Sharing Economy Tips from Nomadic Matt and Other Travelers

Sharing a meal with an Eatwith.com hostess in Paris: Fine dining in a private apartment.
Sharing a meal with an Eatwith.com hostess in Paris: Fine dining in a private apartment.

So Many Ways to Share the Wealth While Traveling

Nomadic Matt's new book is called Travel the World on $50 a day.
Nomadic Matt’s new book is called Travel the World on $50 a day.

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

If you want to get some pearls of wisdom regarding a hot travel topic, look no further than the still-young man who leads the list of top travel blog publishers–Matt Kepnes. Matt has a published his travel blog, Nomadic Matt, since the early aughts, and he provides some good reasons why using the sharing economy can be the key to affordable travel.  Matt has just published a new book about a decade in the skies, Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home

We are working with Allianz Travel Insurance on this series about the best ways to share and travel in 2019.

 I’ve seen Matt speak many times and he consistently mentions how using the burgeoning sharing economy can pave the way for even poor people’s travel dreams. 

Here are a few of Matt’s favorite ways to share.

Airbnb House Sharing

Of course, this leads the list, having become in a space of 13 years, the juggernaut of home sharing and promoting a cottage industry of small hotels that resemble private apartments but actually are just hotels marketed in the website. I stayed in a Paris ‘Airbnb’ that had a doorman, a reception area, and was clearly not someone’s apartment at all.

Paris is full of what seem to be Airbnb's but are really just low cost hotels.
Paris is full of what seem to be Airbnb’s but are really just low-cost hotels.

Still, at a rate of just $114 a night, in a trendy neighborhood of Paris in the 10th arrondissement, it was a great find.  My hostess “Alex” even called it a hotel, not pretending that it was actually her apartment.

What are the secrets of Airbnb, and finding just the right place for you?  One thing I would advise, based on my own horrible experience a few years ago in London, is to really scour each listing and try to read between the lines of the reviews.

More than One = Issue

If something keeps coming up as an issue, in more than one review, you might have a problem. In my case, I only read the top reviews that declared this crappy apartment was “close to the XL Center,” and that it was convenient.

If I had drilled down more extensively, I might have found the other lodgers who also found the bed lumpy, the pillows totally insufficient, and the bogus closets full of other people’s clothes a hassle too.

Remember, you get what you pay for on Airbnb, so be wary of those super cheap deals. I succumbed to a great deal that cost less than $65 a night in South London, but it made me question why I ever booked it.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Couchsurfing

Matt is a big fan of this freestyling sort of arrangement, where you actually stay on a couch or in a guest bedroom with people. This takes a certain amount of confidence, and it’s not for everyone.

“I’ve used this service about 10 times and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free. There are also local Couchsurfing group meet-ups that can help you make friends in your new city,” says Matt on his website.

I think, however, that there is an age limit to Couchsurfing. I honestly can’t imagine, at age 60, trying to get comfortable on anyone’s couch, even if it is a nice couch. I can’t sleep in a living room, I need a CPAP for sleep apnea, and there are a whole host of reasons why I’d never do this.

But if you’re the type who can sleep anywhere, don’t really care about how many pillows you have, and you live to see the world, look into this arrangement. It just might be for you.

Here are some Couchsurfing tips, from some of the ambassadors for the site.

  • Review profiles and references carefully; these are the main “feelers” potential surfers can use to identify if they’re going to enjoy a homestay or not. Like learning from others mistakes, so you don’t have to make the same one they did.
  • Trust your instincts; if you’re more comfortable with a solo host, go for it. But if you’d prefer to stay with a family, that’s ok too. Don’t worry about hurt feelings, you shouldn’t have to compromise your comfort.
  • Have a back-up plan; if it does turn out you and your host don’t see eye to eye, know of other hosts and/or other types of lodging in the area. And it never hurts to know your host’s general neighborhood.
  • New cultures; be informed on the culture you’ll be heading into. Learning about others’ lives and experiences can be eye-opening and life-changing, but every culture has its’ differences and deserves your respect.
  • Communicate; with your hosts and with the online community. Always connect through the websites IM page, never give out your email or phone number. And make sure you leave honest comments on your stay for the next surfer.

Servas…The Granddaddy of Hospitality

Another great resource that’s been around BEFORE all of the others is Servas, an international program that brings people together in a similar gesture of goodwill and free hospitality.   The organization’s charter, going back to the 1949 states their lofty ambitions:

The purpose of the network is to help build world peace, goodwill, and understanding by providing opportunities for personal contacts among people of different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities.”

So while you’ll get the experience of sharing some time in a family’s home, it’s more just a couch to sleep on. It’s international cooperation and understanding.  Shel Horowitz of North Hadley, Mass, wrote about his longterm experience with many different Servas families he has both hosted and stayed with around the world.

Horowitz explains that while Couchsurfing is about the room, and the stay, and it’s fine to show up at 10 pm for such an experience, Servas is different.

Shel Horowitz, a member of Servas.
Shel Horowitz, a member of Servas.

“Servas is also more formal, with an approval interview, annual fee, and a two-night stay as the preferred format. Members can be hosts, travelers, or both. More than 100 countries have Servas hosts, from Algeria to Zimbabwe.  As travelers, we’ve also experienced many hosts who share little-known attractions in their area that might not be in the guidebooks.

As hosts, we do that for travelers, too, and we also sometimes introduce them to local experts who have resources in their area (for instance, organic farming or alternative education).

So, after you join the organization, go through the approval interviews, and get accepted, you can expect much more out of the experience.  Horowitz said that he and his wife have made lifelong friends as a result of Servas stays, and they’ve enjoyed hosting many other members for the past 2o years.

Millennials Are Skeptical About the Sharing Economy

Despite the popularity of the services listed above, a recent survey by Allianz Global Assistance has found that for many Millenials, it’s become harder to believe that these providers are trustworthy.  In the 2019 Vacation Confidence Index, a yearly survey about trends for vacations and other topics, the trends showed declines in trust.

“Gen Xers are driving the largest downward trend in usage, with 41 percent saying they will use sharing economy services this summer (down from 60 percent two years ago). Although fewer Millennials—63 percent—say they will use sharing economy services this summer (down from 77 percent two years ago), they still make up the largest generation of users. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are on the upward trend, with 24 percent saying they will use these services, climbing from 19 percent two years ago.”

Hotels are Getting on Board

A release about the survey indicates that hotels aren’t waiting to move against the threat of sharing services that affect their bottom dollar. “More established travel and hospitality companies are entering the sharing economy market, promising higher quality, more consistent experiences—often by providing new or differentiated products.”

The travel news site Skift reports that Marriott is going full bore into the home sharing business.

“What started in 2018 as a small pilot with just a little over 200 homes in London in partnership with UK-based property management company Hostmaker has now evolved into a global business operating in more than 100 different markets, from the U.S. and Europe to the Caribbean and Latin America. Of these markets, 40 are markets in which Marriott has never had a presence, including the Amalfi Coast in Italy, North Lake Tahoe in California, Saint-Tropez, France, and St. Barts among them.”

Other major hotel brand names like Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham are also considering investments in similar home sharing businesses. These kinds of partnerships have the potential to convert customers seeking the authenticity and privacy of a home rental with assurances of the quality of experience, backed by a trusted brand name.”

This post is sponsored by GoNOMAD.com Travel partner Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and we have received financial compensation. We also use them as our travel insurance provider. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.

 

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