Hospitality networks in Italy
Be their guest: Hospitality exchanges are networks of folks who are willing to put up fellow members in their homes for free
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What to expect
he concept is simple: you can join a hospitality exchange network and then go stay, for free, in the spare bedroom of any other member around the world (arranged in advance, of course).
The "exchange" part means that others in the network can come stay at your place, too. It's a bit like staying at a B&B only without a bill to pay at the end—though some networks have "recommended" gratuities.
Well, you get a catalog (print and/or online), and a chance to stay with any other member.
Sometimes you just get a bed for the night. Sometimes you're invited to share breakfast with the host family, or dinner as well. Sometimes your host is even willing to play tour guide and show you around his hometown. It's all up to the two parties involved.
So do I have to turn around and host the person who hosted me?
This doesn't have to be a one-to-one deal—for example, you stay with Giancarlo in Rome, then he comes to pay you a visit several months later (though that sort of thing happens a lot).
Could be, you and Giancarlo have a grand old time at his apartment in Rome, then when you get home you play gracious host to Eduardo from Ecuador (who himself had Pierre from Paris as a guest in his house a few months back).
How trustworthy is a hospitality network? Who will I be hosting?
It's not as if you'd have strangers showing up on your doorstep unexpectedly. Stays are always arranged in advance, and always with the consent of both parties.
Hospitality Exchange networks operate a little like matchmaking services, allowing travelers who enjoy really getting to know the locals in a foreign land to find similarly minded folks in the places they want to visit. And since most of these networks are de facto worldwide communities, any bad eggs (horrible houseguests or poor hosts) get rooted out pretty quickly.
What about CouchSurfing? Is that a hospitality exchange?
Yes and no. Short answer: CouchSurfing is like a hospitality exchange network's younger sibling, free to join and a bit looser on the rules, and it skews to a younger age bracket (20s and 30s rather than 40s to 60s).
There are actually two other variants on the hospitality exchange notion that work a bit differently, so I've given each its own page: CouchSurfing networks (which are free to join, and usually do not insist that you play host in exchange for crashing for free), and Servas (which does charge a membership fee, but similarly doesn't require you to act as a host).
- The Affordable Travel Club (www.affordabletravelclub.net) - Around 2,600 members in 50 countries—though Europe coverage can be spotty (in Italy just a handful, in Rome, Ravenna, Este—near Venice—and a few others). Membership: $65 for a downloaded directory; $75 for a print version. Plus, $15–$30 gratuity for your hosts. Requirements: Must be over 40; must agree to host.
- Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W) (www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk) - Since 1984, with 2,469 members in 83 countries (including 7 in Italy). Membership: Recommended donation of £35 (or the equivalent in your home currency; about $60). Requirements: Must be female. (Tips for female travelers in Italy; tours for women)
- Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International (www.lghei.org) - 500 listings in 30 countries. Membership: $40. Requirements: It doesn't say you have to be gay, but I assume that's a bit of a given. (Tips for gay travelers in Italy; gay tours)
- Couchsurfing (hospitality networks that are totally free)
- Servas (a hospitality network with a difference)
- House sitting
- Home swapping
- Other ways to sleep for free
- Eat for free in Italy
- Free sights in: Rome, Florence, Venice
- Money-saving tips
This material was last updated December 2010. All information was accurate at the time.
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