“I really want to immerse myself in local culture when I am traveling, not only go to the overcrowded tourist attractions and stay in a way too expensive hotel.”
Does this sound like something you are thinking? Then this post is for you. I will provide a list of social accommodations that are 1000 times better than staying in a hostel or hotel because they will really teach you about how the locals live and spend their time.
You can learn about their routine, their dreams and goals and they can also teach you about history, culture, traditions, and foods. Make sure to also share about yourself and your own country, about your experiences traveling and what you have learned on the road, in order to create a valuable cultural exchange and to further intercultural understanding.
I have put together a list of websites that I thought are most useful for finding a place with a local host all over the world. Basically, these accommodations can be divided into 3 categories.
The free accommodation websites all follow the same basic principle. If you want to visit a place and stay with someone you have to look for possible hosts via a search. The website will give you a list of possible hosts, whom you contact directly via a message and ask if you can stay with them.
Since there is no monetary compensation for these hosts you have to have something else of interest for them. This can be a common interest or an offer to cook for them, clean for them or teach them something they might be interested in, be creative here. Really, this is all about conveying a personal connection. Because these websites are all built on trust it is crucial that you are your best self and are as open as possible.
My absolute favorite of the free social accommodations is Couchsurfing. The whole concept here is about sharing your life with strangers, being open-minded and making the world a better place. I am a passionate Couchsurfing host and you can read about my very first experience as a host here. If you would like to learn more about Couchsurfing and what other functions, there are that you probably don’t know about, read on here.
The picture above is my Couchsurfing profile which you can visit after you have signed up for Couchsurfing (it's free). The navigation of the website is intuitive, and there is also an app available to send or read messages on the go.
Trustroots is a community founded in 2015 and in only 2 years it has grown to 28,000 members all over the world. The principle is similar to Couchsurfing. One distinct difference is that you can join Tribes of people with the same interests as you. For example Hitchhikers or Musicians or Cyclists can band together and inside the tripes it will be easier to find hosts, because you already have found some people with the same interests as you.
Trustroots is an invite-only community and therefore you can only sign-up if you have an invitation code from another member. This way only people who are a good fit and are recommended by someone else in the community are able to join.
Above is my Trustroots profile which you can view after you have joined. I really like the design of the website and the search function to find potential hosts, it will show you on a map how many hosts are available where and you can even filter by tribes.
I haven't tried hosting or being hosted via Trustroots yet, but I am planning to try it out and will definitely share my experience with you all.
BeWelcome is a sub-organization by the French non-profit called BeVolunteer. It is completely run by volunteers and that is why it can be operated for free. BeWelcome wants to promote "friendship and better understanding across boundaries".
It works exactly like other networks. Search your location, find a host, check their profile and send them a personal request to stay with them.
One of the differences I realized is that you can login in your language and even create your profile in multiple languages, not only English. This will help you connect with people who speak a language that you have in common other than english. Currently I only have an English profile set up and you can find it after you have signed up.
From my experience so far BeWelcome has an active community, I have received 4 messages so far, which is far lower than what I get on Couchsurfing but it still tells me there are people who use it to find someone to connect to all over the world.
The Horizon website follows a very simple concept. You join or are invited to groups with similar interests to yours. The members of these groups become the pool of possible hosts or guest to choose from, they are your connections you have all over the world.
One of the bigger differences to other hospitality networks is that you are asked to make a donation to a charity after you have stayed with someone, in a "Pay it Forward" kind of philosophy. There are currently three charities to choose from, Kiva, Pencils of Promise and Mary's Place.
As soon as I have had a chance to try it I will let you know. For the time being please feel free to sign up, have a look at my profile, and join a couple of groups that you are part of. I have joined the Couchsurfers, Travel Bloggers and Yoga groups.
Global Freeloaders is a community of travelers who are looking for a free place to sleep. The principle of this website is: give and take. If you want to stay somewhere for free you will have to also offer a free place for someone at your home. This means if you are a permanent travelers or your home is for whatever reason not fit to receive guests Global Freeloaders is not an option for you. But as far as I could see from the website there is no way to ensure someone will take in a traveler in exchange for a stay somewhere else, since there is no time-limit or other regulation in place. Of course, I hope that everyone honors their promise to host in exchange for a stay somewhere.
Warm Showers is a hospitality network mainly for cyclists. So if you are planning a vacation by bicycle this is the community for you. The basic principle is no different from other hospitality exchange networks with the difference that you and your host already have a big passion in common, cycling.
I am not a cyclist and haven't signed up to the website, because of that I can't really tell you much more about it. But if you are interested why don't you check it out and tell me more about it so I can share it with all my readers.
