For the no-budget traveler, the single largest expense following plane tickets is accommodation. Even at the low end, hostel sleepers will spend between $10 and $20 per night for their bed in a 4-to-6-bed room. Over two weeks, that adds up to $140-280; over six weeks, $420-840. Now imagine you could free up that amount of money to continue your travels. Where else would you go? How much longer would you be able to travel?
Three years ago I discovered a way to reduce my lodging costs to zero. I did this by becoming a member of the Hospitality Club. HC is a free international network of hosts and travelers. After registering and creating a profile, you can search the database for potential hosts in your destination of choice. You contact your selections via the website (or email, if they’ve listed their address) and negotiate your potential stay. Then you show up, make friends and stay happily ever after . . . or something like that.
Hospitality Club is by no means a guarantee of free lodging. No one is required to take you in. Maybe the town you want to visit has very few members. Maybe everyone you contact is on vacation or out of town themselves. And sometimes, despite everything, your host has simply forgotten to meet you and isn’t answering their phone either. But these are generally atypical situations. Far more often, the situation ends up more advantageous than you’d planned.
More than once I have had hosts meet me at the airport or the train station or return me there when it was time to move on. One host from Tallinn (Estonia) stored my luggage during a two-week trip, then helped me arrange for transportation for it to Helsinki (Finland). Other hosts have lent me maps and given me advice on excursions; others have tagged along for sightseeing or even driven all day. This year I ended up staying with my hosts in Hamburg for over five weeks (at their invitation) when I arrived without a place to stay; they helped me move into my new place and even provided me with some dishes they were planning to throw out.
It is easiest to summarize such benefits of staying with HC rather than in an anonymous hostel or hotel; however, the true reward is far more intangible: relationships with the people you meet. All of my travels are now associated with new friends in each city I visit. During a stay, we generally have time to talk about our travels and about ourselves, over dinner or a bottle of wine. With HC, you quickly break down the barriers that typically stand between travelers and natives. You understand your host culture from an insider perspective, one generally denied the tourist.
Hosting others, when you have the time and the means to do so, is also rewarding. Strict reciprocity is not required, but the network works in theory on members hosting AND being hosted. The Golden Rule is applicable here.
Consider trying out Hospitality Club on your next trip — I promise you it is safe and fun to stay with people you met on the internet!