In case you aren’t familiar with it, the “sharing economy” is an economic model where online platforms allow peers to provide and consume services from each other. AirBnB is a great example—most homes aren’t provided by millionaire moguls, but by people who could quite literally be working in your office. Whether you want to travel around or dig deep into your new home, the sharing economy can make your study abroad experience much more authentic (and cheaper).
1. Use it to save money on transportation
Once Skyscanner, Uber, and train passes have failed you, it’s time to examine other resources. BlaBlaCar is one of the most reputable. Similar to Uber, BlaBlaCar certifies drivers and makes sure they get paid. However, BlaBlaCar is intended for much longer distances than Uber, and has served as a way for drivers to monotize carpooling. That’s the essence of the sharing economy: you both win. Ride Finder is another useful car-sharing tool. Keep in mind that as these methods of travel become more popular, the apps that make them accessible are proliferating—so keep an eye out for new ones!
2. Use it to find housing
You should never underestimate your network when it comes to housing. However, when absolutely no friend-of-a-friend is in your city, it’s time to look elsewhere. Couchsurfing* is an online platform where you can request to stay for free with “hosts,” often with a meal included. It is intended to facilitate intercultural change—which is exactly why you are studying abroad, right? Since it has little oversight, it’s best to read host reviews and the host profile very carefully. Additionally, be a good guest. Bring a little something, like coffee beans, for the hosts. When I stayed with my couchsurfing family, we talked until almost two in the morning; I learned more in that evening than I had ever imagined.
Two other resources are worth noting. Yestudent.com is essentially a student version of AirBnB. While it’s not necessarily cheaper, the host students often offer to pick you up from the metro, cook for you, etc. These services are all listed on the host’s profile, where you can examine all the details. And of course, we can’t forget AirBnB—mostly because they offer deals where getting a friend to create an account can earn rewards for you both!
3. Finally, use it to DO ALL THE THINGS
I recognize that’s a bit vague. But do you see that photo of the cheese platter? That was just part of a long and wonderful afternoon spent in an AirBnB Experience (a Parisian food tour). Locals know what they are doing, and so you should always connect with them if you can! If the experiences on AirBnB are too expensive, check out Vayable and Tours With Locals. There’s even a section on the Couchsurfing website to just meet people.
If you’re willing to jump head-first into a culture, the sharing economy is the best way to meet people and save money. Good luck!
*ISA does not promote the use of couchsurfing.
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