Here’s the unfortunate issue with Airbnb: They are taking homes away from locals and contributing to rising living costs. While you may think staying in an Airbnb isn’t hurting anyone, the truth is, Airbnbs cost way more than simply renting an apartment. So, if a company were to pick between renting to a local and to a digital nomad with a higher budget, I mean… the choice is obvious, isn’t it? Airbnbs used to be a great way to travel, but the reality is that they are unethical. As digital nomads, we want to be able to reduce as much of our impact on the local community as much as possible – in fact, it’s better to benefit it.
So, what are some ethical alternatives to Airbnb? Thankfully, there are 9 amazing alternatives out there. As a plus, they are generally much, much cheaper than getting an Airbnb for your stay!
The most obvious alternative to Airbnb for digital nomads is renting an apartment. Rent just like a local. Peruse the local rental listing sites and Facebook groups for a place to stay. Of course, this alternative is only really viable for digital nomads planning on staying put in one place for more than a couple of months. But for slowmads staying in one city or town for at least three months (but ideally at least six), renting is a great option. Plus, it’s miles cheaper than getting an Airbnb for your stay!
Renting rules differ according to where you are. For example, in some countries, short-term rentals might be very easy to come across, while others may require a one-year lease. Keep in mind that when renting, you’ll also need to pay a deposit, which is generally around one month’s rent.
If you decide to rent, we highly recommend checking out the apartment first in person before you make that deposit! Pictures can be deceiving, and the last thing you want is to get stuck in an apartment you hate.
For more on this, check out our list of the best digital nomad rental sites.
2. Traditional B&Bs
Before Airbnb made its mark on the world, travelers often stayed in traditional bed and breakfasts, also called B&Bs. Traditional B&Bs are great because you still get the comfort of living in a home, and it is almost always owned by a local! We highly recommend B&Bs, especially in countries where road-tripping is the norm. So, destinations like New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Japan are all great countries to stay in traditional B&Bs. But you can also find B&Bs in countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Indonesia.
Plus, as the name suggests, breakfast is included in B&Bs, which is a great money saver. Breakfast is not only great because you get a hearty meal included, but it’s also a great time to chat with your host. B&B hosts are generally more than happy to share knowledge about the area and can provide insider recommendations, which are absolutely invaluable.
Every B&B is super unique, and you can really see the personality of the host shine through on their property, making your stay that much more memorable.
One of our favorite ways to travel is housesitting our way around the world. In a housesitting arrangement, you stay in someone’s house for free while they are away. Generally, when housesitting, your responsibilities will include cleaning the home, tending to the garden, and (more likely than not) looking after pets.
Housesitting gigs can be as short as a few days and as long as several months, so you’ll definitely be able to find something that best suits you and your travel plans.
Thankfully, housesitting is most popular in countries with higher living costs, which can help immensely cut down on your travel budget. Countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK are popular spots for housesitting.
There are many ways to find a housesitting gig. We personally use TrustedHousesitters as our platform, where you’ll be able to find thousands of homeowners looking for housesitters around the world. But you can find house sits through Nomador, MindMyHouse, and Rover. These platforms are not free, but you can easily earn that money back and more with a single house sit!
4. Home or Flat Exchange
If you have a home base of some sort, one cost-saving and ethical alternative to Airbnb is a home or flat exchange. You don’t necessarily need to be a homeowner to partake in this, as long as you have the landlord’s permission. In a home or flat exchange, you’ll stay in someone else’s fully-equipped home while they stay in yours. It’s a great way for both sides to discover some new places.
All you need to do is find someone who is willing to swap homes for a specified date range, buy your tickets, and exchange homes! Yep! It’s as simple as that. The only difficult part about exchanging a home or flat is finding someone to do it with in the first place.
There are several ways to go about this. You can go through a platform like HomeExchange or Kindred. Alternatively, if you have a network of other digital nomads, you can ask around to see if anybody would be willing to do an exchange. Finally, you can try finding opportunities in home/flat exchange or digital nomad Facebook groups.
Homestay is what Airbnb should have been. In a homestay, you stay with a local in their home, where you can connect with local communities at a fraction of the price of a hotel or Airbnb. If connecting with locals and really getting to know the culture and heart of a place, a homestay is a great way to have this experience, as it provides an authentic and unique experience. Plus, the locals you stay with will have all the insider tips and knowledge about your new temporary home, which will make your stay all the more comfortable.
While Homestay is a platform, you can find homestays through other methods, including language schools. Generally, all homestays will include breakfast as well, which is another amazing way to save on costs while traveling.
