Only go hiking once a year? Think you won't need that expensive digital camera after your once-in-a-lifetime trip? Don't really want to invest in a snowsuit for your biannual ski trip? Instead of buying all the expensive equipment you need for a trip, rent it.
Over the past few weeks I've discovered you can rent nearly anything, from the obvious to the obscure. Renting is not only a good alternative to packing, it's also a great way to try the latest gear and gadgets before you buy them.
I've divided rentable items into categories, including entertainment, electronics, car items, camping and hiking equipment, clothing, baby items, bikes, pets, and places. However, this is just a sampling of what's available. Sites such as Rentoid, erento, and iLetYou all have slogans that center around a "rent anything" principle.
InMotion Entertainment has stores at major airports across the country, including Chicago, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, and Tampa. You can rent portable DVD players and DVDs and then return them to any InMotion location, or ship them back in a prepaid envelope.
There's also Redbox, the large red boxes filled with DVDs available for rent. More and more are popping up at airports, but if you're heading away for a long period of time with no Redbox to return your movie to, you may end up paying more than you'd like.
Libraries provide a free source of entertainment, including books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines. Oftentimes, if you're not taking out newly released material, you can extend your due date and avoid any overdue fines. It's also handy to photocopy pages out of travel guides that may help you on your trip.
You may not want to pay the monthly bill for an iPhone, but they're pretty darn handy to have while travelling. That's where iphoneTrip can help. This site allows you to rent an iPhone for your trip, so you have all those cool features like maps, translators, and flight trackers that can keep a vacation running smoothly.
Car rental companies usually offer items such as ski racks, GPS devices, and car seats for children. Budget has a list of products that will help make your trip easier and offers items such as iPod car charges and MP3 accessories at no extra charge.
Camping and Hiking Equipment
REI, a national retailer of outdoor gear, has stores in 28 states. Each store offers equipment rentals, outfitting you with everything from tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags to skis, snowshoes, and paddling and mountaineering gear.
Lower Gear has similar rentals, but also rents navigational, cooking, and hydration gear, in addition to offering accessories such as lanterns, trekking poles, and multi-use pocket tools. Check with local shops to see if hiking shoes are available for rent.
The concept of travelling light is nothing new to Catharine MacIntosh, founder of zerobaggage, who believes "lightness and ease of mobility are a traveler's best friend."
When zerobaggage services become available in Toronto this November, you'll be able to virtually select items to borrow, and find them waiting in your hotel room, essentially allowing you to travel sans luggage, or with the bare essentials. MacIntosh sees the service as being available to travelers on any budget, since users can select from both new and gently used clothing. And travelers can save not just space, but money too: "We also expect the cost to be less than or equal to the alternative of shipping one's own luggage, buying things new, or paying for checked luggage."
A number of companies offer cold-weather clothing at ski destinations. Goldsmith's Board House in Big Bear Lake, California; Gravity Jones Ski Werks in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado; Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, North Carolina; and Whistler Winter Wear in Whistler, Canada, all provide snow gear rentals if you're looking to go skiing, but don't want to bring a snowsuit home. Edge 2 Edge in the U.K. and France has similar services and offers free collection/drop-off at Gatwick or Heathrow airports in London.
Perform a quick Internet search to find shops at your destination that may offer winter clothing rentals. Even if you aren't skiing, you can always rent a winter coat to keep warm.
Beyond the benefit of not lugging a heavy bag through airports, MacIntosh notes borrowing clothing "stimulates the local economy and provides an opportunity for deeper, more meaningful social and cultural exchange" in addition to having a positive social and environmental impact. She describes it as a "shift to 'less is more.'"
Traveling with wee ones may not be the easiest thing to do, but the daunting list of necessary items you'll need shouldn't stop you from getting away. BabiesTravelLite features a list of baby equipment rentals by location, including both domestic and international destinations. In addition to its guide to traveling with youngsters, BabiesTravelLite delivers diapers, meals, toys, and other items to your home or destinations worldwide.
Just because you can't pack one doesn't mean you won't enjoy a leisurely ride on your trip. Bikes are available for rent in tons of European cities through bike sharing programs, with cities in the U.S. slowly catching on to the trend. Renting a bicycle is an affordable way to see a city, and an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Clear Channel Outdoors manages several programs including SmartBike in Washington, D.C., as well as services in France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Norway.
The BIXI Public Bike System in Montreal is making its way to London and Boston, while European programs include Villo! in Brussels, Velib' (website in French with a downloadable informational file in English) in Paris, OYBike in the United Kingdom, Call a Bike in several German cities, City Bikes in Stockholm, bycyklen in Copenhagen, and BikeMi in Milan, among others.
Many programs have 24-hour, one week, one month, and one year rental fees, while some have by-the-hour options. Bikes in Copenhagen are free, requiring a coin deposit that you get back when you return the bike. Search for a local bicycle shop if the city you're visiting doesn't have a bike sharing program, or if the program is seasonal, as in Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Miss your furry companion? While you can stuff Fluffy into a cage and bring her on vacation, rules on where pets can and cannot go may limit your experience. Cat Cafe Calico (the official website is in Japanese) in Tokyo allows you to snuggle up to Mittens and Whiskers while sipping a latte for around $10.
Okay, so a place isn't something you can pack, but it is possible to rent your own island. Private Islands Online features locations off the coasts of Maine, Tanzania, Australia, and everywhere in between, including a listing I found for $945 per week in the British Virgin Islands.
HouseCarers provides opportunities for house-sitting jobs, so you can truly get to know a place by living in it, while providing security and/or pet care for the home's owner. The catch with this website is you have to pay $45 per year to list your name on the site as a potential care taker, and you may have to spend time building your reputation as a reliable house sitter.
More Ways to Pack Light
While renting is a tempting way to avoid checked-bag fees, it may take awhile to feel comfortable leaving home with only the bare necessities.
If the thought of renting items makes you hesitate, there are still ways for you to pack light and avoid checking baggage. MacIntosh says, "The key to travelling light is knowing oneself well and bringing what I call crossover items that can have multiple purposes." She suggests "taking the time to sit and write down each day of your trip and what you might want or need for each day" to figure out what's best to bring. Packing light is about "getting rid of excess, not going without."
Do you have a rental website or store you rely on? What kinds of items have successfully rented or would consider renting? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!