I knew something was wrong when our cab driver, a twitchy guy with glassy eyes, popped the clutch, stalled out, then tore off into traffic as if we were being pursued by the undead. Careening along Madrid’s freeways, he kept squirming, fidgeting, mumbling, and spitting out the window. When he wasn’t doing that... “Yikes!” whispered Rich. “He’s sucking his thumb!”
We rapidly reviewed our options: (A) leap out of a vehicle going 80 kilometers an hour on a crowded freeway, (B) confront a dangerous lunatic behind the wheel of a speeding car, or (C) act casual and pray. With some reluctance, we chose (C), which turned out to be the right call.
“And that,” said Rich, when we’d grabbed our bags, flung the driver a twenty, and gained the safety of the sidewalk, “is why the taxi industry is in so much trouble. If this was Uber, I could have used the app on my phone to file a complaint two minutes into the ride. But with taxis ...” I could easily imagine the reaction of a Madrid cab company if we reported a driver for uncouth behavior: No crash? No injuries? And your point is...?
Built-in feedback is just one reason for the roaring success of what’s called the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, or peer-to-peer (P2P) commerce. In exchanges organized via websites and apps, people rent out something they don’t need all the time, such as a bike, apartment, or someplace your dog can bed down for the night while you’re out of town. Feedback protocols vary, but generally customers post ratings on the host’s platform, affecting the popularity of the individual provider; users are rated, too, and those who complain frequently and frivolously find fewer providers willing to serve them.
The system isn’t perfect (what is?), but it builds a sense of community and inspires a level of trust that’s significantly higher than you might feel for something as anonymous as, say, Madrid’s taxi service. Of course, bad experiences can happen anywhere, to anyone. Women, who make up about half of all participants in this new marketplace, will want to pay particularly close attention to the security issues and commonsense precautions addressed in articles such as “Is the Sharing Economy Safe for Women?”
P2P commerce isn’t new; we’ve shopped on Craigslist and Ebay for years. But recent technological, social, and economic changes now make sharing infinitely more feasible, launching a $15 billion industry that’s expected to grow to $335 billion by 2025. Travelers are riding the crest of the wave, purchasing an unprecedented range of services that are cheaper, easier to access, and lots more fun.
TRANSPORTATION by private car (solo or shared) can be arranged with just a few taps on your smart phone, thanks to Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, and others.
LODGING in private homes (shared or all to yourself) was pioneered by Airbnb, which is now a giant global network. HomeAway, VRBO, CouchSurfing, and others offer countless alternatives.
DINING with locals in their homes adds a rich culinary and cultural flavor few restaurants can match. Hosts and menus are profiled on such sites as EatWith, VizEat, Feastly, Cookening and Eatwithalocal.
COMPANIONSHIP — and no, I don’t mean that — can be arranged through such sites as as TripTogether, Wandermates, and the rather alarmingly named Thelma and Louise; I can only assume they don’t actually require you drive off a cliff at the end of every road trip.
Feeling overwhelmed before you even start? TravelPeer offers guidance and updates in their e-newsletter. ShareTraveler.com has complied a list of 350+ options, leaving out the giants and including such specialized sites as language-practice meet-ups, volunteer work in exchange for lodging, and gay-friendly private rentals. As a savvy traveler, you’ll want to check the fine print (watch for hidden service charges and cleaning fees) and read reviews very carefully.
When I get those follow-up emails asking me to rate my experience, most get four or five stars (with one notable exception.) I love the quirky, colorful places I find on P2P sites, but I still use conventional hotels and restaurants when they’re more convenient. I even take taxis when I’m in Madrid — but I look the driver over very, very carefully. If he’s sucking his thumb, I’m out of there.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships of any kind. The companies included in this post are here because I thought you might find them interesting. I haven't tried every one of these options, and I welcome input and feedback. What's your experience with the sharing economy?
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6/10/2015 11:39:41 pm
Just so you know, I read your blog because you don't accept sponsored/hosted/etc. posts and then gush about them for paragraphs and conclude that the multi-hundred dollar stay was provided but 'my opinions are my own'. I found myself being in the same city as hosted bloggers and while I am cautioning about rental cars and traffic jams, they are crooning over MaiTais. (I've quit reading them). Great post.
6/11/2015 12:58:12 am
I agree about the sponsored posts, Jackie. When they say "but my opinions are my own" I sometimes think they should add "and they are the best opinions money can buy!" To be fair, I realize that many bloggers couldn't survive without sponsors, and that I'm exceedingly fortunate that I'm not in that position.
6/11/2015 10:50:06 am
I agree with Jackie Smith. I have un subscribed to several blogs due to their continuing to review hotels and services they receive for free in exchange for their commenting on those services on their blogs. Really.... a $600 a night hotel in Southeast Asia was wonderful. Who knew? How could it not be for heavens sake? Totally irrelevant information to me.
6/13/2015 03:59:27 am
You're so right, Linda; it's hardly headline news that a luxury hotel is luxurious. And knowing the blogger who says so is sponsored by the hotel makes me question even that basic assumption. I tend to unsubscribe to those blogs, too.
6/13/2015 04:03:21 am
When I started researching this post, I was astonished at the scale of the sharing economy. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of peer-to-peer websites out there. For instance, Rich and I are thinking of visiting Albania and discovered that the capital is full of Airbnb apartments, EatWith hosts, and more. We live – and travel – in exciting times.
From my experience, when you use services like these, the customer service is as good as you'd expect in the more expensive hotels. Somehow, when we interact with each other as human beings, without the corporate middleman, we treat each other more respectfully. That's one of my favorite things about the sharing economy!
6/13/2015 04:08:56 am
I love the personal touch of the sharing economy, and the service is as good or better; people often go the extra mile. Our Airbnb host in Oxford walked us to his favorite pub, filling us in on neighborhood lore along the way. And with peer-to-peer, you don't get those hidden charges the corporations like to dream up. I just stayed in a hotel that advertised free wifi, but when I got to the room I learned that basic wifi was free, but if I wanted to do anything data-intensive like stream a movie, I had to pay extra. Most annoying, and something I've never encountered with an Airbnb rental.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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