Hotels are full this summer. Vacation rentals are too expensive. So where do you stay?
That's a question I had to answer quickly when I arrived in Athens for a one-month visit. My vacation rental fell through at the last minute. And the usual suspects – Airbnb and Vrbo – had a limited and pricey selection.
Then a friend suggested that I check Blueground, a network of furnished apartments in 25 cities. The monthly rate of around $1,300 was far less expensive than a comparable vacation rental. My unit had new furniture and appliances and was in a safe neighborhood.
Domestic hotel occupancy rates and prices will soar to near pre-pandemic levels this year, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. And demand for vacation jumped 27% from last year, according to a forecast by AirDNA. That's left a lot of travelers scrambling for alternate lodging arrangements.
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"If you're trying to visit a place everyone wants to travel to, during a time when everyone wants to travel, you're going to run into pricing and supply issues," warns Andrew McConnell, CEO of the vacation rental revenue management company Rented.com. "You have to be flexible – and get creative."
The alternative lodging options run from extended-stay housing to monasteries. Many are less expensive than traditional hotels, although there are one or two restrictions you need to know before you go.
A network of corporate housing and flexible living spaces might be available to you as an Airbnb alternative. Yorgos Kleivokiotis, chief marketing officer for Blueground, says most of the company's guests are relocating to an area or on a temporary work assignment. "But we also have customers who are digital nomads or are on an extended vacation," he says.
Another extended living concept, Mint House, combines the amenities you'll find in your home with the perks of a hotel. The units have full kitchens and come pre-stocked with groceries for a longer stay. Think of it as Airbnb meets a hotel – but with more technology.
"We offer short- and long-term stays and can accommodate any travel purpose – from summer family getaways and corporate retreats to digital nomads traveling solo," says Will Lucas, CEO of Mint House.
There's also Sentral, billed as a flexible and connected community, which offers homes in walkable neighborhoods in Atlanta, Austin, Miami, Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, among other places.
Sentral CEO Jon Slavet says with this summer shaping up to be one of the busiest travel seasons on record, it's a great time to visit a city you may not have previously considered like Nashville or Denver. "Explore – and get creative with your lodging," he says.
These nontraditional lodging options are often cheaper than a traditional vacation rental and almost always less expensive than a hotel. But there are restrictions. Some extended or flexible-living companies have minimum stay requirements.
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Exchanging your home with another person – or home swapping– has also become more popular during the pandemic. Several platforms allow you to do that. The platforms charge a membership fee but note that their members save "thousands" of dollars on lodging. They include HolidaySwap, HomeExchange, and Love Home Swap.
"Home swapping allows travelers to experience their destination like locals, make connections with other members along the way, and use the money saved on lodging for travel experiences," says HomeExchange spokeswoman Jessica Poillucci.
Americans rediscovered camping during the pandemic. But today, campsites offer more than just a place to pitch your tent or hook up your RV. They're becoming "glampgrounds" with upscale amenities to compete with hotels and vacation rentals.
"We're seeing a lot of glampgrounds offer unusual lodging," says Sarah Smith, founder of the camping app The Dyrt. For example, Boone Cocoon in North Carolina has a canvas pod treehouse above the forest with access from two suspended walking bridges. Other unusual lodging options include Yonder Escalante in Utah, where visitors can stay in refurbished vintage Airstreams.
Glamping options are popping up everywhere. If you're visiting Colorado and can't find a place to stay, you can check out Royal Gorge Glamping Tents. The site, located about an hour west of Colorado Springs, features tents with linens and luxury amenities, private patios, fire rings and stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. (Alas, they also have a luxury price tag. Tents start at $219 per night.)
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What happens when someone goes on vacation? They look for a housesitter (and often have to pay them lots of money). But what if you could stay in the house instead? That's the idea behind housesitting.
"Their lodging during their trip is free, but it usually comes with some work like pet sitting or taking care of someone's garden," she says.
With hotels and vacation rentals filled to capacity again, it's good to know there are still plenty of places to stay. If you think outside the traditional lodging box, you'll find other accommodations – and maybe have an adventure, too.
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Try these unusual hotel alternatives
A monastery. Convents and monasteries can be cost-effective alternative accommodations. Many of these institutions charge significantly less than a hotel and often include meals. Alec Pow stayed in a monastery in Putna, Romania, recently. The monks refused his money and fed him. "But you really have to keep quiet and avoid listening to music or making any loud sounds, especially throughout the night," says Pow, who edits a consumer website. Check Monasteries.com for more information on staying in one.
A bed and breakfast. No, not an Airbnb – a real BnB. You may not find a small inn on your favorite travel site because they only take bookings by phone or through their website. Travelers often overlook these small homes. But they may be worth checking out during a time of higher occupancy. "You may be able to find something a short drive away," says Tiffany Bertram, owner of Tiffany's Bed and Breakfast in Bismarck, Arkansas. "And you may find that area to be not as crowded as well." (Note: A bed and breakfast may be a little pricier than a hotel, but true to the name, breakfast is included.) Go to Bnbfinder.com to find a bed and breakfast near your destination.
A covered wagon. In Downey, Idaho, you can stay in one of six covered wagons that will make you feel like a settler making your way along the Oregon Trail. The Conestoga Wagons have canvas domes and actual wagon wheels (including the base of the table), a king-sized bed and a bunk bed (though mattresses are extra), air conditioning and charging outlets.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airbnb alternatives: Stay in a furnished apartment or monastery