The weak dollar has prompted emergency newspaper travel section articles suggesting alternative forms of accommodation. All sorts of options, including hostels and apartment rentals, are being floated as ways to deal with the terrifying exchange rate. This is all well and good, but if such options are acceptable when the dollar is tanking, keep in mind how cheap they'll be if (when?) the dollar returns to a less shocking rate of exchange—and keep in mind how cheap they are for people whose currencies are flying high. These alternatives, which cut against the model of aspirational travel that characterizes most U.S. travel magazines, should be a much more established part of the terrain.
There are even cheaper options than hostels and apartment rentals. This past weekend I was reintroduced to a family friend who belongs to Servas, a hosting service that pairs travelers with hosts. Servas understands itself as a peace organization devoted to the goal of bringing people from different cultures together. The organization has a pretty extensive list of hosts in many countries; these hosts are expected to spend some time with travelers, introduce them to their locales, and ideally eat dinner together. Joining Servas is not expensive.
Servas isn't for everyone, but for those who crave a little local contact and an insider's introduction to a culture, it's a great no-cost accommodation option.