All we needed was a 10-person mansion in Napa Valley for a weekend. On short notice. Preferably with a hot tub.
We were traveling for a wedding, so our dates were not flexible. Hotels and Airbnbs had been booked for weeks, if not months, because of a wine tasting event that weekend.
Luckily, I’d encountered this problem before, six months earlier. I already knew about an Airbnb alternative that doesn’t get as much publicity but would save me in a tight spot.
The Problem with Airbnb
If you haven’t signed up yet, get $25 off your first Airbnb stay when you join using this link.
However, being this awesome has brought Airbnb a lot of press and, consequently, renters. Therein lies the problem. Airbnb is now the #1 or #1A option for many travelers.
While they have plenty of supply for most occasions, demand surges for holiday weekends and special events. If you don’t book way in advance, you might be left scrambling to find a reasonably-priced place to stay.
If Airbnb is booked up, hotels probably are too. Or they’ve increased their prices enough to be unaffordable.
I’ve run into this problem twice: once for the aforementioned wedding in Napa and once for the Coachella music festival.
Both events had fixed dates and a lot of competition for a limited number of homes in small cities.
What’s a budget-minded traveler to do? Stay home?
VRBO to the Rescue
When accommodations are scarce, VRBO is my new first choice. It’s not as pretty or as well known, but it works.
As popular as Airbnb may seem to tech-loving travelers, it’s not the only game in town. Especially from the owner’s perspective.
VRBO, or Vacation Rentals by Owner, has been in business for over 15 years and is now owned by HomeAway, one of the biggest names in online vacation rentals.
For us renters, VRBO and HomeAway are fairly similar, both to each other and to Airbnb. The biggest difference is that HomeAway and VRBO focus on vacation or second-home rentals. The property owners typically use the homes themselves for less than half of the year.
On Airbnb, you’ll find a greater variety of properties (like a room or an apartment). Sometimes the owner will still be living there while you’re in the guest room. Because of this flexibility, you’ll find cheaper accommodations on Airbnb, especially for 1-2 people.
VRBO and other vacation home rental sites are ideal for larger groups of 4 or more. The bigger your group, the cooler properties you can afford.
Our group of 10 stayed in a “compound” with a pool, hot tub, and freaking bocce court in Napa. For Coachella, we booked a 3-bedroom house right in Indio. Yes, it also had a pool. Is this a recurring theme?
Other Airbnb Competitors
The accommodations market is huge. With new models like Airbnb and HotelTonight, you’ll find plenty of legit competitors and “me too” copycats.
Aside from VRBO and Airbnb, you have plenty of other options when availability is scarce.
Couchsurfing will certainly beat everyone else on price: it’s free. The downside, of course, is that you only get a couch.
If you’re looking for a room, flat, or apartment, check out Tripping.com. Tripping aggregates inventory from smaller sites like Wimdu, 9Flats, House Trip, Flipkey, and Roomorama.
More Alternatives: Everywhere You Want to Be
Whether you’re headed to Borneo for Christmas and want to rent a stilt house in a small village, or a luxury flat in a high rise condo (we’ve done both!), or you’re looking for a place in Montreal to host a company retreat, there are options, worldwide.
These are sites that have options the world over. Start digging, you’ll be amazed.
230,000+ properties. Offers insurance up to 500,000€ for homeowner and renter. All hosts have been carefully evaluated and selected by their team.
Has 805,000+ hotels, apartments and villas available to rent. Free cancellation on most reservations. 24/7 customer service in English and 41 other languages. Owned by Priceline.
Offers 30,000+ rentals in 1,100+ cities around the world. Property owners have to be verified by website’s staff. Has 5,000+ special daily booking deals. Not every listing can be booked directly on site: you may have to call or email property owner. Owned by Tripadvisor.
Largest Airbnb competitor with 1+ million worldwide listings. No booking fees and offers own travel insurance. Listed as one of Forbes “Most Trustworthy Companies.”
Family-focused rentals with the goal of simplifying family travel. Translation: rentals have play rooms, backyards, highchairs, toys available, plus sitter recommendations. Property descriptions show closest playgrounds and family attractions. 500+ worldwide properties.