The non-profit hospitality network called Hospitality Club was founded in 2000 and has grown to about 300,000 members. The concept is very similar to Couchsurfing and BeWelcome. There is no monetary compensation for hosts who invite guests to their homes. The idea here is intercultural understanding between local hosts and international guests wheather it is for a night spent at someones house or a
The website design really needs an update and is kind of hard to navigate. I have signed up and kind of gave up on the sign-up form because they want so much information all at once it is a little bit overwhelming. I got an error message on submitting my information and everything I had entered was lost. I just gave up on this point, and decided there are so many more hospitality networks I personally can live without being a member of Hospitality Club.
If you have any positive experience with the website please let me know so I can share that experience with my other readers.
Servas is a hospitality networks with a long history. Founded in 1948 after the Second World War to promote peace between nations. There is no monetary exchange between guest and host as with the other hospitality exchange networks I have mentioned above.
Sign-up to Servas is much stricter compared to other websites such as Couchsurfing or BeWelcome, where an e-mail address is enough to sign up. To ensure greater security and trust between users there is a vetting process before someone can become a member. Anyone who wants to join has to go through an interview with a local representative of the organization after admitting basic information to the website. I have signed up and am awaiting a reply about further steps via email.
Servas International currently has around 15000 hosts in over 100 countries.
Working in exchange for free lodging and food can take on many forms and there are many platforms that you can use if you are looking for this kind of experience. I have no personal experience doing this but research and opinions from other bloggers have shown that it can be a great way to learn new skills and exploring a new country without having to spend any money at all.
At HelpX (Help Exchange) is a platform that connects farms, B&Bs, hostels and other similar organizations with volunteers. In exchange for an average of 4 hours of work per day the volunteers will receive free accommodations and meals. While living with someone you will get to know their livestyle, work and culture and you will even be able to learn some new skills.
While signing up as a helper is free, to be able to contact hosts yourself you will need to pay a fee of 20 Euros for 2 years. If you don't you have to hope that hosts will find you through your profile.
Work Away is a platform that connects travelers with work opportunities given by families, individuals, or organizations. In exchange for a couple of hours of work per day the traveler will get free accommodation and meals and the opportunity to get to know a place in-depth and living like a local.
Work opportunities include planting, babysitting, building or helping with animals or at local schools and a lot of other interesting activities.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms will let you experience working on organic farms in 210 countries all over the world. As a volunteer you will be able to learn about live in a rural area of the country in addition to being taught how to grow food organically and how to protect the planet doing it. In exchange for 5 to 6 hours of work per day a WWOOFer will receive free accommodation and food.
WWOOF is a great opportunity to travel for free and experience many different countries like a local, provided you enjoy farm work. It isn’t really something I am interested in but I can imagine it is a great way for students and other young people to make experiences in a foreign country on the cheap.
WWOOF is organized on country level with a separate website. The biggest WWOOF organization is the one in Australia with 2600 hosts.
The last option if you weren't able to find someone to take you in for free and if you don't want to spend your holiday working is to just pay for the chance to stay with a local. Please don't think just because you pay for something you won't be able to find real connection and get to know the culture of your destination for real.
The locals who offer their private homes in exchange for money usually don't only do it for the money, they have other reasons and most of the time they include wanting to meet people from other countries. Making new friends and learning about other cultures.
You have probably heard about Airbnb right? If you haven't I have a post for you. The basic principle is that private people list an apartment, room or place to sleep on the website stating how much the want for the night. A potential guest can then look for hosts around their destination and take them up on their offer or not. Airbnb will take a small cut of the hosts earnings.
Depending on how you use Airbnb it can be a social accommodation or not. Airbnb gives you the opportunity to stay with locals at their homes, you just have to set the filter of your search to “Own Room” or “Shared Room” and you are good to go! There are many amazing hosts around the world who would love to invite you into their homes and are happy to get a little compensation for their troubles. I am happy to take them up on their offer. If you are looking for more information on Airbnb and how to stay with locals using the website, then read on here.
Homestay is a generalized word to describe staying at a persons local home in the destination they are traveling to. The website Homestay.com is the biggest website providing the service of matching potential homestay hosts with guests.
The website navigation is super easy. You sign up with your email, create a very simple profile, like the one you can see above and you are good to go. Searching for a host is very similar to the search on a hotel booking site or even Airbnb. Enter your location, how many nights you will stay and how many people are traveling with you. You can choose your host from a list of hosts. Every hosts has a profile with pictures of the place and what to expect.
So, this was my little list of different ways to stay with locals all over the world. Stay for free, stay in exchange for work or pay for your stay. It's up to you. Do you know of any more websites that should be mentioned here?
As you saw I haven't had much experience yet with these websites but of course I will try all of them during my trip around the world from July this year. If you have tried any, please tell me and my readers how it was and what to expect! Sharing is caring!