Stay Outside the Box

I mentioned in my last post that Mom Sparkler and I recently solidified wedding-week accommodations for my close family. And I know what you’re thinking, “Sparkler, didn’t you already block hotel rooms for your guests? What are you doing now? Adding more stuff to your plate???”

Well, the Sparkler fam always seems to be doing things differently. Mom is a bargain shopper at heart, and when it came to finding a place to stay in Chicago for the week, she wasn’t exactly down with booking 4 hotel rooms for my immediate family. So what is a gigantic Sparkler crew to do when they want to stay together (family time!) and not break the bank? Enter the world of alternative vacation-housing!


Clockwise from top left, logos from VRBO, airbnb, and CouchSurfing

There are a lot of companies who cater to vacationers looking for a “home away from home” type of experience. It can be really fun (and save you a lot of money) if, say, you’re going to a destination wedding and want to split a place with 2 or 3 other couples. I feel guilty keeping this money-saving secret, so I thought I’d share my top 3 favorite sites to help you book this type of vacation:


The Sparkler family loves VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). Basically, the site brings together tons of homeowners around the globe who regularly rent out their vacation palaces (or apartments, or cabins, or beach houses).

Want to stay in an authentic Greek apartment, overlooking the Aegean Sea? Search VRBO by region, then country, then city”¦ and, tada! Your dream rental appears! (And yes, they really have a bunch of Greek apartments”¦ and mansions”¦ for rent!).

Mom Sparkler always rents the same townhouse in Chi for big visits. The rental price for the wedding week is significantly lower than the price of 4 hotel rooms for that amount of time. And it sleeps 12-14 people”¦ booyah!

Mom Sparkler = 1 Overpriced Chicago Hotels = 0


Goofing off in the VRBO townhouse last Easter

2. Air bnb

Airbnb is a little different. While VRBO tends to offer weekly rates and larger vacation homes, Air BNB offers nightly rates and unique places to stay. I mean REALLY unique:


Yes, you can really rent out this entire plane as an “apartment” for the night. More here. Image via

And there’s also more opportunity to connect with people as you travel. Many of the hosts live on the rental property, or even in the same house. Some may rent out their living room couch to you.

Which brings me to my next favorite site”¦


The CouchSurfing experience is by FAR the most adventurous of the three I’ve talked about. They offer (the obvious) couches to crash on, rooms to take over, or even a coffee date in a new city. The best part?


Image via Fox News

Yep. Totally free. But (of course) use with caution, and make sure you get to know who you’re crashing with. 🙂

Sparkler Bro has CouchSurfed everywhere from Morocco to California to Portugal (just to name a few). If you have any questions about it, feel free to contact him”¦ if you can find him. He’s somewhere in Spain at the moment, CouchSurfing his little heart out (as well as STUDYING and doing lots of schoolwork”¦ right? 😉 ).

Sparkler bro and his Spanish buddy

So what do you think? Would you ever use one of these sites when traveling to a destination wedding? Any frequent Airbnb or CouchSurfing users out there? What was your experience like?


Mrs. Sparkler

Wedding Date:
September 2011
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  1. hyena Bee
    hyena 2537 posts, Sugar bee @ 2:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Mr. H would just DIE to stay in an airplane! 🙂

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    a.m., Guest @ 3:45 pm

    Can I just add a note of caution about airbnb? The site is cool because airbnb acts like an escrow…holding your money until 24 hours after you’ve seen the place. It gives you some security against showing up to find the home or apartment wasn’t what you were led to believe it would be. Make SURE you arrive on the day scheduled and have airbnb’s contact info handy in case the place isn’t up to standards and you need to call and cancel and get a refund.

    I’m staying at an airbnb space in Portugal right now and arrived a day later than planned to find my place pretty dirty and not worth what I paid. That’s my fault and I’ll use airbnb again, but I still want to caution everybody to know the game before you use the service. And make sure you’re using it in a place with plenty of other accommodations nearby in case you do need to cancel.

  3. Member
    crayfish 10384 posts, Sugar Beekeeper @ 3:52 pm

    Couch Surfing is an *amazing* was to save money and meet people! My husband and I travel all over the world – and it’s always our favorite way to meet new people in new countries! We usually do it for a few nights at the beginning of a trip. Love it!

  4. Member
    journeylostproductions 18 posts, Newbee @ 3:54 pm

    CouchSurfing is AWESOME!!! My boyfriend and I host and surf and have had only great experiences. I suggest any skeptics at least give it a try because you can’t really appreciate how awesome it is until you give it a go.

  5. tartlet Bee
    tartlet 3227 posts, Sugar bee @ 4:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing these resources, Sparks! And OMG – how cool would it be to stay in a plane? Especially if we end up having baby Tartlets?!?

  6. msseal Bee
    msseal 1179 posts, Bumble bee @ 8:54 pm

    I’ve never heard of these before—thanks for sharing!, Sparks! I don’t think I’m brave enough to couch surf but that VRBO site is going to get some usage ASAP! 😀

  7. Member
    polkadotbridetobe 160 posts, Blushing bee @ 11:55 am

    We found our wedding venue (a huge house on the lake) on VRBO!

  8. carousel Bee
    carousel 590 posts, Busy bee @ 5:19 pm

    Great resources, thank you for sharing!

  9. snowcone Bee
    snowcone 1141 posts, Bumble bee @ 8:07 pm

    ooo that couchsurfing thing is pretty adventurous! props to those with the balls to do it 🙂

  10. gazelle Bee
    gazelle 1019 posts, Bumble bee @ 9:00 pm

    VRBO has been our best friend in trying to find a place to stay in Vancouver for the wedding!

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