Recently I’ve been sorting through some of our many holiday photos and reliving past exchanges.
Some of the best exchanges we have done over the years have been hospitality exchanges, and as I know that not everyone’s familiar with that kind of exchange, I thought I’d share some of our tips.
A hospitality exchange is when someone stays with you while you’re still at home. You can then arrange that you’ll go and be hosted by them in return at a later date, or you can bank an open invitation to do so when/if you’re in their area. (I suppose you could give someone a Globe for hosting you, but for me that wouldn’t really be a hospitality exchange).
We’ve hosted various people over the years, so when my husband, Ole, and I planned a road trip around the US Midwest, we decided to see if anyone would host us for a few days along the way. This was in 2016 before balloons, points or globes were introduced, so all we could offer in return for our stay was an invitation to visit us later.
At first it felt a little awkward just inviting ourselves, but we figured people could just say they had other plans if they didn’t want to host us. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who were eager to host us, and we ended up staying with 5 sets of homeexchangers during our trip, and this turned out to be an fantastic experience.
All of them were very different and taught us different things about the country, its culture and traditions. Some took us to a rodeo, others river rafting on the Colorado river, and my husband even went to work with one of them and learned about the power supply in South Dakota. He also helped one of our hosts shoe his horse because a few days after our visit he was going hunting in Yellowstone - with a bow and arrow - just as he had shot all the animals in their living room!
Since then we’ve done other hospitality exchanges (even in our own country), and we try to welcome anyone who wants to come to our home, because we enjoy sharing the love of our country and area, and because it’s interesting to see our own country through other eyes.
Reflecting on our many experiences, here are some of the things we’ve learned about how to ensure a good experience for hosts and guests. As with all kinds of homeexchanging it’s really all about communication and making your expectations clear:
Being a guest:
Don’t be afraid to approach hosts about a stay but remember to ask politely if it would be convenient - you’re not booking an Airbnb! We’ve always asked if people would like to meet up to exchange travel stories and then added that if they should happen to want to host us, we would be delighted. This way it’s easier for people to offer to only meet up for a drink or a meal if they don’t want to host us.
Write something about yourself in your enquiry - who are you, what is/was your job, your hobbies and interests etc. This will help people see if you have some common ground and would make interesting guests. My husband is a home brewer and for some reason we often end up staying with other home brewers. We’re also very interested in history and it’s great to meet likeminded and learn from them.
Be clear about your travel plans so people know what to expect, and don’t change them without consulting your hosts. They may have made their own plans to accommodate yours.
Be prepared to spend time with your hosts while you’re in their home. If you’d rather spend all day sightseeing and not be social, then go stay at an Airbnb. Some hosts have talked to us for a while when we arrived, perhaps over a home-cooked meal, and then left us to sightsee etc. on our own. Others have made plans for activities we might like, food they’d like to cook for us, friends they’d like us to meet etc. So try to find out what they expect. If you stay longer than a couple of days though, make sure you go off on your own for an afternoon or evening, so your hosts can get a break.
Let your hosts know what your plans for the day are and when to expect you back – and let them know if these plans change, so that you might not be able to make it back to the meal you might have been invited to share with them. (Remember that some people might need to plan more than you might do)
Bring a nice gift from your country or area, preferably one that matches your hosts’ interests, so try to get to know them a little bit before you arrive.
Offer to clean your room, strip the bed, do the dishes, cook a meal. Perhaps offer to take them out to a local restaurant for a nice meal as a thank-you.
Remember to write and thank people afterwards!
PS If you plan a long vacation with several hospitality exchanges make sure you have a night or two in between them so you can relax and don’t have to be on your best behaviour all the time.
Being a host:
Be honest when you receive a hospitality enquiry: if it really isn’t convenient or you don’t feel like hosting someone, politely decline. It’s no fun being a guest if the hosts are stressed or just not interested. If you don’t mind people staying with you but have no time to spend with them, be clear about that from the start.
Be clear about what you are offering your guests:
How long can they stay with you? If they ask to stay for more than a couple of days, are you sure you’re OK with that? My mother always said fish and guests start to go off after three days, so it’s important to be realistic about how accommodating you can be.
Can they share your meals? Help themselves to breakfast? Cook in your kitchen?
Would you like to spend time with them - show them around - or will you be working or doing other things while they are in your home?
Offering your guests a meal on their arrival is a great way to make them feel welcome and get to know them. If you intend to let them share other of your meals, be clear about that, otherwise they’ll expect to go out for meals. Cooking together is also a great way to spend time with your guests.
Let people know what you’d like them to do, e.g. clean their room, strip their bed etc. Doing a few household chores is a great way to for the guest to feel they can thank you for your hospitality. Don’t be afraid to tell them to remove their shoes indoors, buy their own food, etc.
If they ask you what they can bring you from their home country, don’t be afraid to mention something you’d actually like. They are going to bring something anyway and any hint you can give them makes it easier for them to choose what to get you.
Everyone’s different - so some guests may be wonderful people that you have a lot in common with and who might become your friends forever, others may turn out to be a little annoying or not really interested in their hosts. Hosting the first type make up for hosting a few of the second type from time to time! A video call before they arrive or perhaps even before you agree to host them may give you an idea of how you’ll get along. This is especially a good idea if you plan to let them stay for more than a few days.
Make sure you take some time for yourself during the stay, you don’t have to play host 24-7.
PS If you’re interested in hosting other PLUers, make sure you add that to your profile – also in the “I can be a PLU local guide” section.
Hosting other exchangers is totally worth it. You learn something about other people and cultures, have lots of fun and often make new friends.
Have we had the odd guest who might not be invited back? Yes, of course we have. There was a dentist from Chile, who was very full of himself and not really interested in anything we wanted to share, and – let’s face it - you just don’t get along equally well with everyone. But then all the other wonderful hospitality guests we’ve had over the years more than make up for any annoying guests like him.