Woman planning vacation

Not every trip or vacation has to mean staying in a hotel. These days there are many options that allow for more unusual, personalized ways to enjoy your stay – anywhere in the world.

Top vacation rental sites

If you're bored with the usual cookie-cutter rooms and crave something better suited to your lifestyle, budget and the way you like to see the world, read on for five ways to find what you're looking for and have a more comfortable, enjoyable experience.

1

Airbnb

Quick tip: Link your Facebook account to Airbnb to see places your network of friends and acquaintances have rented -- and find out what they thought.

Whether you're looking for a villa in the Caribbean for a month (yes, please!), an apartment in Miami for the weekend or a room for the night in Brooklyn -- and everything in between -- you're likely to find it on this comprehensive site. Owners list properties (from single rooms to entire homes) with photos, descriptions, price, reviews from people who have stayed and a detailed list of amenities. Those looking for accommodations can search by city or country, price range, whether they want a private space or just a room, and contact property owners through the site. Search more than 100,000 listings in more than 19,000 cities and 192 countries. You need to sign up for a free account to contact owners but once you do, searching and getting in touch with owners is easy. Once you're ready to commit, payments are made via PayPal or credit card.

2

Roomarama

Find short-term apartment rentals all over the world with this site, founded by two friends who became frustrated with trying to rent out their New York apartment via classified ads so they could travel. They found the method wasn't secure enough, took too much time and netted dubious applicants. In January 2009, Roomarama was born. Search by city and date to get a list of available spaces -- from small apartments to larger properties -- depending on the type of space you're looking for, how much you want to spend and who you're traveling with. A search for properties in Bali for March netted results that ranged from $93 a night for a three-bedroom home to more than $1,500 per night for a villa.

3

HomeAway.com

Choose from more than 260,000 vacation rentals on this easy-to-use site offering a more traditional take on renting a vacation property. Unlike Airbnb or Roomarama, there are no options to stay in a room and you won't be sharing space with the owner. Search by destination and date and use filters such as desired number of rooms, property type (apartment, cabin, villa, bungalow, etc.) and features (pool, Internet access, pet-friendly) to get a list of options and contact the owner using the form provided. Each listing is accompanied by images, description, map and list of amenities.

4

VRBO.com

Another alternative to staying in a hotel, Vacation Rentals by Owner allows you to search more than 160,000 vacation rentals in 100 countries, ranging from loft apartments to beachfront condos to houseboats. Enter the city where you'll be staying along with your desired dates to get a list of possible accommodations. Each listing is accompanied by several photos, detailed description, list of what's nearby (cafes, grocery stores, attractions, etc.), amenities and what's included (e.g., linens, towels, maid service). A form on the left of each listing allows you to contact the owner to move forward with the rental should your space of choice be available.

5

Couchsurfing.org

This innovative social networking site allows users to connect with people all over the world who have a couch, bedroom, patch of floor or even backyard to spare – for free. The idea is that you don't just get somewhere to stay, you get to experience a new city with the help of your host. Started in 2004, Couchsurfing.org now has 2.4 million members offering space to travellers, including 25 in Antarctica! Rather than focusing on the space itself, the site puts more of the spotlight on the hosts (case in point: when you search, you search for people, not apartments). Each member provides a photo, description of who they are and what they do, photos of their home, how long they prefer guests to stay and reviews by others who have stayed there. Contact anyone you're interested in staying with via the form provided.

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