online platform that connects travelers with locals, has more than 14 million members in 200,000 cities. After registration, you can list your home or look up hosts in the city where you plan to travel. Members can also use the platform to find local events, meetups, and fun activities.

If, say, you’re planning a trip to Rome, you can register on Couchsurfing.com to find free accommodation. Just make sure you feel comfortable sharing your space with the host. Note that some hosts use the app to flirt or hook up with their guests, as reported by Business Insider. If you’re not into dating or one-night stands, consider staying with a local family. Filter the results by age, gender, or type of sleeping arrangement and try to find some common ground with the host. Most importantly, check the host’s profile and guest reviews.

Another option is BeWelcome, a couchsurfing app with nearly 167,000 users in 221 countries. The platform appeals mostly to backpackers. Hospitalityclub, Servas International, and Warm Showers work similarly. Warm Showers, for example, connects local hosts with people who travel the world by bike. As of today, it has more than 185,000 members across the globe.

Try pet sitting for your next trip

If you know a thing or two about pets, you could use your skills to get free accommodation while traveling. Rover, Wag!, Pet Cloud, and other apps connect travelers with hosts who need someone to look after their pets. Likewise, you can use Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, or House Carers to offer your services as a pet or house sitter. Any of these options would allow you to live rent-free for weeks or months at a time.

Generally, house sitters are responsible for checking the mail, watering the plants, and keeping the place clean. Pet sitters have pretty much the same responsibilities, but they must also care for the host’s pets. Trusted Housesitters, for example, features thousands of listings from around the world. Each user has a dedicated profile page with photos, guest reviews, and relevant information. Depending on your needs, you can register as a homeowner, house sitter, or both.

There’s a catch, though. As a new member, you may have a hard time finding accommodation. Most pet owners prefer experienced sitters, and they’ll check the reviews and ratings on your profile page. If they don’t see any, they may decline your request. The New York Times recommends posting photos of yourself with animals to build trust. You may also include testimonials from friends or neighbors you’ve sat for. Another option is to join local Facebook groups, such as Dog Swap Vienna or London House and Pet Sitting, and reach out to hosts.

Get free accommodation in exchange for work

Workaway might be one of the best options for those seeking cheaper alternatives to Airbnb. The organization promotes cultural exchange, connecting travelers and locals. Currently, it features over 50,000 volunteer and work opportunities in 170 countries. Depending on your preferences, you could get free accommodation in Italy, France, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iceland, and other fabulous destinations in exchange for work. Some hosts need help with gardening or farm work, while others want to learn a new language or improve their skills in specific areas.

Another popular choice is Worldpackers. The platform features hundreds of schools, hostels, ecovillages, and farms in need of volunteers. Guests receive free accommodation and meals in exchange for their skills. If, say, you’re a software developer, you can share your knowledge with other people to help them pick new skills. This option works best for those who are planning to travel for a longer time.

Other cheaper alternatives to Airbnb include WiFly Nomads, Be Unsettled, Project Getaway, and WiFi Tribe. These online platforms appeal to digital nomads, offering discounted accommodation for working travelers. Be Unsettled, for example, features trips to Bali, Tuscany, Cape Town, and other destinations. Travelers can spend one month in Buenos Aires for $2,750, two weeks in Tuscany for $2,800, or one week in Beirut for $1,750 or less. The price includes daily experiences, road trips, peer-to-peer workshops, cooking lessons, and other activities, depending on the destination. So, with all these options available, it’s now time to find the one that best suits you.

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