Frugal travelers may save a bundle on lodging by joining hospitality exchange clubs.
Enrollees pay an annual fee (often around $60) and enjoy the privilege of staying in other members' homes when traveling. In return, they must be willing to offer an extra room in their own homes to fellow travel-club members.
Nancy Stein is one such frugal traveler. With her husband, Fred, Stein has traveled around the country and to Europe while staying in guest bedrooms she found through three hospitality exchange club memberships.
"The clubs make travel reasonable," Stein says.
The Steins host about 50 visitors a year at their Maine home. They have used the club to stay in fellow members' homes on a cross-country U.S. tour and as far away as the Czech Republic.
"We couldn't have done what we've done without a club," Stein says.
Members of hospitality exchange clubs typically are out and about during the day and return to the host home at night. Stays generally do not exceed two or three days.
Hosts often provide sightseeing tips, a good breakfast and companionship in a new destination -- all for much less than the cost of a hotel room.
Ancient times to todayThe three clubs the Steins have used -- Servas, Evergreen Club and Affordable Travel Club -- work similarly.
Evergreen is open to individuals over 50, while Affordable Travel Club, or AFC, welcomes those age 40 and over. The peace-focused Servas is open to all ages, but members must submit to interviews and meet multiple requirements.
Suzanne Miller has run ATC for 17 years. In 1997, Maria Braden was hired to help manage daily operations; her husband, Gary Braden, created the club's website and online member directory.
Their daughter, Lauren Braden, was so inspired by her parents' stories of camaraderie and cost-cutting that she started her own all-ages club -- Casa Casa -- in 2009.
Lauren Braden says hospitality exchange clubs have their roots in longstanding travel traditions. From ancient times until today, guesthouses inexpensively put up travelers in simple, homey rooms.
"This kind of travel is as old as leisure travel," Lauren Braden says.
For the $20 annual membership fee, Casa Casa offers a password-protected online member directory. Browsers can list an extra bedroom, view other members' available rooms, find out whether the stay is child-friendly and discover the host's hobbies and interests.
Travelers contact the host directly to arrange a stay. It's always up to the host whether to accept or decline the request. But members must agree to host travelers at least two or three times per year.