Listings hand-picked by site’s staff. Offers you advice direct from locals in popular tourist areas on best local attractions, restaurants, shops, bars/nightlife and landmarks. With your rental, you get an iPhone with free data, local calls and recommendations. Customer service available 24/7. Wifi is standard.
No online booking fees or hidden costs. Has 1+ million listings across the HomeAway family of sites.
Site is a little older in design than Airbnb, but still has same search functions with a larger listing database. No booking fees. Better suited for families, as their listings are entire houses or condos – no private rooms. Part of the HomeAway family.
Wyndham Vacation Rentals professionally manages over 108,000 properties worldwide, giving travelers a wide range of destinations, prices, and accommodation types to choose from.
Asia & Pacific
750,000+ properties of hotels, villas and more. Huge database of properties in Asia, but properties across the world. Owned by Priceline.
New Zealand’s favorite holiday home rental website with New Zealand-only rentals. Part of the HomeAway family.
Rentals in Asia and the Pacific. Very similar to Airbnb, including varying cancellation policies. Part of the HomeAway family.
The UK alternative to Airbnb with 430,000+ holiday homes in 164 countries worldwide. 100,000+ guest reviews and payment protection. Owned by Tripadvisor.
Over 70,000 properties. Great rental properties available, especially in Europe. No booking fees. Guarantee that covers up to 10,000€ when booking online. Part of the HomeAway family.
Europe’s biggest portal for holiday apartment rentals. It works a lot like Airbnb. 350,000+ accommodations in 100 countries. Three part quality check includes visiting properties on site. Free insurance for both guest and property owner against damages for up to 500,000€.
Apartments and luxury villas for rent exclusively in the Italian towns of Siena, Sicily, Tuscany, Florence, Sirmione, Rome, Milan, Verona, Trieste, and Venice.
Tag line: “Africa’s coolest places to sleep.” Mainly properties in Africa, but with smattering of properties in Indian Ocean Islands, Middle East, Europe, Gulf Arab States, South Pacific, Central America, Australia, Asia, and Caribbean.
1,600 properties in US mostly Western with a few Eastern and Southern states. Recently expanded to properties in Chile, Panama, and Belize. General rules for all properties: no smoking or pets.
Note: also has rentals in Hawaii.
Like Airbnb only for RVs. Has 2,300 RVs listed on site with 75 new ones being added each day. Options range from $65/ night to $650/day glamping machines.
Rent someone’s rarely-used RV for your road trip. Guarantee of $10,000. 24/7 roadside assistance for entire road trip. In USA only.
Hipcamp is the best way to discover and book your next camping trip. Search over 280,000 campsites across the US. From public parks to private land, we’re the most comprehensive guide to camping across the country.
World’s leading luxury home rentals. 5 year membership plan costs $120,000 plus annual dues. Or you can opt for a 21-day travel card for $32,550. Nights redeemable over 3 year period.
Worldwide elite properties to rent (like Richard Branson’s Necker Island property). Villas-only with 2,800 villas in 90 destinations. Each property is personally inspected and rated in categories (exteriors, bed and bath, etc). Costs: $1,000-124,000/night. Concierge service for all properties and 24/7 guest support with price-match guarantee.
Luxury home rentals of 4500 properties in 40+ countries. Properties range from villas to estates. All rentals come with amenities such as cinemas, wine cellars, gourmet kitchens.
1,000 listings in primarily urban properties in South America cities, such as Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Miami. Average nightly rate starts at $149/ night for studio, but can go above $1,000/ night. Unique amenities include: stocked fridges, gym memberships, and access to network of private members’ clubs.
Vacatia focuses on resort residences and – the space of a home and services of a hotel. At the intersection of Vacation Rentals and Hotels because similar to a vacation rental, you get the space (multiple bedrooms) and comforts of home (washer/dryer, full kitchen) but like a hotel they all offer professionally managed services (front desk, house keeping, pools etc.). Perfect for families and large groups, as well as multi-generational family trips where everyone still wants to be together, but have their own space too.
Your Secret Search Weapon
This website searches about 5 million rentals across 18 apartment rental sites, including HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, Housetrip, Interhome, Roomorama, and Booking.com in 100,000 destinations. Think of it like Kayak.com for short term rentals.
If Airbnb is booked and the hotels are all full, there are still plenty of options for finding comfortable, unique, or downright luxurious lodging, all around the world.