Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Traveling to Learn!

By Carol Pan

Travel is educational! If you're like me, dreaming of the trip and financing it are two different stories. I've always resented the high cost of hotels -- especially since I just use the hotel room to get a good night's sleep. I was thrilled to discover the following alternatives to hotels and will be trying out a few on my trip to Italy this summer. Most of the listings below have Internet addresses only. Please remember that your local library has Internet access and can help you locate these web sites to find further information.


Here are two organizations that provide listings of members who are willing to open their homes to travelers:

    An international network of hosts and travelers building peace and understanding by providing opportunities for personal contact between those of diverse cultures and backgrounds. As a member you can choose to be a traveler, a host, or both. After filling out a membership form you will be interviewed (sometimes over the phone) to insure that you understand and fit in with the goals of the organization. You will then receive a letter of introduction to use when you are traveling. They will provide you with lists of hosts that include their personal interests, and conditions for staying with them. You are responsible for making contact and arranging the visit. The recommended duration of stay is 2-3 days unless invited by the host to stay longer. Annual membership is $65 per adult.

    Another similar organization. Their yearly cost is $20 per year and you are expected to act as host as well as traveler. As a host you welcome travelers into your home for a 2-3 day stay. You have the option of declining any one you are not comfortable with, or if the time is not convenient for you. This can be a great way of learning about another country, getting to know people from all over the world without ever leaving your own home.


If you are looking for a way to relax and really get to know one place -- try a home exchange. There are quite a few services that (for a fee) list people willing to exchange their home for yours. That is usually as far as the service goes, they list -- you work out the details. Most listings include dates of availability, if a specific destination is desired, a description of the house and surroundings, transportation, smoking/non-smoking, and any other requirements for trade. The fees vary, as do the screening processes. Here are some to consider:

    Will list your home on their Internet site and in their publication for $65-$90. Their listings are all current and are accessible to members only.

    Another organization that offers a variety of services: home exchange, hospitality exchange, hospitality to paying guests listing, and vacation rental listings. Their business is conducted exclusively on the Internet and listings are available to non-members as well as members. The fee is $29.95 per year.

    A small, more personal home exchange service available to members only.

    Lists homes for exchange (for $30) on the Internet and allows non-members to look at the listings.


Youth hostels are not just for backpacking students anymore. They've grown and changed:

  • The International Youth Hostel Federation
    A non-government, non-profit organization, with over 5,000 hostels in 71 countries. Many of the hostels are on a computerized reservation system, accessible through the Internet, where reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. The cost of membership is $35 per family or $10/youth and $25/adults. The cost of a one-night stay is between $10-15 per person, depending on the facility. The rooms vary from small, private, two-person rooms with private bath, to a large, single-sex, dormitory room with bunk beds. Blankets and pillows are often provided but you usually need to supply your own sheets or bed sack. There are kitchens and common rooms where you can cook and meet other travelers. Most require you to perform a chore (such as cleaning or sweeping) before you leave in order to keep the facilities clean and keep costs down. If you're not sure about hostels give one of our local ones a try. You don't even have to be a member (although it will cost you a bit more.) There are hostels in Yosemite, Sausalito, Point Reyes, Santa Cruz, Montara and Pescadero. The hostel in Pescadero has smaller family size rooms and a hot tub overlooking the ocean. (Accessible via the web site.)

I hope I have encouraged you to try one these alternatives to hotel stays. Not only are they more economical, but they are more ecological and educational. What has been presented here is only the tip of the iceberg. Searching over the Internet, or through the library (use their Internet access), and in bookstores will yield much more.

* Carol Pan homeschools her children, Jackie and Alex, in Belmont, CA.