Most of us have a spare and unused room, or a spare cot. Why not make them available — for no charge or a nominal charge — to responsible travelers as they pass through our home cities? Why not provide such hospitality out of either idealism or a desire to meet people from other countries or places — but also to obtain hospitality for ourselves on our own future travels?
Those were the motives of a number of thoughtful Danes who founded a hospitality organization called Servas in 1948. It grew to enormous size, and to this day enables its members (several thousand of them) to enjoy free stays of about two nights per city as they travel (see www.servas.org).
Servas was later emulated by the Affordable Travel Club (www.affordabletravelclub. net) but with a difference. Because it encourages its hosts to provide breakfast as well, and to assume the costs of communicating with would-be guests in advance of their stay, Affordable Travel Club asks that people enjoying hospitality pay a small stipend — $15 for a single person per night, $20 for two people per night — in addition to a yearly membership charge of $65. The Affordable Travel Club now has more than 2,000 host locations in 49 states and 50 countries.
Neither Servas nor the Affordable Travel Club was regarded by a great many younger travelers as suitable for their own age range. Based on that assumption, they created — apparently, about nine years ago — Couchsurfing.com and Globalfreeloaders.com. Couchsurfing.com, in particular, has grown to large size and processes the totally free-of-charge requests of multitudes of young and unpretentious people.
And two other such organizations have sprung up within the past two years. One is for teachers and school staff, who are offered entirely free bed and breakfast for up to three nights by other educators (active, former or retired) in 29 countries.
Teacherstravelweb.com was organized by a teacher residing in Antwerp, Belgium, who is continuing an initiative started by a New Zealand couple two years ago. Its charge to join is 45 euros (about $54) for one year and 79 euros ($95) for two years, which covers the cost of maintaining the organization. No per-night charge is assessed for the actual stays.
Casa Casa (www.casacasa.org) is the other recent, fee-charging hospitality club — and its fees are refreshing: $15 (single), $20 (double) per room per night, as well as a yearly membership charge of only $20 (considerably less than Affordable Travel Club asks). Casa Casa was begun in August 2009 and already has 160 members — mainly in North America, but also in Europe, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. It's small enough that its founders are still willing to accept phone calls discussing their service (tel. 206-932-2002).
How safe is it to make use of these hospitality offers? Most of the clubs have set up elaborate mechanisms for obtaining references, confirming the bona fides of both guests and hosts, even revealing whether guests have made small contributions to the organizations' operating funds.
In the last analysis, it's up to you, of course, to learn something about the host or guest you will be encountering, mainly by requesting the names and phone numbers of other people who can vouch for them.
Taking reasonable precautions, about the worst you will experience is an occasionally boring host or guest — and that's a small price to pay.