The one downside with homestays is that they are not generally as widespread as other accommodation types, so you may struggle to find a genuine homestay experience, either on the Homestay platform or even on platforms like Booking.com. On Booking.com, just click on “homestay” as your property type.
6. Hostels and Co-Living
Rather than taking homes away from locals, one way to be more ethical about your digital nomad adventures is to stay in hostels and co-living spaces. Hostels and co-living spaces are much more ethical than staying in an Airbnb, as your accommodation is restricted to one building where locals wouldn’t stay. In other words, they don’t take away any long-term accommodation options from locals. Instead, tourists and digital nomads are spread throughout the city without taking over entire neighborhoods.
As digital nomads, we tend to lean more towards co-living spaces than hostels. But if you’re on a budget, a hostel can be a great alternative. Both spaces offer wifi, tables to work, common areas, kitchens, and other amenities. Plus, you get the added benefit of becoming immediate friends with other digital nomads staying in the same hostel or co-living space.
To make sure your stay in a hostel or co-living space is even more ethical, make sure to branch out and put money into smaller, local businesses as well. This includes eating at local restaurants and getting your morning coffee from the small stand a block away.
A popular ethical option among budget backpackers and those looking for unique travel experiences, Workaway is another great Airbnb alternative for digital nomads. Workaway is an online platform that hosts tons of volunteer job postings. These “jobs” allow you to exchange a few hours of work per day for room and board, which can save you a lot of money, especially in countries with high living costs.
These volunteer jobs range from hostel reception positions, dog sitting, farm work, teaching English, and much more! Workaway is a great choice for digital nomads who don’t need to work full-time or have flexible schedules because you can simply clock in a few hours per day of volunteer work and then work your normal remote job in the downtime. Jobs on Workaway usually won’t ask for more than 20 hours of work per week, and some will even provide a weekly allowance or a small amount of pay!
Other similar platforms you can consider include:
- Worldpackers: A similar platform to Workaway
- WWOOF: Best for farmwork
- AuPairWorld: Best for those good with children
8. Airbnbs with On-Property Hosts
While we tend to steer clear of Airbnb, there are ways to make your Airbnb booking more ethical. Remember when Airbnb first started out, and most of the listings were in people’s actual homes? You can still do this, and it is a great way to ensure you aren’t taking away a home from a local resident. In fact, many cities around the world, especially in places with major issues with Airbnbs, have imposed restrictions on Airbnbs, only allowing Airbnbs that have on-property hosts to function. This means the host lives on the property and rents out a room or guest house on Airbnb.
This is great because the main ethical issue we have with Airbnb is that large companies are taking over the platform, renting out serviced apartments at a much higher price than they would rent out the apartment to locals. This takes homes away from locals and raises rent prices. So, if you have the opportunity to rent a room in a local’s home through the Airbnb platform, this is much, MUCH more ethical.
Additionally, Airbnbs with onsite hosts are more affordable and can be just as comfortable. You’ll even be able to get local recommendations, and in some cases, your host may provide breakfast.
Probably one of our favorite picks for digital nomads who want to travel ethically is Fairbnb.coop. This platform takes a lot of what is unethical about Airbnb and turns it around. It shares all the benefits of tourism with the local community by donating half of the booking fees to local community groups or charities. While Fairbnb is limited to certain destinations in Europe (Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland) and can be more expensive than other platforms, we reckon it’s worth it when you’re in an area that Fairbnb services.
Fairbnb also screens hosts according to the rules of specific areas. This means, oftentimes, they’ll promote the one host, one house rule. So, on Fairbnb, it’s impossible to find companies taking over the entire platform filled with serviced apartments. Instead, the host has to be a local wanting to rent out their home on this platform. Plus, Fairbnb has some of the best possible ratings for carbon management as well.
Other Ethical Alternatives to Airbnb
There are many other platforms out there that you can use for a more ethical stay in a country as a digital nomad. These alternatives include:
- Ecobnb: A platform for sustainable travel
- Camping: Best for adventurous travelers
- Couchsurfing: Stay with locals for free
Support the Locals Wherever You Go!
In the end, whatever platform or method you use to find a place to stay in a new country, the important thing is this: support the locals. Support the local economy by staying in a locally-owned apartment or BnB. As a digital nomad, more likely than not, you are already much more privileged than the average local, so vote with your money! Where you stay and where you spend your money matters.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, check out our page on being an ethical digital nomad.