What do you get when you combine Cameron Diaz in the Holiday with Facebook? Try Stays@Friends.com. It’s a hot new trend in travel – a social networking site just launched this month, devoted to those who fancy a holiday but prefer to experience another place in a home environment and minus the hotel price tag.
Home exchanges are nothing new – as those of us who’ve watched the Christmas classic with Diaz and Kate Winslet know, however browsing through a network of trusted friends as opposed to taking your chances on strangers, is.
Anaud Marze, the founder of Stays@Friends.com says “Our vision is to be the first alternative people turn to when they want to organize their travel. People are already staying at each other’s houses so we wanted to make this an easier way to make that happen and increase the destinations available”
Founded by five experienced, international entrepreneurs with strong technical and hospitality backgrounds, the site is easy to navigate. Once registered, you can invite friends to join the same way as you do Facebook. As your circle of friends open up so does a world of possibilities. Users simply manage their own calendar of availability for their friends to discover when is the right opportunity to rent, or borrow, their home.
Stays@Friends user Julia says, “It’s great to come home from a holiday to a place where the plants are still alive. That’s a first!” When Stays@Friends member Christina’s daughter moved to Barcelona and gave birth to her grandson, it was a tricky situation. Both grandparents wanted to visit for at least a month. “We got on the first plane and were able to stay for a month in a room rented to us by a friend of Laura just a block away from her flat.” Member David Fardon recently took a one week trip with the site to Villars, in the south of France, near Saint Etienne. The reason? “It seemed like an interesting idea when we signed up, and we kept it in mind when planning our holidays, we didn’t pay any rental fee, we just gave some money to cover things like electricity and gas.” The home was a friend of a friend they never would have encountered had they not joined. Ultimately it paid off; the holiday was nothing short of idyllic. “The house and the grounds were enormous, so we spent a lot of time there, as there was a tennis court, swimming pool, tree house, and so on, so the kids and we were pretty happy. We went for bike rides, had a day trip to Lyon, and otherwise just enjoyed being part of a provincial French town.” And the Fardon family can’t wait to back. “We are absolutely doing it again. It worked out really well, and even though we hardly paid anything this time, we’d do it again even if the cost was more similar to a normal rental price.”
What distinguishes Stay@Friends from other sites is the idea of trust. Says David, “I think the feeling of trust is important – we don’t know the person directly whose home we used, but we have a friend in common, so we knew before we went there it would be a good place – and no doubt they would have asked our friend about us as well before they let us use their place. Also, staying in a home is so much more pleasant than staying in holiday rental properties – it all feels so much more normal.”
And what about letting a member use your home? Says David, “We had the experience of allowing some people use our second home in Spain – an Argentinian couple who live nearby are friends, and through Stays@Friends, her parents saw that our place was free when they were planning to be over from Buenos Aires. They stayed at our place and looked after the garden, watered the plants and so on. It worked out well for us and I’m sure that for them it was much better than being stuck in a hotel all that time.”
At the moment, to celebrate its launch, the site is holding a skiing competition where participants can sign up to win over 3,000 Euros of ski equipment, accessories, passes and accommodation to those who sign up.
So what are you waiting for? There’s a whole world out there!
by Ashley Pearson