Why we love it: It’s a bit like the social media of vacation sites, because you message the host directly from the start, and you both review each other afterwards. You can choose to stay by yourself or take a spare room in a shared home, and there’s always a photo of your host (usually a smiling couple).
Good for: Solo travellers looking to meet new people; some operate like B&Bs, with owners on site.
Score right now: A rustic-chic, homestead cabin in the deserts of Joshua Tree, California—featured in the New York Times—for $90 a night.
Why we love them: Two of the earliest worldwide vacation rental sites, operating under the same umbrella, these are trustworthy and easy to use. You can browse more design-savvy featured listings by interactive map; we’ve used them to book a finca in Spain and a tree house in Hawaii.
Good for: Couples or families looking for unique hideaways in the countryside or rural villages; newbies, thanks to the helpful interactive forums; and landlords because of the comprehensive advice section.
Score right now: A secluded four-bedroom ranch house on an eco-preserve in Oaxaca, Mexico, for $285 a night.
Why we love it: Just in time for Olympic fans, this new London site gives you the keys to some hidden gems in England’s capital. Just visiting the site delivers a hit of Brit humour, like the description of a Mayfair pied-à-terre as “just far enough from Shepherd’s Market to fob off your mother-in-law.” Search tabs zoom in on the details: free wifi, antique furniture or an interesting owner.
Good for: Anyone visiting London who fancies an original experience but not hiked hotel prices.
Score right now: A charming one-bedroom apartment with lots of sun in prestigious Notting Hill, with a shared garden, for $172 a night.