Be their guest

Hospitality exchanges are networks of folks who are willing to put up fellow members in their homes for free

The "exchange" part means those who have hosted others get to stay in the spare bedroom of any other network member when traveling themselves. It's a bit like staying at a B&B only without a bill to pay at the end—though some networks have "recommended" gratuities.

Sleeping for Free
Overnight trains
Sleeping in Airports
Crewing a Boat
Home Swapping
Hospitality Exchanges

Sometimes you just get a bed for the night. Sometimes you're invited to share breakfast with the host family, or dinner as well. Sometimes your host is even willing to play tour guide and show you around his hometown. It's all up to the two parties involved.

This doesn't have to be a one-to-one deal—say, you stay with Pierre in Paris, then he comes to pay you a visit several months later (though that sort of thing happens a lot). Could be, you and Pierre have a grand old time at his apartment in Paris, then when you get home you play gracious host to Eduardo from Ecuador (who himself had Mario from Milan as a guest in his house a few months back).

Now, it's not like you'd have strangers showing up on your doorstep unexpectedly. Stays are always arranged in advance, and always with the consent of both parties.

Hospitality Exchange networks operate a little like matchmaking services, allowing travelers who enjoy really getting to know the locals in a foreign land to find similarly minded folks in the places they want to visit. And since most of these networks are defacto worldwide communities, any bad eggs (horrible houseguests or poor hosts) get rooted out pretty quickly.

There are actually two variants on the hospitality exchange notion that work a bit differently, so I've given each its own page: CouchSurfing networks (which are free to join, and usually do not insist that you play host in exchange for crashing for free), and Servas (which does charge a membership fee, but similarly doesn't require you to act as a host).

Hospitality Exchange Networks

The Affordable Travel Club ( - 2,600 members—though Europe coverage can be spotty (68 locations in England, 20 in France, but in Italy just one: Rome). Membership: $60 for a downloaded directory; $70 for a print version. Plus, $15-$30 gratuity for your hosts. Requirements: Must be over 40; must agree to host.

Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W) ( - 3,500 members in 70 countries. Membership: Recommended donation of £25 ($48). Requirements: Must be female.

Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International ( - 500 listings in 30 countries. Membership: $40. Requirements: It doesn't say you have to be gay, but I assume that's a bit of a given.


This article was last updated in January 2008 . All information was accurate at the time. | | |
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