A fascinating and highly personal way to see the world
In theory, at least, it's a simple idea. We all have spare rooms, spare beds, a cot or a couch. Why not make them available to congenial people when they travel to your home city, in exchange for their doing the same for you upon a visit to their home city--or to the city of another congenial person?
Unlike a "vacation exchange," which involves a meticulously scheduled, simultaneous swapping of homes or apartments, the "hospitality exchange" is a far more casual facility, available at any time. On the eve of a trip, members--in the usual instance--consult a directory of other members, and then phone or write to learn if they can be accommodated. The others--the hosts--do the same when it's their time to travel. Each is received in another's home as a relative would be, either for free, or at most for a simple reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses.
Sensible? Logical? It's more than that. It's like a perfect world, this cooperation among people, like enjoying an extended family all over the world.
But there's a problem: the considerable amount of time required of an organizer. The practice involves, at least, the periodic publication and distribution of a members' directory, sometimes even direct assistance from the central organization in making reservations. Because membership fees must be kept modest, and no one earns a living from them, the idealistic founders of many a "hospitality exchange" have eventually been forced by hard reality to give up the effort.
That's what happened in 1986 to Tom Lynn's "Traveler's Directory," a nationwide "hospitality exchange" that was both the "giant" (several hundred members) and a pioneer in the field.
But eight other groups continue to carry the torch, and deserve our attention. Each caters to a different type of American:
The Hospitality Exchange of Lewistown, Montana, is the direct successor to the Traveler's Directory. This 40-year-old company, which is run by Wayne and Kathie Phillips, recently brought a similar organization called World for Free into its fold. About one-third of the current 500 hosts are "retired"; the others are between ages 35-55, or younger. "They come from all income brackets and all occupations, but share one ideal: an enthusiasm for travel and travellers," says Wayne Phillips. As potential hosts, members all retain the right to say no to a prospective stay--"your home is your castle" is the organization's motto. Members have access to a secure password-protected Internet-based directory of members' listings. Thus member information is current. In addition, an annual directory is printed for those who prefer that. Only members have access to the electronic and print directories. Membership: $20 for one year, $35 for two. For an application form, contact: The Hospitality Exchange, phone 406/538-8770, 822 West Watson, Lewistown, MT 59457, or visit its website at hospex.net.
Evergreen Bed and Breakfast Club is for people over the age of 50 who love to travel. Members provide hospitality and overnight accommodations for each other in their own homes. The club has operated continuously since 1982 and now has more than 2,000 host locations throughout the US and Canada. No exchange visits are required. Most visits are for a day or so as members drive cross-country, travel south for the winter, or attend special events. Members make reservations directly with their hosts and pay a gratuity of $10/day for one or $15/day for two, including breakfast. Annual dues are $60 for singles and $75 for couples. New members receive a 50% discount on dues for the first year. Mail: 201 West Broad Street #181, Falls Church VA 22046. Phone: 800/962-2392; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org: evergreenclub.com.
The Affordable Travel Club, like Evergreen, limits its membership by age (in this case to those over the age of 40) and must have a permanent residence and allows its members to charge a small fee to defray the costs of hospitality ($15 per night single, $20 double). Travel privileges are only open to host members, all of whom must pay a yearly fee between $55-$70 depending up whether they take the computer version or the printed Directory for U.S. Hosts. Canadian members pay between $45-$60. Overseas membership is free. It also offers pet sitting and house sitting services. Each year they offer a cruise or tour to the members. Affordable currently has over 2,800 members (1400 households) in 48 states and 30 countries worldwide. Write or call The Affordable Travel Club, 6556 Snug Harbor Lane, Gig Harbor, Washington 98335, 253/858-2172, Web: affordabletravelclub.net.
