Skip the hotel

Skip the hotel

Hotels and campgrounds are perfectly fine places to stay, but travelers looking beyond the usual accommodations have some unusual options these days, thanks to entrepreneurial imagination and emerging technology.

Ohioans are participating as both guests and hosts in the short-term-rental boom, with more than 300 unique Buckeye State properties available on such popular booking websites as VRBO (for renting entire houses), Airbnb (for single rooms and houses), and Hipcamp (for campsites and cabins). 

The Box Hop

Seth and Emily Britt converted some old shipping containers into the Box Hop, a pair of unique residences for rent in the Hocking Hills region.

West Wind Stables
Converted boxcar at Dutch Creek Winery
Berlin Woods Treehouses

Want to wake up on a blueberry farm? There’s a fine spot near Lake Erie. How about a 1950s railroad caboose? Check Athens. Prefer a tiny home, treehouse, or yurt? Search “Ohio” and “unique stays” to find exactly what you want, from castles to barns.

Seth and Emily Britt, owners of two short-term rentals in Hocking County, started out as traditional landlords, renting property for 12 months at a time — but as the private rental business found footing, they saw an opportunity to bring to life an idea from Seth’s college years working for FedEx, when he loaded trucks from massive shipping containers. The Britts built the OG Box Hop and its slightly newer companion, the BoHo Box Hop, from stacked, refurbished shipping containers. Both places have gorgeous interiors, which reviewers call “a work of art” and “as magical as it is cozy” — and feature plenty of windows for natural lighting. 

Still, the Box Hop isn’t a good fit for everyone, so the couple is candid about what guests can expect: a beautiful, small (400-square-foot) house with a long gravel driveway that has a few steep turns. It’s probably not ideal for large family reunions or expensive sports cars, but it may be perfect for nature-loving singles, couples, and small families. 

“It’s really important to communicate as much as you can upfront,” Emily says. “Being a good host is treating someone like family when they visit.” 

The Britts built in Rockbridge because they knew the lay of the land, and they thought their shipping containers would stand out from traditional cabins for rent in the area.

“It was an easy decision because we chose an area that we love,” Emily says. “When you’re serving people, you want to bring a fresh perspective. We take a little bit of pride in shedding new light on the area.”

“We both love people, and now we’re meeting and interacting with couples every few days, which is fun,” Seth says. “A few couples have even gotten married on the outside deck at the Box Hop.”

RV and tent campers know campsites can be peaceful or packed with partiers and loud TVs. Susie Holycross of Bellefontaine listed her 166-acre farm on Airbnb and Hipcamp to give campers another option. 

West Wind Stables Equine Rescue and Rehab was already put to good use as a home for 20 rescue horses, and Holycross thought she might host an occasional horse lover, which she certainly did. But it didn’t stop there. Polish and Brazilian travelers, windmill farm workers, a house hunter, a student intern, and families all booked stays, from one night to several weeks at a time. 

“People seem to like waking up and seeing the horses and feeding them apples,” she says. “They’re enjoying the scenery that I get to enjoy every day.” 
The property has enough room to host dozens of campers, and Holycross could easily charge more than $25 per night, but she said she’s more interested in meeting new people and giving them a private place to unplug and relax. After paying website fees and insurance, any income she earns goes back into the property. 

“Most families don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend to take their kids on vacation,” she says. “This is a nice way to offset improvement costs, but I’d rather keep my price low so everyone can benefit.” 

Searching the sites

When looking for a unique place to stay, the Airbnb, VRBO, and Hipcamp websites are good places to start. Travelers can pare down search results by price range, number of bedrooms, type of place, wheelchair accessibility, pet-friendliness, and many more options. There’s also a filter for “superhost,” which shows only the top-rated listings. Before booking, guests should read the reviews to weed out the overhyped properties from the great stays. Five-star rentals often feature beautiful accommodations, stunning views, and thoughtful amenities like good coffee and fancy shampoo.