Resources for Traveling Freelancers #2: Free Accommodation
This is the second article in my series of resources for the traveling freelancer. You can find the first one here.
Finding Friends & a Place to Live through Hospitality Exchange
When traveling extensively a person starts to feel a bit alone and her wallet starts to get lean quickly. Measures must be taken to alleviate these negative side effects when living out a dream! An option for the adventurous traveling freelancer is a hospitality exchange, which is good every once in a while but will interfere with your work if you do it often. Through sites like Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing travelers can stay with local members for cultural exchange and free accommodation in most cases.
A good experience can end in guest and host becoming friends, while in a bad experience host or guest might steal from the other. For obvious reasons, it is really important to be conscious about safety. I have been a couchsurfer for more than three years, and I have made several good “couchsurfing friends” through hosting and surfing. I also have been stood up by guests and made to feel uncomfortable by male hosts. There are many positive and negative aspects of using couchsurfing, most of which can be applied to similar sites:
Why Do It
- Members with the true spirit of hospitality usually help when you reach out to the community.
- The forums are a great source of information for practical advice with which travel guides simply cannot keep up such as real bus schedules, power outage situation in a certain region and “office-surfing” resources.
- Guests get to experience a town as a local and do things they might not have done on their own.
- As a member you have “instant friends” around the world. Even if you’re not couchsurfing, you can meet up with local members for coffee or a tour of the city or even attend events organized by the local couchsurfing community.
- There are SOS boards in many cities where travelers can post emergency couch requests and other request for urgent help even if they’re not couchsurfing at that time.
- Though saving money is not the main purpose of couchsurfing, it is part of the deal since the whole thing is free.
Why Not Do It
- It can be very time consuming to find a host, particularly in big cities, where there can be several thousand hosts.
- Sometimes a bed described as “very comfortable” might just be four sofa cushions lined up in a dusty corner of a cramped, stuffy room. Not great rest, especially if you need to work the next day.
- Often hosts allow guests to be home only when they’re home. Recently I had to leave with my host at 8am and couldn’t go back home till 9:30pm. It was good to be up early to enjoy the city but I couldn’t get any work done that day and it was not fun not being able to go home even though I was exhausted.
- Hosts aren’t always reliable, which could make the guest waste hours looking for another couch or other accommodation, sometimes at the very last minute, which is a huge inconvenience and can interfere with a freelancer’s working plans.
- You’re reliant on the site–if the site is down, you’re out of contacts.
- Members with negative references can just delete their profiles and create new ones. Additionally, members often do not leave negative references after a negative experience to avoid getting a negative reference themselves.
Refer to tips I provided in my first article but also:
- Read tips for newcomers on the site for which you register.
- Use advanced search to find a host in order to save time.
- Make sure you’ll be able to use your host’s internet connection with your laptop so you can work. I politely explain to my hosts that if I can’t work then I can’t eat.
- For safety reasons some hosts don’t give guests their addresses beforehand and would rather meet in a public place, which is good for guests too, but ask your host why he isn’t giving you his address anyway. This is especially true if the host doesn’t give any references. Speak with him on the phone or over video call before meeting.
- Confirm your stay a few days before and on the day of your arrival. If your host isn’t responding find other accommodation lest you be on the street.
- Always let a friend or relative know where you are – give them your host’s information.
- Always have a plan B. Have the information for a hostel or other accommodation in case something doesn’t go as planned.
- Always, ALWAYS look through a potential host’s references! Several negative experiences could have been avoided if guests had only seen the negative references for a member.
- Again, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t and if you don’t feel comfortable staying somewhere then leave.
Tips for Women Travelers
- Don’t stay with a male host who doesn’t have any references. The guy’s probably fine, but why take the chance?
- There are wonderful guys on these sites but keep in mind that, just like elsewhere, there are male members who are only looking to get laid.
- If your host “forgot” to mention that you’ll have to share the bed with him, leave! It may seem obvious to some but, boy, you wouldn’t believe it!
Other hospitality exchange sites:
Hospitality Club. It’s not great for navigation but there seem to be many fewer negative experiences through HC than through couchsurfing.
SERVAS This free site started as a club in 1950 and its membership process is much more thorough than the other sites – it even includes an interview.
Casa Casa. Requires a yearly membership plus a donation fee to the host. Hosts are available only in 14 countries.
Tripping. Still in Beta, this is a free site started by couchsurfers who wanted to improve hospitality exchange and so far it’s looking good and working refreshingly well.
GlobalFreeloaders.com. Also a free site for travelers looking for free accommodation and friendly hosts. Basic site with basic profiles and no member photos.
This concludes this second transmission of resources for traveling freelancers. Tune in next time for part 3 for WWOOFing and other work exchange information. Happy freelance traveling!
What’s your experience with hospitality exchange? What tips do you have to share?
Photo credit: Whateva87@Flickr