FLICKR/Casey

FLICKR/Casey Muir-Taylor

The only thing travelers love more than traveling is doing it cheaply. Penny-pinching can be hard when staying at hotels and you can end up spending money on lodging rather than having new experiences and immersing yourself in the local culture. If you want to take care of both issues, why not try booking with one of the many organizations dedicated to connecting individuals throughout the world and providing travelers with alternatives to hotels.

These types of hospitality exchange connect travelers with locals from almost every country in the world and let them sleep on their couch, in their spare room, or even have the whole house to themselves.

Because most hosts are only able to accommodate 1 or 2 people at a time, exchange programs like these are best suited to lone or couple travelers and backpackers looking for a cheap (or free!) place to stay.

The practice has been around for decades, but with recent sites like CouchSurfing and Airbnb opening up, this trend is on the rise and more and more travelers are seeing the advantages of this safe, exciting, non-traditional way to travel.

Here are some organizations ready to connect you with locals and escape the tourist bubble.width=630

CouchSurfing

Started in 2004, this non-profit organization is perhaps the most famous business of its kind. With over 2.8 million members in 69,000 cities around the world, CS users can stay virtually anywhere. Members can sign up for free on the website and browse the listings to find the right fit. Every member, both host and surfer, go through a security screening and users can read online reviews from past surfers.

CouchSurfing is free; hosts are not allowed to charge their guests, and anyone who does will be removed from the site.

Hosts are able to screen travelers and are not obligated to let anyone stay with them. CouchSurfing is not a direct exchange program- just because you are a surfer, doesn't mean you must be a host.

For step by step instruction on how to get involved in couch surfing, visit http://www.couchsurfing.org/involve_tips.html

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GlobalFreeloaders

Much like CouchSurfing, GlobalFreeloaders allows travelers to stay for free with a host. All members go through security checks and members can read testimonials online.

However, unlike CS, members are required to host travelers in exchange for using the service. Members are required to have an equal give and take of 'freeloading' and hosting, so, if you stay with 5 people, you are obligated to host 5 people in your home. This can be a great way to give back to the traveling community and to show off your hometown.

Members register with the site in 12 month blocks. After 12 months, users can extend their membership for another 12 month period or deregister from the site.

Users are also asked to register for the site only if they are able to host members within six months of signing up.

To find out more, visit http://www.globalfreeloaders.com/

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Airbnb

Airbnb enables people to earn money by renting out extra space while offering travelers a viable alternative to hotels. Think of it as upscale couchsurfing. Users can set their price for rent and travellers can choose from a wide range of prices in countries across the globe.

The website provides pictures of listings and you can choose to stay in a home by yourself while the owners are away, or stay in a private room while the owners are home.

Guests can stay 1 night, 1 week or even 1 month, depending on the host's schedule.

It's free to join and post listings, and users can leave reviews of both the host and the guest. There are some expensive accommodations, but most rates are affordable and cheaper than hotels.

To sign up and view listings, visit http://www.airbnb.com/info/how_it_works

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Women Welcome Women WorldWide

For women who may not feel safe staying in a stranger's home by themselves, W5 is an organization strictly for women looking to stay with other women.

After 27 years of operation, in February 2011, W5 reported 2327 members in 86 countries from a range of backgrounds and ages, from 18 all the way to 80 years old.

The membership payment is a donation. The recommended minimum donation is £35 (50 USD) to join, with an annual renewal of £25 (35 USD) for continuous membership.

If a member is traveling with a non-member, depending upon the host, your husband, child or friend can stay with you.

If you cannot accommodate a fellow W5 traveler in your house overnight, you can choose to be a Day Hostess to show other members around your town or meet up for coffee or a meal.

To find out more, visit http://www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk/index.asp

Some tips when surfing:

  • Communicate with your hosts beforehand to work out arrival details and accommodations.
  • Look for hosts with similar interests as yourself. Having the same taste in music or love of hiking can help when you are looking for things to do around the city.
  • Clean up after yourself! Nobody wants to clean up after a messy house guest.
  • Leave a review after your stay. This can help future travelers and let the hosts know what you thought.
  • Offer to reciprocate. If your host has been so gracious as to let you into his or her home, why not do the same?  Knowing the guest takes some of the anxiety out of hosting.
  • If you are a host, offer to cook a meal or show the traveler around town. If you are the guest, leave a small appreciation gift.