The noble houseguest—Servas

Contribute to world peace while scoring a free place to stay with the noblest of hospitality networks, Servas. How sweet it is to travel Europe on the cheap

First off, it helps to understand how hospitality exchange networks work (see that section)—but the upshot of it is that members of a hospitality network agree to host other members in their homes.

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

Well Servas is the only one of these networks that doesn't actually require you to reciprocate and be a host yourself. You can be a total mooch. (Though you are encouraged, of course, to be as generous with your home as most other Servas members are with theirs.)

Why? Well, Servas was founded back in 1948 by a group of committed pacifists, and the whole idea behind it is that members are genuinely interested in meeting new people from different cultures as a way to foster better understanding among the peoples in the world and further the goal of world peace. Here's part of their oath:

"I/We understand and subscribe to the goals of Servas, which are to promote peace, the unity of mankind, and mutual understanding of the cultures, outlooks, and problems of the people of the world and we will accept Servas travelers of any race, creed, sexual orientation, or nationality, and seek to have a meaningful visit with them."

So you get lofty ideals and free digs at the same time. Pretty nifty. Also, it's accredited by the United Nations as a NGO, which is a pretty darn good stamp of approval. Servas lists more than 14,000 homes and institutions in 130 countries.

Most stays are limited to two nights, though you can stay longer if the host agrees. To join as an International Traveler costs $85 per year, plus a $25 refundable deposit to "borrow" up to five host lists—each list covers a single country or region.

You have to apply for membership, including providing character references and undergoing an interview (they're serious about you being serious about this undertaking, and you've got to prove that you think the Servas concept a swell idea in of itself, not just a way to score a free bed).


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