Strangers have been staying in Tom and Gabrielle Sweets' spare bedroom on and off during the last two years, trooping in from out of town and dishing out $45 a night for the privilege of a private room and bath in the couple's Chattanooga home.

"We've met people from Australia, New Zealand, New York, Washington state -- it's been a blast," said Gabrielle Sweets. "We both love to travel ourselves, and we love meeting interesting people."

The Sweetses are one of about 40 families in Chattanooga who have listed their homes on Airbnb.com, a website that allows anyone to rent a room, a house, a suite or even just a couch to travelers who'd rather stay in a local home than a traditional hotel.

The stay-local trend has taken off in the last few years, with dozens of websites like roomorama.com, flipkey.com and couchsurfing.org popping up to facilitate bookings. Travelers are drawn in by the chance to save money by staying in the homes -- which are often significantly cheaper than area hotels -- and the chance to connect with a local expert off the beaten tourist paths.

Read more from our news partners at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.