Taking a break doesn’t necessarily have to involve booking a campsite or renting a cottage somewhere. You can also couch surf in Spain, house sit in Scotland or volunteer on a sheep farm in Canada. There are many other ways of traveling.
House swapping, house sitting, volunteering abroad in exchange for board and lodging: it’s nothing new, but the Internet has made it far simpler for us to get in touch with others worldwide and find such opportunities. Much like other initiatives in the sharing economy — such as sharing tools, meals or cars — other forms of going on vacation are on the rise.
It began during the 2008 financial crisis, says travel trend watcher Tessa aan de Stegge. “In the first instance it was from a financial point of view, but it’s certainly no longer just about money,” she says. “Even now that the economy is doing better, this form of travel remains popular. We’ve become world citizens. Like-minded people from all over the world seek each other out, and through initiatives on the Internet we know how to find each other more and more easily.”
This form of vacation fits in with the most important trend at the moment: meaningful travel. “We would rather be really there than just visit a place,” Aan de Stegge says. “Not racing through the highlights of a place, but having an authentic experience that gives our journey meaning and depth, for example by helping on the farm where you stay.”
That overnights are free — apart from a fixed amount that you pay for the platform — is not only nice, it also keeps the initiatives honest and personal. Because as soon as there is something to be gained, it attracts agents who want to rip you off. Take Airbnb, once a model of the new sharing economy, as an example: now popular neighborhoods in some big cities have become one big illegal hotel.
At Couchsurfing, hospitable locals welcome travelers from all over the world to spend the night for free. That’s real sharing. “It’s usually people who have traveled a lot themselves,” Aan de Stegge explains. “They feel a kinship with other travelers and, by opening their home to them, it brings that traveling feeling back.”
Whether you’re into house swapping, house sitting or being a guest, each trip is unique; it’s exciting to find your destination and see whether you click with the host. And what’s especially nice about this form of vacation is trusting strangers into your most personal possession: your own home. ‘Make the world a little smaller; a little friendlier,’ that’s the Couchsurfing motto. Which is exactly what it does.
- Read more about this in Issue 34.
Text Anneke Bots Photography Magnus Lindvall/Unsplash.com