Hotels are the default travel accommodation for just about any traveler and hostels for most backpackers. However, if finances don’t permit you to travel in this standard way or you’re just simply looking to shake up your travel routine, consider these alternative methods.
House Swapping/Home Exchange
Pros: Comfortable furnished home with use of kitchen facilities, insurance included
Cons: Membership fees, limited options in comparison to hotels
Our latest addition to our accommodation repertoire will be house swapping. During our travels last year we didn’t have a house to actually swap. Now that we are living in Madrid and renting an apartment centrally located, we have a bit more to offer to the home exchange community. There are numerous websites dedicated to this style of travel and we just signed up with knok.com, a relatively new Barcelona-based platform with properties all over the globe. The membership fee is about $20/month or $160 for one exchange. That seems steep at first, but when you do the math, it’s actually quite affordable. For example, we recently used Airbnb to find an accommodation in Berlin for five for which we paid $1360 for 6 nights or about $226 per person. Now $160 total for a one time exchange doesn’t seem bad at all!
What really caught our eye about this home exchange idea is that there are two ways to do it. First you can directly swap houses with another member or secondly, you can use Knok days. These can be accumulated by allowing someone to stay in your home while you’re away though you don’t have to stay in theirs. Then when you do decide to stay in another member’s home you can use those days to “pay” for your nights without doing a direct swap with your place.
We’re really looking forward to using the secondary method’s flexibility. For instance, when we return to the United States in April for a couple weddings, we won’t need to do a house swap, but we can allow someone to stay in our apartment so that we can accumulate Knok days for future travel.
Pros: Free, meet new people, gain hospitality experience
Con: Dorm room style, odd hours, work while traveling
Hostels are an obvious travel accommodation for newbies and well traveled fogies alike. However, we really like the work exchange offer that many hostels provide. When we first arrived in Madrid last year I worked at a hostel for six weeks on that very idea. You do simple front desk work and/or hostel maintenance in exchange for free room and board. It’s an excellent way for young travels to extend their time in a particular locale in an affordable manner. I’ve seen minimum time commitments from as little as two weeks up to two months so that’s something to keep in mind.
If you intend to stay somewhere somewhat long term, this is a great option. In addition, because you’re not receiving any sort of monetary payment, you don’t have to worry as much about the legality working in a foreign country. For instance, when I arrived in Spain on a tourist visa, I couldn’t just apply for any job I wanted as I would’ve needed to obtain a work visa. However, hostel work in exchange for room and board doesn’t require a work visa since you’re not a paid employee.
Pros: Free, meet new people, get a local’s perspective and advice, tight community
Cons: Can lack privacy, accommodations not always comfortable, may not receive a house key
Couchsurfing has become one of our favorite travel methods thus far and we’ve mentioned it quite often on our site. The website has no membership fees of any kind so no monetary transaction is involved whatsoever. In addition to a free place to stay, you have the privilege of staying with a local – what better way to get advice and tips on the city you’re visiting? We find the Couchsurfing community to be diverse, thoughtful, giving, interesting, and a great way to meet people all around the world. It’s a worthwhile travel experience to say the least. There are times when Auston will be traveling for a week on his own and I like to host people simply because it’s nice to have someone around. So it’s not just about who you stay with but also about who you let stay with you.
A common worry is whether or not you will get along with your guest or host. The Couchsurfing website is setup a bit like Facebook in that everyone has a descriptive profile. All you have to do is read about the person and decide whether or not you think you’d get along. You just have to remember that it’s ok to say no. I’ve said no to plenty of people if I don’t think we’ll get along well or that I can’t offer what they’re looking for. And people have said no to me. You just move on to the next profile and try to be thoughtful in your communications with people. Networking is also a good way to really make the most of Couchsurfing. Join their groups or use past references to help you find connections in your future travel destinations.
Pros: Comfortable furnished home, long term available
Cons: Membership fees, home care while visiting, accommodations aren’t guaranteed, need to build profile
The concept of house sitting has also garnered many web platforms to aid facilitating transactions. Trustedhousesitters.com is one of the most popular sites at the moment. It’s the only one on the list that we’ve yet to try out but still intend to when the opportunity arises. This is an affordable option in which a home owner allows a traveler to house sit for them, essentially letting the guest stay for free. In exchange, the house sitter cares for the home in regard to pets, plants, and any other minor needs that are agreed to beforehand. There are various membership fees for using the web services depending on the site. For the aforementioned one above it’s about $80 for a year membership.
What are your favorite accommodations when traveling? Do you have any preferred alternative accommodations? Share with us in the comments!