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Three ways to save money on your vacation lodgings. In fact, how does free sound?

Three ways to save money on your vacation lodgings. In fact, how does free sound?
One way to save during travel: If you love animals, you can join TrustedHousesitters and stay for free. (Eva Claire Hambach / AFP/Getty Images)

Here are three sites/tools to help you sleep cheaper in 2018.

One tool unearths better hotel rates. The second lassos vacation rentals, and the third helps animal lovers stay for free.

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Gopher

Gopher is a downloadable “button” for Chrome browsers; Firefox, Safari and Opera are said to be coming soon.

Think of the button as an interactive bookmark that attaches to your browser.

Here’s how it works:

First, make sure you are using a supported booking site, which you’ll find on this list. (Scroll down on this page to see it.) It includes aggregators such as Kayak, hotel booking sites such as Booking.com and Hotels.com and hotel sites themselves such as Marriott and Wyndham.

Next, select an individual hotel room. The button launches an animated Gopher that starts digging for a better rate.

For small independent hotels, you sometimes have to wait 24 hours for Gopher to send a link to the deal by email.

I tested Gopher several times and found that it usually found a better price, although the savings could be as little as $7 a night. Still, it’s savings, and calculated over, say, five days, it’s maybe a modest dinner for one.

On the first test, I asked for Jan. 5-7 in San Francisco. Hotels.com gave me a rate of $140 per night at the Hotel G. Gopher dug up a $133 rate, but I had to provide my email address and wait 24 hours for a link to get it.

A Priceline search (a regular search, not the name-your-own-price search) for a Jan. 26-28 stay in New York turned up a $131 a night rate at Holiday Inn Express New York City Times Square. Gopher found a $128 per night rate directly through the hotel that included a $6 Gopher cash-back rebate.

You can improve the value of that rebate. The $6 rebate I was offered in my New York test would double to $12 if I saved it for a future reservation instead of immediately claiming it.

Tripping

When Tripping.com launched in 2010, booking vacation rentals was still a chore.

“We sent men to the moon and back in eight days. and it was taking nine to book a vacation rental,” said Jeff Manheimer, chief operating officer and founder of Tripping, a search engine for short-term rentals around the world.

Vacation home owners often list the same property on multiple sites, and that’s where Tripping comes in: It helps compare, showing which site has the best price for the same home.

Tripping searches the major players, including VRBO, HomeAway, HomeStay and Booking.com.

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Tripping also aggregates non-touristy lodging from small operators such as WeNeedaVacation for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts. Dobovo can be used for listings in Croatia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe and Kozaza for Korean listings, which travelers might not find on a typical web search.

Tripping’s 12 million properties include last-minute hotel rooms.

By the end of 2018, Manheimer hopes to increase the number of properties by as many as 3 million.

TrustedHousesitters

Travelers “can have the companionship of pets, stay for free and be accepted as part of the local community,” said Andy Peck, co-founder of TrustedHousesitters, a global community of pet-loving vacationers.

No money changes hands between owner and sitter. Instead each pays to join TrustedHousesitters, which has members in more than 130 countries.

Membership costs $119 a year for a home/pet owner or a house sitter. For $148 you can have a membership as both an owner and a sitter.

Members connect through the site and sitters receive a daily email with new listings.

Angela and John Laws began house- and pet-sitting after the loss of their beloved springer spaniel. She loved that the pet-sitting would be free, so it was “care-oriented rather than pay-oriented.” At 71, she not only pet-sits through the site, but she also manages social media for TrustedHousesitters.

“I am joyful and happy when I’m around animals,” she said.

She said she now has animal pals around the world. She and John have tended horses, cats, dogs and even chickens, which she finds fascinating.

“The first time, there was one that I named Rod Stewart,” she said. “He had fluffy comb and he just strutted about — he was so flamboyant that I told John he reminded me of Rod Stewart.”

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