You can’t beat “free” for low-cost travel accommodations. Previously, I covered home exchange: You stay in someone else’s home while they stay in yours. The experience is much like a vacation rental, with payment being in kind rather than cash. This time, I’m looking at hospitality exchange: You arrange to visit remote hosts while they’re in residence, and you arrange to accommodate visitors while you’re at home.
Hospitality exchanges provide some important advantages over home exchanges:
- You have local guides who can show you around the areas, often including excursions to nearby local features and facilities.
- You may find a host who shares some of your specific interests.
- You experience much more social interaction than home exchange, including possibly a few home-cooked meals.
- You may form long-term friendships with local hosts.
The downsides are about what you’d expect:
- When you’re the visitor, you typically occupy a “guest room,” maybe improvised, rather than having full use of an entire house (or most of it), and your activities may be constrained by your host’s schedules and interests.
- When you’re the host, you must provide space and maybe meals for visitors, much as you would when you host relatives, and you must accept a responsibility—and take the time—to act as a local host and guide.
Unlike the case of home exchange, many hospitality exchange programs do not require reciprocity. You sign up as a host because you enjoy the concept of hosting visitors—usually foreign visitors—and you sign up as a visitor because you like the idea of staying with locals. Whether you do one, the other, or both is up to you.
On balance, many of you favor hospitality exchange over home exchange. And, as with home exchange, the Internet has become the preferred approach to locating exchange partners. I’m currently aware of dozens of hospitality exchange websites: Some arrange only paired visitor/host arrangements; most permit you to register as either host or visitor. Some cater to general-interest travelers, others to specific interest groups. Some require extensive “registration” details and personal vetting (to minimize possible mismatches or even scams). Some exchange programs are “free;” others require a fee or “donation,” and some operate as “clubs.” Some require that visitors pay hosts some sort of fee or “honorarium”; most don’t. Most offer worldwide coverage; many are based outside North America. Here’s a sampling of some of the larger players:
- Hospitality Club: Reportedly the largest; no fee; requires vetting.
- Global Freeloaders: Very large; Australia based; no fee.
- Servas: U.S. branch of international organization; oldest but no longer the largest; requires extensive references/interviews plus various fees and contributions.
- Be Welcome: Large; Europe based; requires vetting; no fee.
- Tripping: San Francisco based; free; new.
- Globetrotters Club: UK based; membership about $32 per year.
Other programs cater to niche markets; their target groups are obvious from their names:
- Couch Surfing: Probably the largest overall; focus on young travelers; donations requested.
- Lesbian and Gay Hospitality Exchange (L/GHEI): German based; fee $30.
- Teachers Travel Web: Also does home exchange; fee €45 (about $60).
- Women Welcome Women Worldwide: UK based; “donation” %pound;35 (about $54).
I do not list programs from the separate student travel universe, where similar programs target this audience for both short-term and long-term visits. Some even include course work and academic credit. This distinct market segment has its own unique information sources and networks.
As is the case with other columns, my lists of organizations are for information only; I do not personally recommend or vouch for any of these programs.
Overall, although both are low-cost options, home exchange and hospitality exchange are very different experiences. Either way, however, you’ll pay a lot less for your visit than you would at traditional accommodations.
Have you ever taken advantage of hospitality exchange at either end? Do you prefer hospitality or home exchanges? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!