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This Anti-Luxe Lodging Startup Will Put You Up in a Half-Built Treehouse For $19


All caught up on your vaccinations? Good. Willing to sleep in a ramshackle hut in a volcanic crater? On a puny budget? Then Hovelstay is the Airbnb for you.

Hovelstay is as out-there as its name sounds. It's a brand new "anti-luxury" online service that hooks brave, broke travelers up with, yup, hovels to stay in. Yes, we said hovels.

While most bare bones rental crash-pads on its website aren't the very definition of a hovel ("a small, poorly built and often dirty house," per Merriam-Webster), some aren't that far off.

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They're more like pseudo-hovels. How about a half-built roofless treehouse in L.A.'s hipster magnet Los Feliz neighborhood ($19 a night)? Or a Hobbit-worthy stucco dome in the South Carolina woods that – phew! – "meets FEMA disaster standards" ($75 a night). Not your flavor? Feel the jungle love in a Hawaiian "Aloha Love" refurbished school bus, with two twin beds thrown in the back ($30 a night). The only rule for the love bus: "No drugs."

Hold on a minute there, party people. Before you get too excited to hovel -- because who wouldn't love to nap in a random rooftop tent near Tel Aviv for $30 a night? -- know that not just anyone can be a "hoveler." College students need only apply. To book any shabby-chic hovel, you have to prove that you're actively enrolled in a college or university via a valid student I.D. and a ".edu" email address.

All hovel listings cost less than $99 per night, plus a 3 percent fee for merchant processing. Students can reserve them for a night, a week or a semester.

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Listing your humble abode, fine, hovel, is free, but you'll pay a 3 percent fee on the booking rate. The more "exotic and unorthodox" (gimmicky) your digs are, the better, Hovelstay says, but it better really be yours to rent. ("We have good lawyers!")

Hovelstay co-founder and CEO Michael Bolger knows that some of the dirt cheap (hopefully not dirty) rooms and other "interesting places to stay" on his website are "dumps." And he's cool with that. "We decided on the approach of full disclosure," he said in a press release announcing the Glendale, Calif.-based company.

"If it's a dump, we would love to have it, and students are in on this kind of experience. It's not just where you stay, it's what happens when you stay there. The same experience as when you backpack through Europe during summer break -- you're willing to sleep on a bale of hay inside a barn in Germany to save money. That's what we are selling."

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The vacation rental biz veteran launched Hovelstay earlier this year with Michael Womack, another seasoned lodging industry pro (together they're known as "M Squared," seriously). Both suffer from an "acute nostalgia for the salad days of travel misery while still trying to pay for tuition," or so Hovelstay's crackup About Us page says of them. Patrick Cunningham, a third guy "with a technical gift bordering on supreme genius" is also in on the new, crazy-quirky-but-just-might-work venture.

M Squared and, yup, Cunningham, too, started the oddball online vacay rental hub, which they say has ponied up some $1.2 million in Series A funding, because they were "floored" at how dishonest they say "a lot of" vacation rental sites are with customers, often describing their accommodations "as luxury when in fact they weren't."

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Hovelstay "crash spaces" come in three different categories:

  • Clean & Comfortable -- "As close to staying in your own room when visiting home as you can get."

  • Good Enough -- "Spring-break-ish accommodations, usually in a really good neighborhood."

  • Survivor Hovels -- For the "thrill seeker."

Luckily there are a growing number of "normal and logical" places on the site to stay as well, for travelers who aren't in the mood for sharing a bathroom (if there's one at all), a bamboo lean-to, or a "Charming Romantic Mermaid Cottage" sculpted from colorful glass bottles and sliced wood stumps. But it's so pretty, though.

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Shanty, shed or solar home-share, whichever you hovel you dare, expect adventure. "Hovelstay is here to give students an experience and a "wtf' moment," the company says. Now if that isn't customer service, we don't know what is.

We want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments below, would you stay in a Hovelshare crash pad?

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