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The new online sharing platforms promising a cheaper holiday | Travel

Long before Airbnb became a household name, I was already using the “sharing economy” — booking directly with guesthouse owners and self-catering homes. I’d find them on forums, via word of mouth or on some of the pioneers of internet rentals such as CouchSurfing (couchsurfing.com) and VRBO (vrbo.com).

Then Airbnb (airbnb.com) took what was a niche activity among travelers and brought the sharing economy — also known as peer-to-peer marketplaces — into the mainstream. While some predicted Covid would kill off the trend as people opted for more sterile environments, the opposite has happened; the cost of living means peer-to-peer platforms are booming,

In the past six months the carpooling company BlaBlaCar (blablacar.co.uk) has seen an 80 per cent increase in European bookings, while the peer-to-peer motorhome site Goboony (goboony.co.uk) has taken twice as many bookings in the UK and Europe in the first quarter of 2022 as it did in all of 2019. The North American gear-sharing platform FriendWithA (friendwitha.com) watched bookings increase by 700 per cent since February 2020.

Try Click & Boat to find a rental

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why it works

The sharing economy is here to stay for the simple reason that it’s usually much cheaper, and often easier, than traditional counterparts.

Estelle Wilkinson, who runs the charity Lucky’s Legacy Rescue in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, is now a big fan of motorhomes after her recent experience with Goboony.

“We were able to converse with the owner of the motorhome, which felt very personal, but having Goboony as the middleman gave us assurance that if something were to go wrong, we would have someone to contact,” she says. “The process was so easy, it has changed our mindset around holidaying.”

Natalie Quail, who owns the oral cosmetic business SmileTime and lives in London, had an exceptionally happy experience on her yacht day-rental in Barcelona with Click & Boat (clickandboat.com).

Save money on hiring camper vans by dealing directly with the owners

Save money on hiring camper vans by dealing directly with the owners

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“I’ve dealt with boat-hire operators before, and you have to call, then they take a while to get back to you and send you photos,” she explains. “But with Click & Boat you can see pictures, availability and reviews much easier and faster. My husband, Nick, and I got engaged on the yacht we hired in Barcelona. We’d never used it before, but had an amazing time, and our skipper was great.”

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Tentshare (tentshare.co.uk) was launched in the UK by Rebecca Heaps in 2020, and she believes price isn’t the only reason more people are opting for peer-to-peer platforms.

“The Tentshare community is helping to reduce consumption and waste while also contributing to the local and circular economy,” Heaps says. “The sharing economy offers a solution by making use of resources we already own because ‘use-intensity’ lowers your individual carbon footprint and means unloved items can be put to use rather than going to landfill.” And that’s as true for cars and motorhomes as it is for tents and kayaks.

Some platforms offer insurance for guests

Some platforms offer insurance for guests

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Potential pitfalls

The savings you make using peer-to-peer platforms do come with risks, though, as I learned when I stayed in the bedroom of a beautiful rooftop guesthouse in Antwerp — which was listed with no mention that it was sitting atop a legal brothel. Or the just-about-affordable house in the Hamptons, New York, where we arrived to find the tap water smelt of raw sewage.

Complain to the platform you booked with, and while they sometimes offer a refund if you leave immediately, you’re faced with the prospect of packing up and finding accommodation in a place you don’t know at sky-high, 11th-hour prices .

I’m not the only one with a sharing-economy horror story either.

Nicola Wordsworth, who owns Pup Suds, an eco dog brand in Birchington, Kent, tried a peer-to-peer camper van platform last summer because it had vehicles near her that allowed her dog, Bertie, on board. “Our camper van had great pictures and excellent reviews. But in real life it was scruffy, dirty and the side mirrors, floor, table, chairs and even the chemical toilet ‘full tank’ alert were all broken.”

In addition to potentially discovering that you’re not getting what you thought you were paying for, there are other issues to consider — including safety.

How can you be sure the owner won’t use their key to barge into your boat or take your stuff while you’re out? Be aware, most travel insurance policies and government legislation provide greater protection when you make bookings using traditional options, such as travel agents.

Take the sewage water at my Hamptons home. My travel insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of me moving to different accommodation as I’d made a peer-to-peer booking. We were forced to shower with our mouths clamped shut to avoid swallowing any water, and to pay for bottled water to brush our teeth and make tea.

How to reduce the risks

Some platforms now offer insurance for guests, but check the details carefully as you might be better off trying to find your own. Before booking a standard policy, check it will cover your sharing-economy booking. Ask an insurer to email the terms and conditions before paying, rather than just taking the word of an agent on the phone.

If you’re concerned that reviews are all a little too glowing, which might indicate the platform is removing negative reviews, try a Google reverse image search. Open Google, click on Images, then upload a picture you’ve downloaded from a site’s listing into the search bar. It’ll show you where else that image appears online and that can help you discover more reviews of a prospective item or property.

It’s also worth talking to the owner as much as possible on the platform’s messaging system and being clear about your needs. A magnificent seventh-floor apartment doesn’t always come with a lift (as I discovered on my trip to Berlin) or might be on the busiest road in the city, so ask about anything you feel would hamper your experience.

7 of the best sharing-economy platforms

boats
With more than 40,000 motorboats, sailboats, yachts and houseboats listed all over the world, Click & Boat (clickandboat.com) makes it easy to find a rental, be it for a few hours or a few weeks. Owners tend to be individuals rather than big companies, and if you need a captain for your boat it’s often the owner. The cost of fuel is usually extra, so try to get an estimate before booking.

Campervans and motorhomes
If you fancy the freedom of driving across a country with your own hotel room in the back seat, then take a look at Goboony (goboony.co.uk). With more than 6,000 vehicles listed in the UK, and thousands more in Europe, it’s a great way to explore with room for the kids, cats, dogs and friends. Ask for up-to-date owner photos and be sure your license allows you to drive the size of vehicle you want in the country you’re hiring from.

cars
If you’ve tried hiring a car recently, you might have noticed that prices are generally significantly higher than a couple of years ago. You can slash those costs with Turo (turo.com), which lists cars direct-from-owners in North America and the UK. As with any car rental, though, take a thorough video of the car when you pick it up — inside and out — in case of any damage disputes.

Home swapping can provide a new perspective on a destination

Home swapping can provide a new perspective on a destination

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home-swapping
Home swapping, usually where both parties stay in each other’s properties at the same time, can help you get under the skin of a destination. Love Home Swap (lovehomeswap.com) has been going since 2011 and its annual fee, from £96, gives access to properties in more than 100 countries. Be aware there can be additional costs for cleaning and refuse collection.

Parking
Why pay airport or city-centre car-parking rates when you can glide into a private space in someone’s front drive or garage for a fraction of the price? That’s the premise of JustPark (justpark.com), which has been connecting parking space owners with those in need since 2006.

tents
Want to try camping, but not sure if it’s your thing? Or maybe you don’t have space to store all the gear? Tentshare (tentshare.co.uk) lists camping equipment for hire from individuals all over the UK, including tents that will be set up and awaiting your arrival.

bikes
While it started as a bike-sharing platform, Spinlister (spinlister.com) now also offers some surfing and snowsports rentals in the USA, London and Amsterdam. In the UK the best availability for two-wheeled rentals is around cities; options in rural areas are limited.

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