Experience the World
Imagine arriving in a foreign city, and someone is there to greet you. They help with your luggage, then drive you to their home. You meet the rest of the family, have a meal and then either rest for a time or go out to explore your surroundings. You stay with this person or family for the rest of the week, going out on sight-seeing trips most days.
This is likely to be your experience if you travel with Friendship Force (www.friendshipforce.org,) a hospitality exchange organization. People you have never met before welcome you into their homes, and do their best to make you happy during your stay. Your only job is to be friendly and appreciative.
I have travelled a lot in different ways--by myself, on cruises, on tours and press trips, but never have I enjoyed a trip more than I did my Friendship Force trip to Russia in 2011. You can refer back to posts from the summer and fall of that year for more information on the trip. Meeting and getting to know locals makes all the difference, and it is great travelling with a group of people who are all dedicated to being pleasant.
If you would like to experience a Friendship Force trip this year, check out the catalog exchanges on their Website. Among them are three weeks in Australia and Tasmania, at a cost of about $2300, or two weeks in Taiwan for $1330. If you speak French, meet friends in Paris and southern France for two weeks for $1,175. Prices do not include international air fare.
It is difficult to generalize about Friendship Force tours because they are all different. Your experience will depend a lot on the host you happen to get. I had wonderful hosts in both St. Petersburg and Irkutsk, but some people on my trip said they had to share their room with animals, or that their hosts left them to their own devices too much. It's all a matter of luck.
If you are adventurous, though, it is a chance worth taking. The fact that these exchanges, which rely entirely on volunteer labour by club members, are usually quite a lot cheaper than commercial tours is just a bonus.