smart spending

5 offbeat paths to foreign travel deals

  Agritourism: Work on a farm in return for room and board.
  Volunteer travel: Immerse yourself in a new culture with most expenses paid.
  Home swaps: All the comforts of home at no cost to you.
  Hospitality networks: Share your life experiences with hosts in 125 countries.
  Ambassador programs: Professional and educational exchanges plus travel.

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Hospitality networks
Share your life experiences with hosts in 125 countries.
Sample organization:Servas.
Where: 125 countries worldwide.

   How it works:
After being interviewed by a Servas representative, answering a few essay questions, collecting two recommendations and agreeing to a set of basic rules, you can link up with hosts around the world. In general, hosts agree to provide a place for travelers to stay for three days and two nights; other arrangements can be made on a case-by-case basis.

   Benefits:
Well-vetted host and traveler lists mean you'll have safe, friendly interactions wherever you stay. And with a long hosting list, you'll have lots of choices. The organization expects hosts and travelers to make diligent efforts to share their ideas and experiences, and many report lifelong friendships as a result. Though not required, hosts often go the extra mile to accommodate their guests, says longtime Servas traveler Shel Horowitz, owner of Frugalfun.com and author of "The Penny-Pinching Hedonist." "In practice, most visits include breakfast, dinner and time to socialize," he says.

   Drawbacks:
The enrollment process is more complex than some other programs. If you like privacy and don't want to share much with your hosts, this may not be a program for you. Even the most gregarious folks rarely do more than a few Servas visits back to back: "After two or three (Servas visits), it's nice to recharge your batteries," says Horowitz.

   Costs:
A year-long membership costs $85, plus a refundable deposit for host lists.

   Other notes:
Servas was founded in the 1940s.

   Also check:
Couchsurfing.com is an organization where hosts offer up their couch (or guest bedroom) for weary travelers. There is no monetary exchange, but travelers usually offer to take on small household tasks or pick up a dinner tab.

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HospitalityClub.org, one of the earliest online hospitality networks, is a Germany-based volunteer organization that has members in more than 100 countries willing to share their homes with visitors.

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