The sharing economy itself is not just a tool--but rather a megatool that includes a wide variety of other, niche tools that help it become the full economy it now is. From the hospitality industry to upcycling made easy (and digital), there are some pretty cool services out there that prove sharing really is caring. It has become crucial that these businesses cater to their users and embrace responsive design, the rise of mobile, and the occasional app that makes it that much easier to connect.

Here are seven of the best sharing-economy tools that are not only helpful but also change lives:

1. Transportation: Uber

First up, the $17 billion behemoth that it seems no one can stop talking about. Cab companies, for instance, can't stop complaining that they're "stealing" customers (and drivers). But according to these sharing companies, that's not the case. Their perspective is that Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and many others like them are simply offering a more competitive product that helps people save money getting around (while helping others earn a little side cash). The vetting process is intense, so there's not much worry over sharing a ride with a bad apple.

2. Hospitality: AirBnB

Who wants to deal with overpriced hotel rooms and chains that look the same no matter where you go in the world? Well, some people do, but a lot don't. AirBnB and services like it make it easy for you to rent a room (or an entire home) for a fraction of the price of most hotels. Not only can it save you money, it can also give you a more intimate introduction to your new surroundings. If you'd prefer to have a host (or be a host--you can also rent out your own property via AirBnB), it's also a great way to meet a local and get to know the real side of a city.

3. Goods for Recycling and Reusing: Listia

Started in 2009, Listia raised $9 million in a Series A round last year. The service makes it easier to get rid of goods you don't want (and pick up some yourself) in a completely green way. You "declutter" whatever you don't want and earn virtual credits every time you offer up your goods. In exchange, you can "spend" the credits on other people's no-longer-needed goods. This is all done from the comfort of your office or home, and potentially without actually spending any money.

4. Pet Care: DogVacay

This company is kind of like AirBnB for your furry friend. When pets need a sitter, it can be costly to go to a doggie daycare or those doggie resorts that have caught the attention of celebrities. Plus, it can just seem a bit cold kenneling your pooch for days or even weeks. This site matches you to genuine pet lovers who will treat your baby like it's their own.

5. Finding a Gig: TaskRabbit

No matter what kind of task, gig, or job you want to farm out, you can find a good match on TaskRabbit. You can offer up a service yourself, hire someone, or work out a bartering deal. "Rabbits" have to undergo a background check, and it's a great way for anyone to earn a little extra cash doing what he or she is naturally good at.

6. Bike Transportation: Spinlister

Bikes can be expensive to rent and they're not always conveniently located. With Spinlister, you can rent a bike from a neighbor. You can also rent out your extra or underused bike to someone who is visiting from out of town for a couple days. This helps everyone get more involved in the cycling community while also letting you rent some pretty sweet bikes that aren't usually on hand at major rental outlets.

7. Investments: Lending Club

Not ready to go on Shark Tank or don't qualify for a good bank loan? Check out Lending Club, through which you can either invest or seek out investments from peers. It's kind of like asking family and friends for help with a startup, but without the guilt. Plus, the rates can't be beat.

As Robert Frost said, taking the road "less traveled by" can make all the difference. Why stick with the status quo? In the future, try out one of these "sharing economy" services and see how you feel. You may find that using someone else's home, bike, or car is more comfortable than using your own.

Published on: Oct 1, 2014