Dear Savvy Senior,
Since retiring, my husband and I love to travel but hotel costs eat up our budget so fast we can't stay as long, or go as often as we'd like to. I've heard that there are alternative lodging options like short-term apartment rentals or even house sitting that offer a much cheaper way to travel. How can we find these?
If you're willing to do a little research and preplanning, there are a number of ways you can lower (or eliminate) your travel-lodging costs and live more like a local when you travel. Here are some different options to consider and some resources that can help you locate them.
Apartment/House Rentals: There are literally hundreds of thousands of privately owned properties in the United States and abroad that are offered as short-term vacation rentals. This has become a very popular alternative to hotels, for retirees.
Renting a fully furnished apartment or house is usually significantly cheaper than hotel rooms of comparable quality, and they almost always offer more space, a homier feel and a kitchen, which can save you the expense eating out every meal.
Short-term rentals are offered through the individual property owners or property-management companies. Some of the best sites for finding them include homeaway.com, airbnb.com, flipkey.com, vrbo.com and wyndhamvacationrentals.com. Most sites are free to use for travelers. You can also look for rentals at any online search engine by typing in your destination city plus short-term apartment/house rentals (for example "New York short-term apartments for rent").
B&B Clubs: If you like staying in bed-and-breakfasts and have a spare bedroom yourself, you should consider the Evergreen Club or the Affordable Travel Club. These are B&B clubs for travelers over ages 50 or 40 that offer inexpensive lodging in the spare bedroom of other club members, or they may stay with you when they're on the road. You pay a modest gratuity of between $15 and $25 per night, with breakfast. And the clubs charge membership fees of $65 to $80 per year.
House Sitting: If you have a flexible schedule and you don't mind doing a few household chores when you travel, house sitting is another option that offers lodging for free. How it works is you live in someone else's home while they're away for a long weekend or even a few months. And in exchange for the free accommodations, you take care of certain responsibilities such as their pets, lawn, garden, mail, etc. To find these opportunities, try sites like caretaker.org, housecarers.com, housesittersamerica.com and sabbaticalhomes.com - they all charge a small membership fee.
Home Swapping: Another way to get free accommodations when you travel is by swapping homes with someone who's interested in visiting the area where you live. To make a swap, you'll need to join an online home exchange service where you can list your home, and get access to thousands of other listings. Then you simply email the owners of houses or apartments you're interested in -- or they email you -- and you make arrangements. Most home exchange sites like homeexchange.com, homelink.org and intervac-homeexchange.com charge membership fees ranging from $39 to $120.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.