How the Sharing Economy Can Save Summer Vacation

A nation of freelancers can't afford their own private summer homes. But a return to the proud tradition of co-vacationing means they won't have to.

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Reuters

Once summer hits, the vacation countdown begins. Time for soft ice cream at the beach or sunbathing by the lake. That is, if you can afford it.

With prices soaring on gas, hotels and summer rentals, a summer vacation is no longer within reach for much of the middle class. Paychecks are declining as the nature of work keeps changing. Full-time jobs are giving way to contract employment and gig work. It's leading more middle class professionals into the ranks of freelancers, where episodic income is the norm and paid vacation is rare.

They're not looking to own a second home. They just want to be able to take a week or two off and go someplace to relax and recharge.

It's time to reclaim summer, and the answer lies in an unlikely place: co-working. Most independent workers can't afford to lease an office on their own. So as more people enter the freelance workforce, they've started coming together to solve this problem by creating co-working spaces -- big, shared workspaces where professionals of all types work next to each other, spreading the cost.

Co-vacationing is the next step.

Co-working spaces usually offer support services freelancers want, like conference rooms, a kitchen and broadband access, giving them access to more amenities than they could have afforded solo. Plus, members get a built-in community of potential friends and business partners. Co-vacationing builds on the same idea. By pooling their resources, families can afford more of a vacation together than they could on their own.

In fact, it's the way the middle class used to do summer.

There's a long history of groups of families getting together to buy a piece of land upstate or a string of bungalows on the beach. They'd basically set up their own camps, arranging outdoor activities like fishing, swimming and tennis, and social events like campfires and dances. Kids spent their summers playing with other kids.

Labor organizations built permanent summer camps for their members, like Unity House, owned by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. In 1919, the union bought a lodge on a lake in the Poconos, built cabins and facilities, and created an affordable summer resort where workers and their families could rent rooms or bungalows. Unity House ran outdoor activities and educational programs, theaters and guest lectures until its closure in 1989.

Workmen's Circle, a fraternal organization that was part of the Jewish Labor Committee, also built a family camp in the early 1900s, called Circle Lodge, in Hopewell Junction, NY. It's still running. Members can still rent bungalows, and the camp runs outdoor activities and Jewish cultural programs.

These were not time-shares. These were complete summer communities. The difference is subtle, but important. A time-share is about an individual family getting a condo unit for a week or two of vacation -- they just take turns with hundreds of other part-owners of a resort complex. "Ownership" typically means buying a license or an investment share in a property run by a larger company.

Presented by

Sara Horowitz is the founder of Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization representing the interests and concerns of the independent workforce.

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