How to rent everything this summer

From boats to pools, Airbnb imitators have your vacation covered

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

Talk to almost any millennial who is traveling this summer, and you will hear them refer to “the Airbnb of” something. For every need once dominated by a corporate name, there are now sharing-based apps hawking rental cars, camping sites, RVs, swimming pools and more.

Like on Airbnb, there are inherent risks when you rely on private owners advertising their services on a third-party platform, and the reality of every excursion will vary. Still, the glut of options presents cheaper alternatives at a time when prices for gas, flights and other travel essentials are shooting up.

A guide to your best summer vacation

If you plan on renting your summer fun, this guide will help you sort through the sites and apps.

Rent a boat

After two dark coronavirus winters in Chicago, I resolved that this would be the year I get on a boat. Midwest summers are short but sweet, so each day that the biting wind off Lake Michigan doesn’t threaten to rip off your epidermis must be savored.

On GetMyBoat, I discovered I could enjoy the open water without owning my own vessel or making a friend at the yacht club. The website is a platform to rent nearly every type of watercraft, from powerboats and Jet Skis to sailboats and luxury yachts. You can filter by location, date, price, type of boat and group size.

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There is also the option to book a captain — with user-sourced ratings for charters just like Uber — or drive the boat yourself. While some captains may share a Coast Guard license with individual renters upon request, it is not necessary to show those documents on the website. Get My Boat requires that boat owners follow the laws for operating charters and renting boats, which vary based on the state, city and municipality where the boat is based, company spokesperson Val Streif said.

I booked a two-hour tour on a 36-foot monohull sailboat for $200 per hour, plus a nonrefundable $30 service fee. I invited two friends along for the ride, though I could have brought along five for the same price. Capricious weather delayed our captain’s previous tour, so he advised that we stay closer to the harbor rather than venture farther out into the lake. Strong winds also prevented him from unfurling the sails. Still, we appreciated a pleasant and safe ride that was smooth enough to enjoy a glass of rosé.

Boatsetter is another sharing-based platform for rentals in the United States. Paris-based Click&Boat also has U.S. rentals and charters.

Rent a car

The human element of the sharing economy brings hazards and joys. Since the dawn of Uber, the bizarre feeling of renting from a stranger has worn off for most people. A chance to bond with your host is still part of the fun.

During a trip to Lake Tahoe last December, a car owner lending their ride through Turo demonstrated how to attach tire chains for my friend and me — which felt far beyond what you could expect from a big company such as Enterprise. That lesson proved invaluable when our 2013 Ford Edge began sliding down a black-ice-covered hill.

What it's like to rent a car through Turo

Not to say that every Turo trip is perfect. A last-minute booking in rainy Kodiak Island, Alaska, presented a soggy sedan (the owner’s daughter had left the sunroof open). They kindly covered the seats with towels and gave us a ride to the airport at the end of our trip.

If you book an older model, as I did when I drove a 2012 Ford Mustang in Los Angeles, you may end up rolling the dice with AUX and USB inputs that are less than reliable. Be sure to filter for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth or backup cameras if updated technology is important to you.

Even with the odd quirk or two, the service is still worth it knowing that the car you booked is the one that you’re going to drive and not a different model, because the car you reserved at the airport rental service ran out.

Rent an RV

For intrepid drivers who are looking to skip Airbnbs and hotels, Outdoorsy and RVShare offer RV rentals directly from owners.

The pandemic fueled a return to RV travel for many, including Cinda Boomershine and her Atlanta-based family. Boomershine and her husband booked their first RV through Outdoorsy in January 2021 for a trip to Disney World with their two children, and they took a second trip from Atlanta to Springfield, Ill.

The website allows you to filter for different campers and classes of RVs, towing types, prices and amenities, which include bathrooms and kitchen. For more granular needs, Boomershine appreciates the keyword search option that allows her to look for RVs with bunk beds for her children.

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There are options to deliver the vehicle to your home or airport, as well as setting the RV at the destination. Outdoorsy isn’t an ideal service for one-way trips, though the renter may allow them for an additional return fee, according to the site. Like other sharing-economy sites, Outdoorsy adds fees on the back end (covering cleaning, delivery, protection packages and taxes), and you must adhere to the host’s rules.

“One guy made [my husband] Mark drive it around the block to see that he knew how to handle everything,” Boomershine said.

Rent a camping or parking spot

Katie Diederichs and Ben Zweber, the creators of the #vanlife blog Two Wandering Soles, have their own vehicle, but they often need parking spots. As municipalities crack down on campers and vans squatting in local lots, it has become more difficult to find safe, legal parking, Diederichs said. On a recent trip to Seattle, she turned to the Vanly App, which charges travelers to use an overnight parking space. Diederichs paid $5 for the space, but other spots can charge more depending on the amenities offered.

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Diederichs also recommends Harvest Hosts, a members-only site for RV owners that offers overnight camp sites at wineries, breweries, farms, golf courses and other unexpected venues. In addition to the yearly membership fee, Harvest Hosts travelers are expected to purchase something from the venue, which constitutes the host’s only compensation for parking, according to the site. Hosts also require that members arrive before the end of the business day, a more stringent standard than other apps.

“It's not exactly like a place to just crash for the night and show up really late,” Diederichs said. “It's more about supporting the local business and having a unique experience.”

Travelers looking for more flexibility may want to check out Hipcamp, one of several camping start-ups offering campsites, lodging and RV spots. When overnight stays on government sites such as book up, campers flock to Hipcamp, where they can find campgrounds on private land.

Beatriz Clift, a self-described “budget traveler” in California, often uses the lodging feature to find glamping options. Although some stays are featured on both Airbnb and Hipcamp, Clift prefers the latter for its wide array of filters. Active campers can narrow down their site by terrain and nearby activities such as fishing and horseback riding.

Rent a pool

Pool-sharing site Swimply lets you book a local, private place to take a dip by the hour. The site can be a great option for pool parties, though some owners specifically prohibit large gatherings or children.

The pool will list the maximum number of guests allowed, and if you scroll to the bottom of the listing, it may detail additional guest fees. For example, a pool may allow up to eight guests but charge $5 per additional person per hour after five guests. You’re not guaranteed bathroom access unless you select that specific filter. You should also check if a host allows alcohol before packing those hard seltzers.

City dwellers looking for a cool rooftop hangout might be disappointed by the options on Swimply. With the exception of Los Angeles, which featured several silver-screen-worthy pools within the sprawling city, urbanites in New York, Chicago, Boston and D.C. will have to trek out to the far-flung boroughs or ’burbs before finding a suitable swimsuit spot.

The options that popped up when I searched for local pools on a 100-degree day in Chicago didn’t inspire me. Certainly not when I could book another sailboat ride, this time by reaching out directly to our captain and avoiding the sharing-economy service fee.