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Travel smart: LIers share tips to save with Airbnb, home exchanges

Joanna Kim and Alexander Choi outside Notre-Dame Cathedral

Joanna Kim and Alexander Choi outside Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Credit: Joanna Kim and Alexander Choi

This seems to be the summer of the great getaway. This year, Americans for the first time will spend more than $100 billion on their summer vacations, according to the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index.

In a poll of more than 1,000 people done by Ipsos Public Affairs for Allianz Global Assistance USA, those who plan to take a leisure trip of at least a week and 100 miles or more from home project spending $101.1 billion, up from $89.9 billion in 2016. On average, people plan to spend $1,978, a 10 percent increase from 2016.

Where they’ll put those dollars is changing too. The sharing economy stands to benefit. This year, 36.8 million U.S. adults will use Airbnb, up 21.2 percent over last year, according to research firm eMarketer. Similarly, Uber, Lyft and others continue to thrive in the billion-dollar and growing ride-sharing industry. And a growing number of websites offer home-swapping options.

What’s fueling the trend? Convenience and cost savings.

Long Islanders aren’t missing out and are maximizing their dollars in the sharing economy. Here’s a look at four families who are traveling smart.

Joanna Kim, Alexander Choi

Joanna Kim was tired of staying in hotels when she and her husband, Alexander, traveled, and her friends had had great experiences with Airbnb. So four years ago she decided to give it a try. It took a bit of arm twisting to convince Alexander.

Since then, Kim, 34, and Choi, 35, of Westbury have used Airbnb and Uber almost exclusively when traveling. They’ve spent 34 nights away and done 15 trips. Choi got over his reservations. The savings — at least $3,500 using Airbnb, they estimate — helped.

Kim is meticulous when booking. “I make sure I look at every picture and read every single review. I don’t like to stay at properties that don’t have many reviews. I try to read between the lines to decipher the ‘real’ story of people’s experiences.”

Go with your gut, she says. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!”

Kim likes Uber, not just for the cost savings, but the convenience. “Ubering while overseas is wonderful. Since we don’t speak the language, being able to relay exactly where we’re headed is really helpful.”

Only once did they have a slight mishap. While honeymooning in Florence, Italy, which didn’t have Uber then, the cabdriver dropped them at the wrong apartment building, and they had to walk a mile in the rain, dragging bags to the correct address. “I thought Alexander was going to divorce me then and there. He said, ‘If we had booked a hotel, we would not have been dropped off at the wrong hotel.’ He was fine after lying on the couch with some wine.”

Adriane and Adam Thorpe

Four years ago, the Thorpes decided to capitalize on two things: being between jobs and planning their honeymoon. They realized they had what might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend an extended time in Asia, but “we needed a way to minimize our costs,” says Adriane Thorpe.

The Locust Valley couple’s solution was HomeExchange .com, one of several websites that allow users to swap time at their home for time at someone else’s. On HomeExchange, users pay $150 a year to join and list their home; that entitles them to unlimited swaps. Some other sites are free.

The trip — which included stops in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, using swaps, Airbnb and hostels — proved so positive that later that year they did a six-week swap in Paris and the following year a week in San Francisco.

“We stayed in a small flat in a lovely location in the heart of Paris,” says Thorpe, 35. She estimates they saved $10,000 by doing an exchange instead of a hotel. The San Francisco exchange saved more than $3,000. “We traveled with our parents and a friend and would have needed three hotel rooms.”

She said it’s easy to find exchanges: “Others want to explore the world just like we do.”

The Thorpes, who have a 2½-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, like the comfort of staying in a home. “You get to experience the neighborhood as if you lived there, and when we cut costs on accommodations, there’s more money for more travel.”

Helen Patrikis

Helen Patrikis runs a travel and hospitality public relations firm. She hits the road once a month and is big on ride sharing, including ride pooling with Uber Pool and Via.

“If you’re not in a particular hurry to get somewhere, pooling is great. For example, Via offers shared rides in NYC for $5,” says Patrikis, 56, of Huntington, who has used Uber in Manhattan, New Orleans, Boston and elsewhere.

She used Airbnb for the first time this summer on a trip to Montreal with her husband. “I’ve always wanted to try it,” she says. “Since our trip was last-minute, we found it was a better value than a hotel.”

Patrikis estimates they saved $300 on three nights in an apartment in the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal section. She found Airbnb user-friendly. “The search criteria help narrow options, and the property descriptions and photos are helpful.”

Patrikis advises travelers to use websites and guidebooks to identify good neighborhoods. “Check hotel rates before booking on Airbnb. Email or call the host; get as much information as possible.”

Leonard and Lourdes Eichholz

The Eichholzes took a page from his parents’ playbook. They’ve swapped houses 40 times since 1988. “My parents’ first exchange was in Bruges, Belgium,” says Leonard Eichholz, 56. “Lourdes and I were honeymooners then, living in London, and visited them for a few fantastic days.”

They saw how nice it could be. The Merrick couple has done 14 swaps through HomeExchange. The first was in Padua, Italy, in 2006 with their three kids. “In foreign countries one of the first things we do is hit the grocery store, pastry shop and buy local goodies. It’s great to have a base that feels like home,” Eichholz says.

They’ve stayed in Amsterdam, Geneva, Barcelona, Quebec City and Dublin, among other destinations.

Finding traders isn’t an issue, he says. “Many people visit New York City but don’t want to stay there the whole time, especially if they have children. Our exchangers from Dublin spent their first week on Long Island sending their two sons to surfing class in Long Beach.”

The Eichholzes will do a three-week exchange in Berlin this fall. Their flight is covered by frequent-flyer mileage, so “we’re spending three weeks in Germany for the same cost of staying home on Long Island.”

Eichholz isn’t sure how much money they’ve saved by sharing. “It’s been tremendous when traveling with three children and not having to go to restaurants for every meal. In addition, we usually swap cars.”

They can’t wait until they retire and can do three- to six-month exchanges, he says. “We’ve learned how wonderful people are all around the world. Usually exchangers become almost extended family.”

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