6 Ethical Alternatives to Airbnb for Responsible Tourists

Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece” ~ Ralph Charell. If you’ve read my article discussing all the issues with Airbnb, you’ll see by the comments this topic became quite the debate! This...

6 Ethical Alternatives to Airbnb for Responsible Tourists

Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece” ~ Ralph Charell.

If you’ve read my article discussing all the issues with Airbnb, you’ll see by the comments this topic became quite the debate! This leads many of us to ask the question: Are there any ethical alternatives to Airbnb?

I passionately wrote said article in March 2018 as a concerned response to trends I began to notice relating to overtourism in popular destinations. The situation evolved into a monster and as you may already be aware, services such as Airbnb became one of the multiple contributors to overtourism issues.

While my previous article examines problems and Airbnb ethical issues, on a more lighthearted note you’re about to learn some favourable alternatives to help you become more of an invisible tourist on your next adventure.

But what is an invisible tourist? Amongst other things we’re all about making a conscious effort to “blend in” when travelling to help preserve the identities and cultures of the places we visit, rather than diluting them.

By using the following Airbnb alternatives moving forward, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an invisible tourist and avoid contributing to overtourism, too. Read on for more!

This guide to ethical Airbnb alternatives will cover:

Fairbnb.coop Traditional B&Bs Hotels, Hostels & Serviced Apartments Home Exchange Housesitting Couchsurfing


With the exception of Booking.com, I am not affiliated with any of these companies and have not tried all these services personally. I am suggesting these alternatives as my travel philosophy aligns with each. Be sure to research further for yourself to determine which option is right for your circumstances. This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

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Are there any sustainable & ethical alternatives to Airbnb?

While sharing a room with a local may have begun as the innocent idea behind Airbnb’s founding, its popularity exponentially grew beyond this from 3 million users in 2012 to a whopping 150 million by early 2020. Guests also began to set higher expectations, pressuring Airbnb properties to be more like hotels with the absence of an owner.

Airbnb’s rapid growth resulted in countless illegal listings, companies purchasing entire residential blocks for the sole purpose of renting them short term to tourists and locals being displaced by skyrocketing rents. An anti-Airbnb movement began to sweep through destinations popular with the platform and authorities started to crack down on the service.

After much vetting of accommodation services, here are my sustainable and ethical alternatives to Airbnb for your consideration. While these deliver on Airbnb’s claim of “living like a local”, they won’t inadvertently take long term rentals away from local residents.

In some examples below, it’s good to see we can take inspiration from travel during the good ‘ol days before the sharing economy took off!

Sunset along a canal in Bruges, BelgiumView from my B&B in Bruges, Belgium

Fairbnb.coop

Fairbnb was co-developed in 2016 by concerned European citizens as a response to the damaging effects of unregulated Airbnb. The service is free for homeowners to list their properties, while 50% of the tourist’s payment goes towards funding community projects chosen by locals at the destination. 

With the aim of promoting “authentic, fair and conscious tourism”, hosts need to meet a set of criteria:  

Must be local residents (not investors from abroad or property agents). In Barcelona, an Airbnb “host” managed 204 apartments, raking in over 37,000 per day in rental income from tourists Follow local laws and regulations of the destination by reporting data to local authorities Abide by Fairbnb rules such as “one host, one house” principle to promote a sustainable industry. In London, 25% of Airbnb hosts list more than 5 properties

In cities where homestay accommodation is not regulated, Fairbnb takes the initiative to vet each of their listings and assess any negative impact it may have on the local community. It’s so refreshing to see responsible and sustainable steps being taken to avoid mistakes of the past!

The service has had a very positive response from local residents throughout Europe and now operates in the following cities:

Amsterdam, the Netherlands Marseille, France
Barcelona, Spain Porto, Portugal
Bologna, Italy Valencia, Spain
Genova, Italy Venice, Italy
Granada, Spain  
Art deco apartments in Barcelona, Spain

Traditional B&Bs 

I personally LOVE staying in traditional B&Bs, especially in countries where road tripping is an ideal way to get around. I’ve enjoyed wonderful stays in Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Belgium and Ireland over the years. There is enough security and privacy, yet the property feels like home (because it is someone’s home). 

You’re able to enjoy breakfast and a chat with the host about their city, and they can provide you with insider knowledge about their favourite local establishments or fascinating sites not found in guide books.

When travelling with my partner in Ireland, I’ll never forget the owner’s kindness that gifted us their hanging map showcasing historical sites around the country and even did our washing for us. Or the owners in Scotland who saw we were soaked to the bone from a rainstorm and allowed us to dry our clothes in their boiler room!

B&Bs are regulated and they’re in areas zoned for tourists, but they still hold on to that personalised “small town” feel. Each property is unique and allows the owner’s personality to shine through, which is really nice. Search for all B&B’s at your next destination here.

Lovely B&B’s I’ve had the pleasure of staying in Athlone, Ireland (top) and Inverness, Scotland (bottom)

Traditional B&B’s in Japan

Here on my popular Japan travel blog, I recommend various accommodation types in my itineraries. B&B’s are known by different names in Japan, these are ryokan, minshuku and shukobu. Each provides exceptional customer service and you’re able to dress in yukata during your stay. The differences are:

Ryokan – Traditional Japanese inn, sometimes with an onsen (hot spring). Japanese breakfast is provided. I’ve stayed in a ryokan during one of my visits to KyotoSearch for all ryokans in Japan here. Minshuku – Traditionally family run B&B’s with kaiseki meals – multiple courses of miniature meals presented beautifully on small plates. Also with onsen sometimes. I’ve written about my stay in my Takayama itinerary. Shukubo – Originally for pilgrims during centuries past, shukubo is the Japanese word for temple stay accommodation. Vegetarian meals are provided and the opportunity to experience morning prayers with monks. Read more about my shukubo stay in Nagano in my 3 weeks in Japan itinerary.

