“‘What used to be a fringe hobby for a few travelers is becoming a mainstream phenomenon,’ says Daniel Hoffer, co-founder of Couch Surfing….
But hospitality exchange isn’t just about saving a couple of bucks. Users, who vary in age, say it also gives them a more authentic, outside-the-guidebook experience. ‘It distinguishes a tourist from a traveler,’ says Harold Goldstein of Hospitality Exchange. ‘Instead of just sightseeing, you participate in the daily life of locals.’” — Time Magazine
SERVAS – An NGO whose objective is to create an international network of open-minded people and “foster new insight, knowledge and tolerance of others,” SERVAS matches eligible travelers with volunteer hosts all over the world. Hosts provide accommodation for travelers for at least two nights and are encouraged to engage their guests in conversation and have meals with them. Prospective hosts and travelers are approved only after an interview (because it’s harder to hide crazy in a face-to-face meeting).
Help Exchange — If you’ve ever daydreamt about being an itinerant worker, migrating from farm to farm and earning a warm meal and a soft bed by the toil of your hands, then helpx.net can help you achieve your daydreams. A wide range of hosts employ travelers, from organic farms and ranches to hostels and even sailboats. Travelers receive free accommodation and meals in exchange for an average of four hours a day of labor. The website suggests that travelers make arrangements with hosts prior to arrival; apparently hosts are not fond of strangers who show up on their doorstep with a hobo sack, a six-day beard, and a pitchfork, and demand three months’ accommodation. Now they tell me.
CouchSurfing – The most trafficked of all the hospitality networks (the promise of free lodging is pretty alluring, after all), CouchSurfing’s aims run along the same general lines as the others’: connecting people from around the world to promote cultural understanding and tolerance among and through them. It’s an idea that seems to have caught on — there are now more than 475,000 registered users crisscrossing the globe and finding the open doors of generous strangers wherever they go. You might be thinking, “that’s a charming idea and all, but how can it be safe?” Well, CouchSurfing has a couple of measures in place to assuage that uncertainty. First, there is a verification system to make sure that all potential users are who they say they are, and second, members can vouch for users (hosts and travelers) that are trustworthy. It’s not exactly an NSA background check, but it’s something…