When Tim Viall took a trip across Canada with his wife Susan in 2016, he saved money by staying with three couples who, like him, belong to the Affordable Travel Club. Instead of $120-a-night hotels, the travel club stays cost him a “tip” of $30 a night. For travel in the United States, the tip is only $20. And that includes breakfast.
The club, started in 1993, gives Viall access to a directory listing 2,000 members worldwide. They all agree to host other members, if the timing is convenient. People must be 40 or older to participate, and the club costs $65 a year.
What’s it like?
“It’s all handled member to member,” says Maria Braden, the club’s manager. Someone planning a trip can use a map or enter a city or state as a search term to find short listings describing hosts and their homes. Next, they can reach out about the timing of their proposed visit and any special considerations, like presence of stairs or pets. The couples, communicating by email or phone, will decide if they’re a fit and work out dates. If a stay is for multiple nights, guests are expected to make themselves scarce during the day, to give their hosts privacy.
For Rancho Cordova-based Viall, who is retired but blogs about travel for the Stockton Record and its sister sites, the club has been a godsend. The Vialls have stayed with about 11 host couples and hosted the same number. A nice perk is that the directory also lists house-sitting opportunities, which has given the Vialls opportunities to stay for free in Seattle and Colorado. “You water the plants or walk a dog or watch over Gus the cat,” Viall says.
Viall reports that almost all of his hosts and guests have been retirees “who run in the upper echelon of income” and are excited to talk about their towns. Introductions tend to be similar. “He’s a retired yada yada and she’s a retired so-and-so,” he says. Once a host agrees to your visit, you’ll be given the address, which affords the opportunity, through Google Maps, to check out their house and neighborhood.
Another travel club, Evergreen Bed and Breakfast Club, also boasting about 2,000 members, offers essentially the same service — including the standard $20 tip. (Or just $15 for a single traveler.) Membership in Evergreen is $75 a year and requires members to be at least 50. One big difference between the two clubs is the visual interface. About 60 percent of the Evergreen listings have photos, which give travelers a much better sense of what lodgings they have to choose from. Affordable has just added photos, but they’re just small profile pictures of the members.
Be a good host or guest
Both Affordable and Evergreen advise members not to talk politics. Evergreen adds religion and sports as conversational no-nos.
Kathleen Kavanagh, Evergreen’s administrator, says her club boasts a 38-year history of “no threats, no violence, no threatening situations.” (The rare complaints at both clubs have to do with housekeeping.) Kavanagh also uses the club for her own travel, once staying with a singing tour guide in Topeka, who gave her a private, musical tour of the state capital.
“Our members understand hospitality, they really do,” says Kavanagh. “And when you do, you make your guests comfortable.”
The key to both clubs is communication. Be sure to discuss timing and logistics and to ask about special needs or aversions. Ask for a photograph of the guest room if that makes you more comfortable. Check out the address on Google Maps to see a street view of the neighborhood.
As a host, make sure your home is uncluttered and clean. The morning breakfast you serve can be a simple as cereal and coffee, or as elaborate as you like. As a guest, it’s nice to arrive after dinner, so your host doesn’t feel any obligation to feed you.
Hosts and guests should keep money and valuables out of sight, and it should not be necessary to provide a house key unless a member is housesitting.
WHAT TO KNOW:
Affordable Travel Club 253-444-7699
Evergreen Bed and Breakfast Club 800-962-2392