Need a place to crash?
Well, you don’t need to have dozens of friends scattered around the world to find a place to rest your head. If you own a home, you can exchange your house for a week, a month, or maybe more. Homeowner or not, you can sign up with a program that lets members contact hosts in order to stay with them for the night. It’s a great way to get an insider’s view of the place you’re visiting and a way to save a load of dough on lodging. This may not be too important in Indonesia, where you can get a nice beachside bungalow with maid service for $10-$15, but it can make a huge difference in most of the developed world.
If you want to participate in a home exchange program, you must first have a home. In theory this could be a rental (if your landlord allows it), but most exchanges are between homeowners. You’ll have a lot better luck with this if you’re flexible on where to go and if you’re in a place where people would want to spend some time. A tiny apartment in Manhattan, Amsterdam, or the Caribbean will generally get more interest than a sprawling mansion in Oklahoma.
There are at least seven sizable players out there you can join up with (click here for links), so it’s worth checking into them to see what they offer. I’ve been looking for one with participants in Mexico and Latin America and found pickings to be pretty slim with most. Homelink International and HomeExchange.com came out on top. The latter is much cheaper, so that’s probably where I’ll join. Some have more US members, some have more European entries. Some are web-only, some publish printed guides. Costs range from $29 per year to $110. Do some browsing around their sites and find a good match.
These programs are especially good for families, as hotels often don’t provide enough space and it can be tough traveling with kids without some play space and a kitchen.
When you sign up for a hospitality program, you either sign up as a host, a traveler, or both. The idea is that at some point you will settle down somewhere and will become a host and it all works out in the end. Typcially you contact your potential hosts weeks ahead of time and ask to stay for a night or two. They say yea or nay and if it works out, you’ve got a place to stay and some good conversation. Your host will usually know the ins and outs of the area, may have a bike you can use, will know how the buses work, etc.
Here are links to four homestay programs. Two are free, two are not. I can personally recommend GlobalFreeloaders and Servas from past use.
If you join, however, be responsible, considerate, and honest. For these programs to function properly, an element of trust is essential.