Features

September 13, 2013

For travelers, there's a whole new rental world out there

(Continued)

But once on the ground, I relied solely on off-the-corporate-grid services, such as RelayRides (car), Tripping (pals, accommodations), Meal Sharing (home-cooked dinner), Spinlister (bicycle) and Vayable (tours and outings). I also sniffed around Boatbound and PhoRent, which feature recreational vehicles that require helmets or strong captaining skills. I was comforted by the fact that if I crashed the scooter or the speedboat, I could hire Lyft, a ride-share service, to transport me to the emergency room.

— — —

Rachel was my first wannabe-share. She wore dangly earrings and beamed a broad smile. In her online profile, she described herself as a "fun creative chef" who specialized in French, Italian and seafood. She called her pre-birthday dinner "Summer Night Delight."

Rachel appeared on HomeDine, a meal-sharing Web site where members post their let's-eat events and invite strangers to grab a seat and dig in. She had 20 spots for her San Francisco meal and was charging $22 for raw oysters with pickled serranos, strawberry spinach salad, steak with brie and mushrooms, and French bread pizzas.

I submitted my request to join her gathering and booked my flight to San Francisco. I lined up the car with Halil and reserved a room through Wimdu, a spawn of Airbnb that rents different styles of accommodations owned or run by individuals. With all my alphabet blocks stacked up, I was ready for Rachel's meal. But then the R tumbled off.

On HomeDine, you're not officially a guest until the party planner accepts your RSVP. I e-mailed Rachel for a confirmation. Tumbleweeds rolled across my computer screen. I messaged the site host, Kat, for assistance. She answered: "The response time is in the hands of the host." Hours, days, a week, a flock of migrating Canada geese passed by.

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