 Minshuku Iwatakan

TOP: Dinner at my minshuku in Takayama, Japan ~ BOTTOM: Ema left at Zozo-ji Temple near my shukubo in Nagano, Japan

Hotels, Hostels & Serviced Apartments

Many tourists began to move away from regular hotels as it seemed Airbnb worked out cheaper per night. Over the years however, this has become a misconception. By the time Airbnb adds extra taxes and fees on top of their advertised per night price, in some cases it can cost much more than a hotel.

Hotels, hostels and serviced apartments (also aparthotels) are regulated accommodation, meaning they adhere to consistent standards, local laws and are located in zones regulated for tourists or business travellers. This helps to minimise disruptions to any local residents. 

A huge benefit of hotels, hostels and aparthotels is they don’t take any long-term accommodation off the market. Tourists are spread throughout a city in the appropriate areas rather than dominating residential neighbourhoods, which helps to preserve the local identity of a destination.

TIP: My personal favourite hotel booking site is Booking.com, which I recommend to readers of this blog. I happily used this service for many years before I ever became an affiliate and still use it today. As one of the world’s largest booking platforms users can enjoy the benefits of a huge range of accommodation options, instant confirmation, free cancellation and much more without any hidden fees. 

Search for your next hotel here, hostel here, and if you’d like the option of a fully-equipped kitchenette search for serviced apartments here.

TIP: Where possible, I always aim to try and stay with a local hotel chain rather than a major international one. This helps to directly give back to the local community.

 Stay in a central hotelBreathtaking view from my window at Hotel des Balances in Lucerne, Switzerland

Home Exchange

If the idea of switching lives with someone appeals to you, this could be ideal! It’s possible to stay in someone else’s fully-equipped home whilst they stay in yours for an agreed period through a home exchange.

These services offer unique experiences that aren’t available on regular booking platforms. It works by arranging reciprocal exchanges – where owners house swap on the same dates – or by using an accumulation of points to stay in another property whilst the owner is away.

Staying in a completely residential area not overrun with vacation rentals allows travellers to better blend in with locals, shop where they do, cook meals in the home and even get to know their temporary neighbours. There isn’t anything much more authentic than that.

The entire system is built on trust. Visitors know the importance of treating someone else’s home in a way they’d like their own to be treated.

House swapping may be a great alternative for families who prefer a multiple bedroom vacation rental. A site like HomeExchange requires a yearly membership, but you can exchange homes as many times as you like – you do need to be flexible with dates, though! More info on what to expect here.

Canals of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Housesitting 

Housesitting allows you to temporarily stay rent free in return for taking care of the home whilst property owners are away. This could range from a few days to several months depending on the arrangement.

Most of the time, responsibilities of housesitters include looking after pets, cleaning the home and basic garden maintenance. 

According to statistics, pets are the driving factor behind 80% of house sitting arrangements. Allowing a housesitter to mind their fur babies can save homeowners a considerable amount of money in pet care during their absence.

While there are some limitations, housesitting could be a great option if you’re able to work remotely! Some trusted websites include TrustedHousesitters, MindMyHouse and Nomador. This guide to how to become a housesitter has more info.

I stayed in a serviced apartment when I lived in Wellington, New Zealand

Couchsurfing

With the slogan “Meet and Stay With Locals All Over the World”, couchsurfing involves temporarily staying with a host for free in exchange for allowing others to also stay with you for free. It’s not always necessarily on a couch, sometimes this can be in a spare bedroom or other common area within the home.

While you shouldn’t expect food to be provided, as a guest you’re able to share their bathroom and the host may be willing to show you around the neighbourhood. From my research, couchsurfers have said they’ve made lifelong friends with their hosts/guests, making it a great way to meet people. 

This isn’t something I’ve personally tried as I enjoy the privacy of other accommodation styles, but it is a great option for budget-conscious travellers. Stays are always hosted by a local in their home, which was the original intention of Airbnb. This allows for a more authentic and personalised stay. 

TIP: This couchsurfing review is transparent about what you could expect addresses common questions from solo female travellers. 

Couchsurfing is popular in France

Concluding my sustainable Airbnb alternatives

I specifically did not include HomeAway or VRBO on this list. I couldn’t find with certainty the measures they take to avoid contributing to issues that have cast a dark cloud over Airbnb.

The common pattern shared by my suggested Airbnb alternatives is that each ensure tourists can stay at a destination with confidence in knowing they aren’t inadvertently taking residential properties away from locals. The even bigger win is a truly authentic local experience, not an artificial one.

Whether you’re happy to sleep on a local’s couch, prefer the privacy of a room or require fully-equipped homes, there is an ethical alternative to Airbnb that aims to improve tourism for locals and tourists alike! If you found this guide helpful please share this with someone you know who has second thoughts about unregulated homestay services to spread the word.

Now it’s over to you to decide what is the best alternative to Airbnb? Did I miss any that you’re aware of? Let me know in the comments below!

While you’re here, why not take a look at all my ideas for responsible itinerary planning, how to be an “invisible” tourist around the globe and much more. Come and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok for more travel inspiration!

Until next time, 

The Invisible Tourist


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6 Ethical Airbnb Alternatives for Responsible Tourists | The Invisible Tourist

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This ethical alternatives to Airbnb guide contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!