Meeting Locals on a Gap Year Around the World

Servas the Best Couchsurfing Alternative

August 14, 2018|Lena
The best Couchsurfing alternative is Servas. Cultural exchange while staying with locals and travel like a local are all possible with Servas. #likealocal

Are you using Couchsurfing to get to know locals (or travelers from all over the world) and to share cultural experiences with them? Do you want to further intercultural understanding by providing an authentic place to stay for people interested in you and your country, and not just your couch?

But you are getting tired of receiving strange or at best impersonal and very short Couchsurfing requests? And now you are looking for a better Couchsurfing alternative?

Servas is the answer to all of those questions. It is the best Couchsurfing alternative.

Want to stay with locals?

Be your best self with tips from my Manner Guide and find out how to write the perfect stay request!

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free staying with locals printables

Let me tell you a little bit about my experiences with Servas over the last couple of weeks. While driving through England, I stayed with Servas hosts on three occasions, each time for two nights (which is the standard duration for a Servas stay).

... in London

Our Servas host in London

My first host was John, who let me and my boyfriend Taka stay at his home for two nights even though he wasn’t there for more than half of it because he was on a business trip in France. It was a great place to stay at, a little bit north of the center in a quiet residential neighborhood. We had the top floor to ourselves with a room and adjacent private bathroom. John had laid out towels for us, and upon our arrival, we even got some very late dinner (baked fish with vegetables and a salad) before heading to bed. The next morning we had breakfast together and then it was already time to say goodbye to John because he had to get to France. I was sad to see him go so soon because I would have liked to get to know him a little better. But we had the key to his home and could explore London very conveniently for two days.

... in Bath

Servas host in Bath

In Bath, we stayed with a quirky lady who had a completely full house. She currently has four lodgers staying at her home because she „wants to know how long she can go without having to work.“ She also invited two other Servas guests and us to stay. For that reason, we were ten people at her home one night. On our first night, we went to a pub quiz together, a very British thing to do (unfortunately we didn’t win). The second night we prepared some dinner together, with a house full of vegetarians and vegans an entirely new experience for me. Of course, we also got some invaluable tips on what to do while exploring Bath and because of them we had an unforgettable time in Bath.

... in Oxford

Our Servas host in Oxford

Upon our arrival in Oxford, our host Deirdre sat down with us with a map of Oxford and explained the city and its attractions to us. She pointed out the oldest pubs, the best places to see the city from the top and the best café to have some authentic afternoon tea. We followed all her recommendations to the letter and had the most fantastic time in Oxford.
At night she or her partner Alan would make us dinner, and we would entertain ourselves by exchanging stories about our travels, our lives, and our hobbies.

All of our hosts have made our trip so far very special, and I would like to thank each and every one of them for opening their homes to us. Being a social traveler who stays with locals was the best decision we made and signing up for Servas made all of these experiences possible.

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About the Organization

Servas International has been around much longer than Couchsurfing, actually since 1949 when it was founded as a non-profit organization to further peace and understanding through travel and hosting.

The member count as it is displayed on the Servas International homepage is 15,000 households in over 100 countries.

Because the organization is so old and it took them quite a while to become digital, there are mainly older members on Servas (people over 40 are probably the norm) and the existance of Servas is not widely known (unlike Couchsurfing).

Signing up for Servas

Servas Website

You cannot just sign up like it is the case with most other hospitality networks. You have to apply and go through an interview with a current Servas member. There they will explain the concept to you, and you have to decide if Servas is really what you are looking for or not. This is one reason why Servas is the best Couchsurfing alternative. No other network vets their members so thoroughly.

Is Servas free?

While other hospitality networks like Couchsurfing are more or less free to use, Servas operates a little bit differently. The hosts are not allowed to receive any money, but the organization itself requires a membership fee whether you are only hosting or traveling. If you are just traveling the membership fee is a little higher.

Interested in staying with locals?

Have a look at the printables in the Social Travel Experiment Free Library.

 

The cost of membership is a combination of a sign-up fee and also a yearly membership fee. These fees differ a little bit from country to country because they are organized separately but it is not very much. We paid about 30$ for sign-up and 20$ as a yearly membership fee. Which I suppose is very little if you think about how much one night in a hotel will cost you.

Once you are done with your interview and your sign-up, if you want to travel you will need a so-called Letter of Introduction. Which is a piece of paper which you will show your hosts when traveling to show them that you are a Servas member. It includes a short introduction and reason why you are on Servas. This is a little bit like a Couchsurfing profile, just offline, because Servas is only slowly embracing the digital age.

Finding Hosts

My first trip with Servas was to England (as a part of my one year trip around the world). So I set out to contact some hosts. You can either get a list of hosts in pdf (or print) format, or you can use the new Servas website. I prefer the pdf because in many cases it provides more information about the hosts than their newly created (and often still blank) profiles online.

Another reason why Servas is a better Couchsurfing alternative is because if you contact a potential host with your request, you will in almost 100% of all cases get a quick answer yes or no in just a day or two. I have sent around 30 emails requesting a stay in different parts of England, and I almost always got a replay the next day.

The standard length of a stay with Servas is 2 nights. That is because with a 1-night stay you can’t get to know one another. Some hosts accept longer stays. So far I have not found a host when requesting only a one night stay.

In Conclusion

I am not saying Couchsurfing is a lousy organization; it isn’t. I have met some great people through Couchsurfing, surfers as well as hosts. But if you are fed up with no replies and strang messages and are looking for a more matured organization, then Servas is the best Couchsurfing alternative around.

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The best Couchsurfing alternative is Servas. Cultural exchange while staying with locals and travel like a local are all possible with Servas. #likealocal
The best Couchsurfing alternative is Servas. Cultural exchange while staying with locals and travel like a local are all possible with Servas. #likealocal

Lena

Authors Note:
None of the experiences in this post are in any way sponsored and have all been payed for by myself. The opinions stated are all my own and have not been influenced in any way.
This posts contains affiliate links. I receive a commission if a product is purchased through one of these links, at no extra cost to you. Please support me by purchasing products through my links!

Gain access to the exclusive
Social Travel Experiment Library

And start planning your unforgettable gap year around the world
using the Gap Year Prep Check List

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About Lena

Hi, I'm Lena the founder of The Social Travel Experiment. My mission is to teach about Social Travel, the art of exploring destinations from the viewpoint of locals while learning about Culture, History, Food, and Traditions.

Find out more About Me and The Social Travel Experiment

If you are a business we might be able to work together so check out the Work With Me page for more details

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About Lena

Hi, I'm Lena the founder of The Social Travel Experiment. My mission is to teach about Social Travel, the art of exploring destinations from the viewpoint of locals while learning about Culture, History, Food, and Traditions.

Find out more About Me and The Social Travel Experiment

If you are a business we might be able to work together so check out the Work With Me page for more details

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