When our epic adventure began, one of our big concerns was missing our friends.
What we didn’t realise was how many new friends we would make on the road, largely thanks to three websites which match travellers with potential hosts. You can connect with people in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s a short meeting over a coffee or a tour of the local area. Very often, hosts are happy to let you pitch your tent in their backyard or even sleep in the spare room for a night or two.
Of the three sites we used – Warm Showers, Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club – we enjoyed Warm Showers the most. It is only for touring cyclists, which means that no matter who you stay with, you always have a common shared interest. The hosts we stayed with through Warm Showers had wonderful bike touring stories of their own to share and there was often an instant connection because of that. Also, Warm Showers hosts always understood little things about travelling by bicycle, like the fact that arrival times can be uncertain, or just how much a cyclist can eat!
One of the things that stops people from using clubs like Warm Showers is the intimidation factor. Walking into a stranger’s home can raise plenty of uncertainties. Will you like them? Will they like you? What if they’re just plain odd? All these thoughts raced through our heads the first time we arranged to stay with someone but every time we’ve found a generous host who went out of his or her way to make us feel at home and several times we left with new best friends.
Always Good Experiences
First were Yves & Ingrid in France, cyclists themselves who pampered us with a soft bed, wonderful meals and many glasses of wine. A little further down the road, Stefan showed us around the bird reserves of his area and gave Friedel a place to recover when she came down with the flu. In Greece, Harry taught us how to make a tasty cocktail out of coffee and Baileys.
We didn’t discover that our hotel manager in Aleppo was a Couchsurfing member until after we’d checked in but when he found out we were part of the same group he upgraded our room. In Iran, Hadi and Mehrnoosh led us through the palaces of the capital Tehran, while Ali and his family took us out for a Friday picnic by a shrine.
We’d have missed all these experiences, some of the finest memories of our trip, if we hadn’t been brave enough to send that first email. Even if you don’t have the ability to host people at the moment (you can always repay the generosity in the future), we still encourage you to sign up for these sites and try to use them during your tour. It gives you a contact with the culture that you can’t replicate by going to a museum.
Here are our tips for a good time:
- Try and write at least a week in advance. The more notice the better, particularly in large cities where hosts may get many requests.
- Introduce yourself in your email. Try to find a common bond with your host and be as clear as you can about the time you would like to stay.
- Some hosts may have to work during the day. Be flexible with the time you will arrive.
- Bring a small present. This is not strictly necessary and no money should ever be asked for staying with a host but a box of chocolates or bottle of wine is a nice gesture that says you appreciate their generosity.
- Keep in touch afterwards and write a thank you postcard or send a picture from your time together.