I am always looking for ways to satisfy my wanderlust without paying vacation prices. So, when a family member told me about neighbors who were in their eighties and travelled the world using a bed and breakfast exchange club, I had to inquire.
To join these clubs, you need to have a permanent residence with clean, comfortable, private sleeping quarters for at least two guests and be willing to provide a continental or full breakfast in the morning. The annual membership fee ranges from $65-$80 per year, depending on whether you want just the digital computer directory or you need a printed copy.
A single person traveling alone pays a gratuity to the host of $15 per night and a couple sharing the same room pays $20 per night. One non-member is permitted to travel with a member. Use the club for one or two nights per year and, even including the cost of membership, you have spent less than you would have paying typical hotel prices.
If you host as many nights as you stay as a guest, you are basically traveling for free. By offering your home to guests, you are essentially bartering for your travel accommodations. Making use of an empty bedroom in your home for others results in bedrooms available for you in return, significantly reducing the expense involved when traveling.
After joining Evergreen B&B Club, a club with 2000 members throughout North America that requires members to be at least 50 years old, we quickly learned that the serious travelers and adventurers also belonged to The Affordable Travel Club, an international organization with over 2400 members in 49 states and 50 countries.
The clubs request that you not impose on your host for more than four nights. Personally, I have only had one guest, an antique dealer in town for a show, who stayed for four nights. He was working such long days, we saw very little of him. Mostly when we host, we get people who are traveling through on their way to an event and just need a place to sleep for the night before getting up early to continue their journey.
We have hosted grandparents in town for grandchildren’s baptisms, graduations, or weddings who prefer to excuse themselves from the chaos of their own family gathering for the night and stay with a fellow club member. We have enjoyed musicians, artists, senior Olympians, and all sorts of hobbyists who travel to attend conferences and trade shows in pursuit of their passions.
The typical encounter involves a few minutes to an hour of polite conversation when your guests arrive or before bedtime. Most guests are in bed by 10 pm, unless the event they are attending keeps them out later, and most are gone by 8 or 9 am in the morning.
Breakfast time is also a nice time for the hosts and guests to interact and exchange information. Members of these clubs love to share their stories and learn new travel tips from others. As a host, you can define your parameters, if you need your guests to arrive and depart according to your schedule. Guests are encouraged to plan activities away from the home during the day, and use the host’s home only for the bed and breakfast.
Providing a full or continental breakfast is acceptable. I enjoy using heirloom dishes that don’t get used often to set a welcoming table for my B&B guests.
As a guest, we have used the club to visit our children at college, attend the graduations of our nieces, and we even stayed with a fellow member in Florida the night before we left for a cruise. When we moved our son to Omaha, Nebraska, we stayed with a member who was thrilled to host us, as people from Nebraska are often guests in the southern states, but usually only get a few Canadian guests passing through at the beginning and end of the winter.
The clubs are not reciprocal, so you do not have to host a certain number of times in order to travel. Although, each year I add up the number of times we have hosted and compare that number with the number of times we have been a guest, and for us, we average 8-12 nights per year in each direction. If you live in a desirable vacation location, you can expect a bit more activity. If you are retired and ready for a life of adventure, you will most likely be a guest more than a host.
We have had many guests who use the club as a reason to plan a 3-4 week road trip adventure, choosing places they have never visited, and planning their route based on where club members live. Traveling this way, a couple can travel for a month with accommodations and breakfast costing only $600 for 30 days.
If like many people, you use your spare bedroom as your junk room, preparing to host may take a bit of preparation. Cleaning out a room, leaving adequate space to place luggage or hang a few items in the closet is nice, although since most guests are in and out in such a short time, not much is needed. A private bath is also nice, but not required. I put a guest book in our guest room, and I love looking back and reading the comments from our travelers.
Keeping a guest book in the bedroom gives guests an opportunity to provide feedback and creates a lasting memory of our time with our visitors.
The most important criteria for members is adequately describing online what you do have to offer. Describing bed size, private or shared bath, whether you provide a continental or full breakfast, if you have pets, and any other amenities you have to offer, allows the guests to decide if your home meets their needs.
When we began hosting several years ago, I did purchase new sheets and towels, but they are still in good condition after four years, being used less than a dozen times per year.
Keeping a clean, uncluttered guest room makes it easy to be ready to welcome last minute guests. Adequately describing what you have to offer is the key to a successful exchange.
What if you aren’t able to host when someone contacts you? Saying no is an option. Keep in mind that all club members are travelers, and you may want to stay when a prospective host is traveling or is already hosting company. These programs operate on good will and best intentions, so being kind and flexible with fellow members is important.
For travelers who are open to meeting new people and having new and often unexpected and unpredictable experiences, joining a Bed and Breakfast exchange club is a great way to travel. It certainly stretches the travel budget, and can be a great motivator to set out on an adventure you might not otherwise have considered.