Home exchanges come in a few different flavors. One that I haven’t talked much about is the hosted home exchange where you stay with someone while they are home. This can be done two ways: one is where someone hosts you with the promise that you will host them in the future. Basically a version of a non-simultaneous home swap. The other option is with points: you stay in someone’s spare room and “pay” them with points you’ve earned letting other folks stay in your home.
I’m starting to think of hosted home exchanges as couchsurfing for folks (like me) who prefer to have a private bedroom, and most of the time would opt for a hotel or hostel before sleeping on someone’s couch.
Why I don’t usually use CouchSurfing
In theory I love the idea of couchsurfing. Being able to find free lodging with people who want to meet and host travelers is a great concept. But there are a few problems with couchsurfing for me.
Privacy and Comfort: I’m not really interested in sleeping on a couch or sharing someone’s bedroom, and this is what many hosts on Couchsurfing can offer. I certainly can do uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and will make sacrifices of comfort for awesome experiences (for this reason I will camp in order to hike in remote places), but given alternatives I’ll usually pick a cheap bed in a hostel over sleeping on someone’s floor/couch.
Social requirement: Sometimes I don’t want to be social and accommodating (being a good guest) all the time. It’s nice to have a little privacy and anonymity to relax, and this isn’t always an option if you’re being hosted by someone, especially if it’s a stranger and they’ve opened their home to you for free. I feel obligated to reciprocate by being social and perhaps cooking them a meal or doing something else nice.
SexSurfing: Couchsurfing has a growing segment of users who consider it sexsurfing. I’m not so vane as to think the hosts are going to be unable to resist me. In fact just the opposite, this makes me think I’m less likely to get accepted as a guest since that’s not what I’m looking for and I don’t fit the 20-something profile.
Availability: The few times I’ve tried to find a couchsurfing host I’ve found that there are far more people looking for a place to stay than hosts available and so I’ve mostly failed to find anyone willing to accept my request, even when I plan in advance and send out lots of inquiries.
Why I do like hosted lodging
There are some big advantages to staying with a local host when traveling. I’ve had great experiences with hosted lodging in Jordan, Portugal, Madrid, and Santiago (couchsurfing, Airbnb, GoCambio, and home exchange respectively). In all cases the hosts made the experience special in a way that I would never have found on my own. The interaction, advice about things to do, and view into the lives of folks who live in those areas, all added up to a very unique travel experience.
I think hosted home exchanges address most of my concerns about couchsurfing while preserving the local host element. I’m “paying” for these exchanges with points or reciprocity, so finding a host is relatively easier, especially since everyone on home exchange networks is incented to host guests in order earn points for their own travels. And they all offer at least a private bedroom (and many offer private bathrooms or whole sections of their home as well).
Particularly for solo travels, I think hosted lodging is something well worth considering. Even when other unhosted options are available.