Top Five Travel-Sharing Websites

Spring is in full swing, and soon cool breezes will give way to the heat of summer days. This is the time when many people start making future travel plans.

Resorts and hotels offer lots of amenities, but they're sterile, expensive, and usually only show you the brochure-friendly version of what a destination has to offer.

Vacations are a great way to test out the world of collaborative consumption while saving money and meeting great people along the way. Traveling the peer to peer way enables you to create unique experiences and connect with local folk for true cultural exchange. It's more fun.

Instead of merely snapping pictures for a few days, peer to peer travel allows you to slow down and appreciate the diversity of a new place in a respectful way. Instead of bringing home cheap souveniers, you're likely to return home with vivid memories and permanent, meaningful friendships that help expand the global community of sharing.

Here are five of the most interesting and successful sites to help you to plan, connect, and share your vacation experience:

AirBnB - (Best for individuals, couples, professionals with a moderate to high budget)

AirBnB connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay, all over the world. Accomodations range from studio apartments in NYC, to mushroom dome cabins in California, to a private yacht in Sausalito. All for a fraction of the price that you'd pay at a hotel or through a vacation rental service. Watch the video below and read how Shareable uses AirBnB for staff retreats.

CouchSurfing (Best for individuals, couples and friends with a low budget)

CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world. Everyone knows the "tourist attractions" are never the most interesting or exciting things to experience in a new place. CouchSurfing members share hospitality with one another. These exchanges are a uniquely rich form of cultural interaction. Hosts have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. "Surfers," are able to participate in the local life of the places they visit. Host profiles on this site are VERY detailed, so that you can be prepared for the people and couch/futon/floor mat you'll be staying with. Unlike AirBnB, CouchSurfing accomadations completely free.

Tripping (Best for individuals, couples, and friends with a low budget)

Tripping enables you to connect safely with locals who will introduce you to their towns, their cultures, their lives and their friends. This service is very similar to Couch Surfing, in that it accepts both hosts and Trippers, and is completely free. One thing Tripping has that many services don't are Networks. These groups allow travelers with similar purpose or interests to share information, experiences, and news about events. This site also offers the TripSafe program, including a video validation service, through which host names and addresses are visually confirmed by Tripping staff before they can accept Trippers. (Photo: Trippers in NYC)

Crashpadder (Best for individuals, couples, friends, families, & professionals with a moderate to high budget)

If you're tired of the stark, inpersonal feel of hotels and hostels, Crashpadder will be a welcome relief. Accomodations offered on Crashpadder are on average 83 percent cheaper than the equivalent hotel and have a carbon footprint that is 80 percent smaller than a hotel stay...not to mention they come with a free host who can give you coffee and insider tips about things to see and do. One of the coolest features of Crashpadder is their trip planning tool. This location-based search tool allows both travelers and guests to browse options in their area. Travelers can put up a "trip wanted" listing letting hosts know that they're looking for a room. Hosts can then browse these listings and reach out to the most interesting or compelling profiles.

BONUS! If you're looking for a way to make some extra money, love where you live, and have room to spare, many of these sites also allow you to offer your services as a host.

Update 4/26/11: Yikes! Looks like we forgot how to count. There are only four sites listed above, and the title of this post clearly promises five. To make up for the goof, here are three more travel-sharing sites suggested by our readers.

iloho.com - Share fantastic travel advice and plan trips with a network of travel writers across the world.

Triptrotting.com - An exclusive community for university students, alums and young professionals that connects Triptrotters and hosts using a unique matching algorithm.

gtrot.com - A Facebook app that allows you to browse friends’ trips, see where everyone’s going this summer, exchange tips, add details like photos, check-ins, and reviews to your trip, and push your plans out to Facebook and Twitter.

Have you ever used one of these sites or something similar to plan a trip? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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