The dream that I could travel around the world while still young without having to worry about saving money from a routine job has become a reality since I learned of host networks while traveling in 2010.
I am sure most of you have already heard of “host families”. But what exactly does “host network” mean?
Well, “host network” is the term I use to describe the online networks that allow travelers to match their needs with others through online profiles. There are two parts to the equation, “hosts” and “travelers”, and both parties must choose and or accept the other based on the person’s profile. Basically, this idea is similar to that of a host family except it has the advantage of having little or no cost. There are five major networks as far as I know. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses as follows:
Have you heard about Couch Surfing? Most of people I know would say “Yes”.
Couch surfing is one of the most famous networks. It has seven million members in more than 100,000 cities from the Galapagos to the North Pole. The basic idea is that there are many people around the world who love to meet new people and would be happy to host travelers in their homes. Couch Surfing gives such people the opportunity to offer a place to sleep (starting from a couch but could be a very comfy bed as well) to travelers for free! These people are the hosts.
On the other side, there are thousands of travelers who want to save money from accommodation costs and want to meet new, local people. These people are called C.S.-ers (couch surfers).
Let’s see what are the strengths and weaknesses of this network. You will see why this network is so popular!
- No entry fee! But you can make a donation
- No work in exchange for accommodation
- C.S. is the number one membership-based host network and it is all around the world.
- If you are not ready to host or couch surf, you can find other members just to hang out with, have a coffee or beer!
- The website has an easy and convenient interface to use
- As it is so easy to be a Couch Surfing member, there are some bad and or dangerous members who use C.S. to commit crimes. Some of these cases are rape, but there are also some members with other, hidden agendas. I met one host who went to dinner with C.S-ers just so they would pay the bill. Some C.S-ers want to promote something and want you to be involved.
- The interface is always changing.
- If you are an experienced traveler I am sure you will be able to sense who is going suit you the most. Try to keep your valuable stuff safe and, if you are a female traveler, try to find a travel companion or contact more than one host so you have someone to notify in case anything goes wrong.
2. www.wwoof.org (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms )
The first ever host network was invented in 1971. The idea came about when Sue Coppard, a secretary living and working in London, recognized the need for people like herself, who did not have the means or the opportunity, to access the countryside and support the organic movement.
She and three others decided to have a trial working weekend at a biodynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex, arranged through a contact in the Soil Association. The weekend was a great success and WWOOFing gathered momentum very quickly. Soon many more organic farmers and smallholders were willing to host people keen to work on their farms in return for food and accommodation (WWOOFers). Hosts and WWOOFers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of exchanging assistance and knowledge. —http://www.wwoof.net/history-of-wwoof/
As WWOOFing was the very first host network, when it was started the WWOOFer had to use the Yellow Pages to find hosts from a list, and then make a call to contact them. However, nowadays organization has a website that connects WWOOFers and hosts.
- It was the first network ever so it has a worldwide reputation. Despite registering with newer networks, many hosts remain members of this network because of its lasting success.
- You can trust this network fairly reliably
- This network only offers farm work. If you don’t like farm work like me, you will not enjoy WWOOFing
- You have to pay $30 to be a member.
If you like farm work, WWOOF is the network for you!
Helpx is based on a similar idea to WWOOF but it is not limited to just farm work. The site offers various kinds of work you can do and or learn about from hosts, such as cooking, sanding chairs, painting, and even working on a yacht. What a fantastic idea!!!
I heard about this website from a couple who were waiting in the same queue as me when I was applying for a working holiday visa to Australia. This coincidental meeting revealed a path to me that has led to many good experiences with Helpx.
Every time I log in and search through this website, I look for new, exciting opportunities and I always find them!
- Various kinds of jobs available
- Clear outline of what one’s work duties will be i.e. no hidden agendas
- You can trust this network fairly reliably
- Nice interface, which does not change very often.
- You have to pay $30 for a two-year membership if you want to see hosts’ contact information. You can look through the site for free but you cannot see hosts’ contact information.
- Old-fashioned interface design
- Fewer number of hosts compared with CS. There are no hosts in some places.
This network came out after helpx.net was launched. I have not tried it myself but I have heard from others who have used this network that the quality of hosts was not good at all. That being said, member ship is free so it might be worth having a look!
This website uses the basic idea of host networks but focuses on cyclists who travel to different countries by bicycle. Again, I have not had experience on this site but if you are cyclist, it might be worth having a look.
This is the newest network I have heard about from a friend I made at the airport. When I checked it out, I noticed that it seems to have the same basic idea as Helpx.net but with a different interface. It also has a blog, pictures and videos to promote the website. Again, you have to pay about $30 for a two-year membership.
The world we live in is changing every day. There are new host network sites appearing on the World Wide Web all the time but I think the basic idea remains the same: the idea of making traveling more affordable plus the bonus of making new friends from all around the world. All you need to have is the courage to take the first step, a little money and a big nice smile! ^___^