In the past year, bunking in people's homes instead of hotel rooms became an increasingly popular choice for holiday accommodations.
Major vacation rental agencies like
Airbnb, Craigslist, FlipKey and HomeAway made booking a property by the day or week a
habitual choice for travellers looking to live like a local in a residential
neighbourhood. But none of these major vacation rental agencies do an adequate job
of plotting rentals on a map for quick comparison-shopping, making it difficult
to pick out
the prime vacation pads and avoid the clunkers.
Thankfully, this problem is being
addressed by three new meta-search sites, all of which debuted in 2011. These
sites can zero in on an ideal property in a traveller's
preferred neighbourhood and plot its location on a mash-up version of
Google Maps. They aggregate listings from the major vacation rental agencies,
allowing you to get a quick gauge of alternative lodging in any given
neighbourhood along with estimated nightly rates.
Mark Crady, a former Google
engineer who was exasperated with the vacation rental market, invented this
meta-search site, which streamlines the booking process. Using the site is
simple: punch in your travel dates, budget range, preferred type of lodging
(such as cottage or townhouse) and required number of bedrooms. The site will reveal
on a map the vacation rental vacancies that match your criteria. RentMix includes Airbnb, FlipKey and
Homeaway listings in all major cities and towns worldwide.
Though this site debuted as a
social network for travellers in 2010, Tripping added a "discovery
engine" in late 2011 which pulls together listings from vacation rental sites
such as HomeAway, FlipKey and Roomarama. This tool -- found by clicking on the "Stay
With Locals" link on the homepage -- plots listings on a mash-up of Google
Maps. Users can sort the listing results by distance from a preferred location,
dates of travel, number of guests, price range and type of property preferred
(such as a single room or a whole house). Results include photos and
estimated nightly rates.
While Remix relies heavily on the
map interface, Tripping also allows users to navigate via a set of detailed
property descriptions, presented side-by-side in a way that's similar to what
you would see on a major online travel agency site. Click on the
properties to be directed to individual agency sites for more information. Properties
are available in every major city worldwide.
This simple site is similar to the
other two in that it makes the latest vacation rental listings more relevant
and comprehensible by plotting them on a Google Maps mash-up. Its main
difference is that it focuses on listings from Craigslist exclusively. Tell HousingMaps your preferred
neighbourhood and dates of travel to receive relevant results. Then filter
results further by asking to only see listings that include photos. Listings
are limited to the United States.
A cautionary note about
Craigslist: in Internet time, Craigslist feels old. It’s the granddaddy of
listing services for vacation rentals, among various other peer-to-peer
transactions, such as obtaining used furniture. Craigslist stands out for how
it allows travellers to skip the middlemen of online travel agencies (along
with their pesky fees and commissions). But the site comes with a risk, too: you
need to watch out for scammers. Use common sense precautions, such as never
wire untraceable money to someone via Craigslist.
Among these sites, Rentmix is my
top pick for its easy-to-understand interface and comprehensive listings. The
site lets you click on each map pinpoint in rapid succession, allowing you to view
an overview of photos and details about each property without forcing open a
new window to visit a travel agency webpage for each listing, a flaw of rival
metasearch site Tripping. Rentmix is also more intuitive than Tripping because
it has a user design that emphasises its single function, unlike Tripping which
is trying to perform multiple services and may not be easy for new users to
navigate. With more than 100,000 listings worldwide at any given time, Rentmix also
has a more comprehensive selection of rental listings than HousingMaps, which
only uses Craiglist as a source for leads.
Sean O'Neill is the tech travel columnist for BBC Travel