Four Alternative Travel Accommodations —Here’s What You Need to Know

Tonight, I attended the Portland Meetup Global Travel Group for a discussion about alternative travel accommodations, specifically four cost-effective home stay services around the world.

First, let me say that if you’ve never been to a Meetup, go to one. It brings together people in your community who share interests and similar passions to engage in experiences, learning or to socialize. By attending the Global Travel Group Meetup, I met other locals in my community who share my love for travel and learned a few things too.

The four services that were discussed were membership-based offerings with little to no cost to stay in the United States and worldwide. A few of these I knew about but had very little information. After hearing about them, I'm intrigued and excited to give a few a try.

Bonus, all of these offer great ways to learn more about local culture and help reduce costs for longer term travel. 


What it is: An international travel club of 15,000 members worldwide promoting peace by understanding cultural differences through shared accommodations.

  • Membership feeThe fee varies by country but in the United States it is $98 to join as an international traveler for the first year (there are annual renewal fees). It is free for hosts. One exception to the fee is that if you sign up to be a host in the United States you can stay for free as a traveler in the United States without paying the annual travelers fee. If you wish to travel outside of the United States, the traveler fee stated above applies.
  • Membership process. Of the four services featured in this blog post, the membership process for this service is more involved. There is a vetting process for both travelers and hosts. Two letters of recommendations and an interview are required to join the network. Once approved, traveler and host profiles are included in the United States Servas list (available online to approved International Travelers and US Hosts).
  • Visits/stays. Travelers contact hosts to arrange visits. Visits are free (that's the benefit of membership). After the visit, travelers and host rate each other. Each stay is a maximum of two nights but hosts can offer an extension (travelers are not allowed to ask). The host typically provides dinner.

    If you are interested in hosting but cannot provide accommodations, you can sign up as a Day Host to share activities in your city with travelers. This may be a great first step for anyone interested in trying this service or thinking about becoming a host.

One benefit (mentioned by an advocate for this service at the Meetup) is that single women travelers can select to stay with single woman hosts, and couples can stay in homes with other couples. Profiles provide personal preference information and information about individual interests so you can pair up with hosts like you.

There’s great information on the Servas website including FAQs for travelers and hosts for each country.


What it is: A free website for hosts and travelers to stay in a local’s free (open) bed, couch or floor at no cost. It is a similar experience to Servas but the differences are there’s no vetting process, it is free (no membership fee or fees for stays) and there's no specified maximum stay requirement (it is agreed upon by host and traveler).

The couple who talked about this at the Meetup couldn't say enough positive things about this service and shared a story about a wonderful experience they had staying with a Muslim family in Egypt for a month. After their stay, the host family’s 30-year old son traveled with the couple.

  • Membership and Fee. Free.
  • Visits/stays. Arranged through the website at no cost.

There are four ways to use this service.

  • Be a Surfer. Flexibility is key--set up your profile to reflect your travel style and be honest. You could be sleeping on the floor or a bed so it is important to read host profiles and reviews to understand the accommodations and host. Know that 99% of hosts want to share their culture and provide authentic experiences. Reading the host’s reviews will help you understand expectations. Remember, hosts cannot delete or alter the reviews. So read carefully.
  • Be a Host. Similar to the surfer, you’ll want to provide a clear and honest profile. 
  • Join Local Events. Host cities provide informal, informative free events that you can participate in to meet locals.
  • Have Coffee Meetings. Similar to the Servas Day Host there are options for surfers to meet locals at a public location for a brief meeting to learn about the local area and culture. 

Affordable Travel Club

What it is: A discounted Bed-n-Breakfast style travel club for travelers ages 40 and over.

  • Membership and Fee. There are annual dues of $65 a year. Lodging gratuity thereafter is $15 for a single and $20 for couples. Each additional person is $10. Not the same vetting process as Servas. Strict rules about age (must be over age 40) but if you are traveling with someone under the age of 40 this must be verified by the host.  
  • Visits/stays. Simply join the club and email stay requests to hosts to arrange a visit. There is a cost to the stay (as mentioned above) in addition to the annual membership fee. Breakfast is included.

Home Exchange

What it is: An online network of 65,000 people in 150 counties who are willing to swap their homes for stays around the world. 

  • Membership fee: $150 a year to join but all house swaps are free.
  • Visits/stays. This is a true home exchange where you are NOT greeted by the home owner. Most of the time the exchange is simultaneous—you are in the guest’s home while they are in your home. Travel opportunities are typically initiated by the traveler.

There are a few things you should consider, agree upon as part of the exchange:

  • Cleaning – decide who will clean (a service, you or the traveler) but you all must agree.

  • Pets and number of guests - Be specific on pets and number of people who will be staying in your home and theirs.

  • Understand your guest(s) – Meet and discuss the arrangement over Skype. Read profiles and reviews too. 

  • Emergency contacts - Create a list of local people for emergencies that house guests can contact. For example, plumbing issues and emergency contractors for repairs. Leave manuals for how to use appliances and information about the area for guests.

The one thing I liked about Home Exchange were the stories I heard about the fabulous homes and opportunities that this service offers. You get to stay in places you might not otherwise be able to afford when traveling abroad.

The couple who talked about this service at the Meetup said that they often turn down opportunities to places like Paris and so on because it doesn't always work out. This service is intriguing because there's built in trust since the exchange is directly with the person whose home you will be staying. Oftentimes too, people have multiple homes that can be offered and there's no need for a simultaneous exchange. You work out all the details with the individuals and what works best for you.

A Note about All Services

One theme discussed about all services is the importance of reading and leaving reviews, and reporting poor experiences. Poorly reviewed travelers and hosts can be turned down using all services. 

Those who spoke about the services couldn't say enough great things about them and the friendships they formed with people around the world. 

Have you tried these services?

There are many options for accommodations while traveling, and these are just a few. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments below.