It started with a trip to Southeast Asia with a friend who had been traveling around the world for almost a year. She was traveling alone and mostly staying in hostels. So when we met up we talked about what I required in lodging, setting expectations for what we would do while traveling together. At that point my requirements included a private (2 person), clean room, with AC. While that might not sound like much, it was more than my friend expected. Lucky for me she was willing to rise to my requirements.
In the process of traveling for 5 weeks, I realized my requirements weren’t really required after all. And I discovered that cleanliness is relative. If I have two clean sheets, and there are no bugs (bed bugs or mosquitoes/spiders) biting me, it’s clean enough for me.
And so when I set out on my own for Mexico and then in China I turned to hostel dorms, where I could avoid paying for a room that sleeps 2 all by myself. It turns out hostels are a great way to meet fellow travelers while saving money on lodging. And the wealth of information that the hostel staff and travelers have about where you should go next and what to do and see is a fabulous free resource.
Hostels don’t fit in the category of the sharing economy, except in the sense that you are sharing a room if you get a dorm bed. But when there wasn’t a cheap and clean hostel available my next option was often AirBNB. Opening up the availability of rented bed space by letting anyone rent out a room, couch, apartment or house, AirBNB has greatly expanded the lodging options for travelers. The pricing tends to be cheaper than hotels, and often includes amenities like cooking facilities and someone to provide tips or even tours around town.
While traveling in Jordan I found that hostels were quite expensive and AirBNB was not a good alternative so I turned to couch surfing. While in concept I love couch surfing, in practice the few times I’d tried to find a place had either resulted in no responses, or only single men responding. If I’m going to go stay in the house of a stranger, as a woman traveling alone I’d rather not stay with a single man, especially one who has no reviews or authentication on the couch surfing website. In Jordan I found a man with a family offering a free bed. He sounded interesting and had a lot of great reviews. I ended up detouring from the tourist path to stay in a small rural town in a mud hut. That was quite an experience. And free!
When I got home after a year of travel, I didn’t want to stop traveling. Still trying to figure out how we would bring money in, my wife and I decided to try out house swapping so that we could travel without paying for lodging. This actually fits well with her desires while traveling: staying in one place for a while, and having a relatively large and comfortable place to stay. While I generally like to move around a lot, free lodging is quite compelling, and I like the idea of staying in one place and getting to know it.
I started by researching all the house swapping websites I could find. Many cost at least $100/year to sign up so I didn’t want to waste our money by signing up for the wrong one. I did two week test memberships with those that offered this option, and read everything I could find reviewing sites (surprisingly little on this). I also conducted test searches on multiple sites to see how many options there were for places we were likely to want to go. In the end I narrowed it down to several top sites and we decided to sign up for 3 of them to test them out. I mistakenly thought one of these offered month-to-month membership. When I realized it was only annual, and it was almost twice the cost of other sites, I hesitated. They actually called me to try to get me to join, and offered me some really good incentives, so I signed up. Three sites: create listings and start looking for swaps.