Everyone loves to travel and even more so if the price tag for the trip is as low as possible. People spend a lot of time finding the cheapest or best value flights, tours, rentals, hotels, hostels or other places to spend the night.
For decades there have been cheap or even free alternatives to staying in hotels. People have been opening up their homes because they enjoy meeting other people or simply because they want to earn a little extra money. One of the more recent options is Airbnb.
As many others, Airbnb is a website where you can find a low cost place to spend the night as an alternative to a hotel. So it’s not free, but often much cheaper. It has the added benefit that you are in direct contact with a local who can tell you about the area you’re staying in, take you to nice places not mentioned in the guide, direct you to good places to eat or even share a meal.
This of course is not to the liking of the hotel industry. Over the past years websites like Airbnb and CouchSurfing have become very well known, popular even. The hotel industry has picked up on that and sees these alternatives as direct competition. This in itself is not news, many articles have been written about it.
However, this is the first time Airbnb has gotten such a fine in Europe. In Spain to more exact. And it’s not alone, eight other companies have been fined for similar practices. Users of Airbnb may be interested to know that it has handed its user list over to New York state officials investigating illegal short-term renting.
I have personally enjoyed alternatives like CouchSurfing. However, with the rise in popularity the spirit of the organization has gone down. More and more people learned about CouchSurfing, but unfortunately most of them have the wrong idea. They see it as “a free place to stay”, not as a cultural exchange. This wrong idea has lead to a huge increase of new members who don’t host others, haven’t created a decent profile, don’t reply or simply haven’t even logged in for a long time. This makes it a tedious task to find a good host between the overload of results you can get when searching for one. The increased difficulty and mistrust that may have come from this could been the cause of the rise in popularity for websites like Airbnb.
CouchSurfing has had and continues to have it’s own problems, internal power struggles in the company among other things. This lead to the creation of OpenCouchSurfing in 2007. OpenCS wasn’t able to make any changes and the founders ended it after CouchSurfing became a for profit organisation in 2012. This move was rather unpopular with the members, and it didn’t help improve the hospitality spirit.
As previously mentioned, Airbnb and CouchSurfing are not the only options you have. There are literally (yes, literally) thousands of websites where you can find free or (mostly) paid accommodation. I have compiled a list of the most known ones with a decent amount of users. It is categorized into free, rentals, exchange and special interest. Sometimes you need to pay a membership fee for the free ones.
- Hospitality Club
- Hospitality Exchange (prints and sends out a paper member list)
- Matador Network
- nightSwapping (works with a credit system, hosting people earns you credits)
- Servas International
- Travelers for Travelers
- Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International – for lesbians and gays
- MyGaySt – for gays
- TeachersTravelWeb – for teachers
- Warm Showers – for touring cyclists
- Women Welcome Women World Wide – for women
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – for organic farm volunteers
Whatever option you choose keep in mind that people are letting you into their homes. It never hurts to bring a small gift, cook a meal, share some ideas, teach them something or learn from them.
And as always, enjoy!