Women Welcome Women Worldwide is the most seriously idealistic of the clubs. Its goals are no less than to "foster international understanding by cross culture friendship" and redefine the role of women in society. To those ends, this massive organization of 3,000 members in 79 countries sponsors conferences and gatherings, as well as publishing a quarterly newsletter and a directory in hard-copy for members. Yearly membership is $50. Members set up their own visits, by contacting women in the cities and towns that they are planning to visit. And while male partners and friends are allowed to accompany their female counterparts on trips (with the permission of the hostess), they are not allowed to join. A truly impressive organization. For more information, contact the North American representative, Sharon Giese, P.O. Box 648, Westport, CT 06881, phone 203/866-4774, or Shirley Anderson, E-mail: email@example.com; Web: womenwelcomewomen.org.uk.
Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International, was founded in 1991 to "make the world a friendlier place for gay and lesbian travelers" according to founder Garnet Colly. Currently it has over 1,000 members in 30 countries, with large clusters of members in Berlin, Paris, London, Brussels, Minneapolis, Montreal, Copenhagen, and Chicago. Membership is $40 per year per household and if you join with a lover, family member or roommate, you can travel separately under the same membership. Memberships can be paid for online via PayPal. For further information, contact Lesbian and Gay Hospitality Exchange International, c/o Jay Wiley, Schonleinstr. 20, D-10967, Berlin, Germany, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: lghei.org.
Educators Bed and Breakfast Travel Network, as the name suggests, is a club for those in (or formerly in) the teaching profession, and school administrators. Set up somewhat differently from the other organizations, members are not given each others' contact information. Rather, anyone can access the online directory of listings, but no names, addresses, or phone numbers. You choose from the descriptions, call the club and then they make all the arrangements for you. The nightly fee is $34 for a double room, $30 for a single, plus a $5 booking fee for each reservation. Of those amounts, $10 goes to the host in the form of a travel credit that can either be used toward the yearly membership fee ($36 per year, plus a one time non-refundable initiation fee of $10) or toward the host's own travels. Visit the organization's Web site at educatorstravel.com or write to Educators Bed and Breakfast Travel Network, P.O. Box 5279, Eugene, OR 97405, phone 800/956-4822).
UU'RE Home was started by a Universalist couple, but has since been sold to Paula Robbins. It has many Unitarian Universalists as members, although it is not directly sponsored by any church. And in addition to homes, its directory lists higher-priced and more formal B&B's. Membership is $18 per year, which entitles you to a copy of the printed directory (published in April) and an identification card; one-year access to its website plus membership and directory is $23; and web-only access is $10/year. Contact UU'RE Home, 43 Vermont Court, Asheville, NC (phone 828/281-3253), Email: email@example.com; Web: uuhomecomings.com.
The one without reciprocal obligations
And finally, there's Servas, of New York City, similar to a "hospitality exchange," but not really so, because members are entitled to receive hospitality without being obligated to provide it; as a Servas member, you can be a "taker," not a "giver," all because thousands of other Servas members around the world are willing to put you up without expecting anything in return; they do so because they enjoy have foreigners in their homes and because they believe the activity furthers the cause of world peace. An outgrowth of the peace movement, Servas has built its remarkable roster of 14,000 hospitality-givers over more than 50 years, and yet maintains a relatively low profile in the United States. Applicants pay a fee of $85 and are then screened for membership by a Servas interviewer in their locality; being accepted for membership, they are then entitled, on the eve of a trip, to receive the names and addresses of hosts in the cities to which they will be traveling. The normal stay with a Servas host is three days and two nights, which may be extended at the discretion of the host. Day-hosting or day-stays are also an option. A great many Servas travelers, known to me, invariably stay for a week and longer in the homes of their hosts. If you're endowed with the proper attributes--you enjoy meeting people, conversing with them and ascertaining their views, sharing the daily rhythms of their lives--then you'll want to join Servas. To me, Servas is the most exalted travel organization on earth. Contact: United States Servas Inc., 11 John Street, Room 505, New York, NY 10038, phone 212/267-0252, Web: usservas.org.
All of these organizations are anxious to grow, anxious to serve. By simply providing occasional hospitality to their members--an enriching experience--you can then receive hospitality from their members, traveling cheaper and better.