Despite the implausibility of all of this working out just in time for New Year's, audiences loved the idea and the industry took off.
HomeExchange.com, for example, saw its membership jump from 20,000 back in 2008 to more than 40,000 last year as travelers faced increasing economic uncertainty.
The obvious downside to this approach is that you're letting a stranger into your home for days at a time with license to use a bunch of your stuff. The flipside is that you're doing the same with someone else. If you're OK with handing over the keys and laying out or parting with a few guest linens while you're gone and giving someone the key for a few days, the perks include access to homes in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and thousands of other properties in more than 100 countries. Plus, according to the folks at HomeExchange, 20% of home swaps include a car swap as well (Diaz's character in
The Holiday got to tool around in Winslet's
Mini Cooper, because that's clearly the only car English folks such as Winslet and Austin Powers are allowed to drive).
While some home-swap sites have a free option for people who aren't posting their own properties, sites such as
can charge $75 to $110 per year. HomeExchange charges $120 a year for listings, but also offers a three-month plan for about $48.
We really have no other description for it.
A vacation rental won't let you just crash on a futon for $10 a night. Hotels don't usually include acreage and mansions among their offerings. Private islands, treehouses, rooms, boats and igloos seldom get thrown under the same heading, but on Airbnb they're all accommodations.
The basic gist is that a property owner rents you some space while he or she isn't around. The site takes a fee from both parties involved, provides 24-hour customer service for guest and host and -- thanks to some jackass who thought it would be hilarious to completely trash and burglarize an Airbnb property last summer -- gives owners a $1 million insurance policy to cover potential damages.
It's a bit of a risk for the property owner, but for renters it's a low-cost dream that lets them stay in funky little corners of the world for less than the price of a hotel room. Whether you're a single person who prefers coming and going at your leisure without Aunt Martha asking where you're going and who you'll be with or a pair of parents who doesn't see the point in staying out in some relative's subdivision when a city full of Christmas stuff is just a few miles away, Airbnb offers a wide variety of safehouses for your holiday solace.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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