For travelers looking to book a summer vacation, get ready for sticker shock: Summer, especially summer weekends, is one of the most expensive times of the year to travel.
But there are several ways to dramatically cut costs on your vacation, including home exchanges, house sitting, and free or nearly free car and RV rentals. Yes, you read that right: free.
The easiest way to cut costs is on accommodations and the options range from the well-established to the brand new. Here are three options:
It started out primarily as a way for teachers on sabbatical to trade homes with each other and travel on the cheap, but the companies expanded and now boast 65,000 listings -- including primary homes and members' second homes. Here's how it works: You list your home, including photos, but with no exact address, plus details about yourself and what you're looking for. You can sit back and wait for people to contact you or be more proactive and reach out to people whose homes are located in places you're interested in visiting to see if there's a match.
So isn't it weird to have someone you don't know stay in your home?
"By the time the exchange actually takes place, they're not a stranger anymore," said Ed Kushins, founder of HomeExchange. "There's been multiple email exchanges and Skype conversations. Many people become friends and swap with the same people year after year."
On a personal note, I signed up for HomeExchange.com about three weeks ago and have had more than 40 offers to exchange, including from France, Spain, Florida and Bali. My summer plans were already set by the time I signed up, but it looks like I'll be exchanging my New York City apartment for an oceanfront condo in Maui the week between Christmas and New Year's, also one of the most expensive weeks of the year to travel.
Full disclosure: Living in New York City, said Kushins, gives me a major advantage: It's the most-sought-after place for home exchanges on the site. In other words, the more tourists your hometown attracts, the more inquiries you'll have.
There is no cost to exchange homes, but there is a $150 yearly subscription fee for the site.
Popular in Europe and gaining traction in the U.S., TrustedHouseSitter.com gives pet lovers the opportunity to pet- and house-sit while pet owners travel. The pet owner knows the pet will be happier at home instead of at a boarding facility and gets the service free of charge. The sitter gets to travel to a new place and have free accommodations for the duration of the trip.
A home with a swimming pool in Amed, Bali, needs a dog- and house-sitter for two weeks in August. Two kitties in Portland, Oregon, need someone to sit and stay for a month starting in mid-June. Or how about a stay in Tuscany, where you'll care for dogs, cats and an Alpaca?
Sits last from a weekend to a year. Plans start at $7.99 per month.
Founded in 2013, NightSwapping is based on hosting people in your own home and then gaining "nights" to use on future trips to stay in other people's homes. There's no money exchanged between members. There are more than 10,000 hosts in 160 countries, according to the site.
Great for domestic road trips and for people who can travel somewhat last-minute, Transfer Car offers free -- or almost free -- one-way car and RV rentals. The vehicles, the site explains, need to get back to their home cities, and this is a cheap way for rental car companies to make that happen (otherwise, the cars have to go on a truck). In some cases, gas and insurance is included.
Chief Marketing Officer Pascal Languillon told ABC News there's often a lot of inventory between Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and between Florida and New York/New Jersey in both directions. The site is updated daily and "we usually don't know too far in advance exactly what we will have, so if you're looking now on the website you won't be able to see what will be available in August, for instance. So the best for customers is to register, subscribe to an email alert for their particular route of interest, and come back to check the website regularly."
Airline mileage expert Brian Kelly, known as "The Points Guy" said some of the best deals out there right now include one involving British Airways Visa from Chase, which is currently offering 50,000 Avios -- more than enough for three round-trip flights from New York to Miami. From Southwest Airlines, the Rapid Rewards Premier awards 50,000 points, equivalent to two free round-trip flights. (Caveat: Both require $2,000 minimum in spending in the first few months).