Don’t assume people are going to host you
First and foremost, do not assume, or expect others to be willing and able to host you, especially if you do not have a wealth of good references. You can build good character references by working with people locally. Overtime, if you maintain good standing in your local market, it will be easier to branch out. Consider hosting other travelers who have good references. When I had an apartment, I hosted and shot with a good number of models. It helped when I traveled to their area plus we both got content for our sites while we did it.
New Market = Cover Your Own Lodging
When traveling to a new market, I try not to be hosted. I book a hotel. In new markets I always plan to make NO money and spend a lot more. This is planning for the worst but also allows you to take on more tests, and more trades. Building contacts is VERY important in markets that arent local to you.
Plan ahead, and be courteous
If you are contacting someone in regards to possibly hosting, be as courteous and detailed as possible. A one-liner cold-call message saying, “Hey, do you host?” is not received well. Likewise, a frantic forum post asking for last-minute hosting generally does not get a good response. Plan ahead. Here is a basic example of a good message to send:
“Hello [name],Be considerate— Try to minimize the “weight” you put on your host
I was considering traveling to [market] in [month if you dont have dates], and was wondering if you would be available and interested in hosting me. [reference name] is a friend of mine and said that you were a wonderful host. I would be more than willing to trade modeling time for hosting if you found that to be a fair barter.
Thank you for your time,
[Your name & contact information]"
Be considerate of those hosting you. Be mindful of others’ work schedules and your utility usage, and don’t make a mess. If you are being hosted in an area where there is not reliable public transportation and you do not have your own vehicle, do not rely on your host to drive you around. In areas where I do not rent a car or bring my own I have found it quite useful to negotiate a lower rate with anyone in the area that will be hiring me if they can provide transportation to and from my host's house. This also gives you time to discuss the shoot, I love this especially for TF* and have found that you get better images because of these rides.
When possible, especially for longer stays with people, it is a good idea to have a “community” night—offer to buy groceries and cook a meal, and catch up with those hosting you, especially if you both have hectic schedules and do not see each other regularly. If there are dishes, do them. If the trash needs to be taken out, take it out. It is also good practice to leave a hand-made or store-bought thank you card or gift. Make every effort to be someone that one would like hosting again (dont burn your bridges).
Be sure to meet your host’s expectations on the agreement
Follow up on whatever barter arrangements you have made with your host. Make sure all involved are clear on what the arrangements are. I find it good practice to set aside a day or half day of shooting time and treat shooting with a host as any other paid job. This ensures I will not overbook and not leave time for following up on my end of the bargain. If there is spare time where you both are free to shoot, you can consider it an added bonus. You should always been shooting, the more images you can take the more "profitable" your trip will have been.
Plan for the worst
Always prepare for the worst. Sometimes personalities clash or a host has to go out of town, or whatever other situation may arise that would prevent you from staying with a planned host. It is a good idea to know others in the area who could take you in for a night or two, but do not rely on this. Set aside an emergency savings, and know where cheap and safe lodging are in the area. I personally do not use sites like couchsurfing.org or airbnb.com, but those are good sites to find alternate ways to stay in a city without paying for a hotel. Worst case, have enough in an emergency savings to cover travel home.