“There are no strangers only friends we haven’t met yet”
If someone approached me and said that my gut instinct would be to punch them square in the face. (I wouldn’t of course, but from that moment on I’d consider you a soppy son of a..)
The sentiment however is kind of true when it comes to the travelling analogy.
Generally (I’m sure there are some douchey exceptions as in any walk of life!) the people that travel are the sort of people who are open minded and welcoming of new ideas and alternate views and opinions. Similarly those that host, are doing so because they (in my experience) fall into one of the two below categories:
1. They have travelled themselves and have a passion for it. They know what it’s like to be in your shoes and as such they are accommodating to the tune of how they would expect their hosts to treat them.
2. Life hasn’t yet given them the opportunity to travel – perhaps commitments or finances have stopped them, but they love to learn about other countries and cultures and do so by hosting in place of travelling themselves.
I can smell your skepticism, I understand it. When I first heard of platforms such as couchsurfing or homestay, I wondered why on Earth a person would be nice for no reason – they must want something? Either they want the V or they are crazy and will skin me in my sleep and wear me like a dressing gown right?
Actually no, there are some genuinely kind people out there and travel really restores your faith in that. Of course you have to exert some level of common sense but I have met some really wonderful people in this manner.
Imagine – you are in a small town in an “off the beaten track” part of the world and you decide to stay in a hostel. The evening outcome could either be:
A. You don’t meet anyone at the hostel – maybe you just missed them when you checked in and they had already headed out for the evening, maybe there aren’t many travellers visiting this city – so you spend the evening exploring the city and eating alone.
B. – you meet some travellers and get on well but none of you are familiar with the city so you amble into the first place you see, or you find a place rated highly on trip advisor or similar and you go there to sit elbow to elbow with all the other backpackers in this city who had the same idea.
However if you stay with a local, they will know the very BEST places in the city to eat and drink – the places that the guidebooks don’t tell you about; they will take you out for the evening with their friends and your experience of that city will be as though this were your native land.
This extends into home life also – through staying with locals I’ve had the amazing experience of joining in with family meal times, learning interesting local recipes and overall just enjoying an intimate cultural exchange with my hosts.
It’s made my trips to certain places that much more special.
So what are my tips for finding a local to stay with?
1. Always always check past reviews – someone that has no reviews may well be a lovely person just starting out hosting but for me, I’m not willing to take that chance. If the person has a plethora of positive reviews then I feel reassured I’ll be safe and well accommodated… On the other end of the spectrum, if I see something negative, I know to avoid (honestly I have seen some very peculiar negatives!)
2. I’m here to travel not for the D. Think about who your hosts are. This is particularly important as a single woman (or actually any number of women in a female only party for that matter) As a solo female, I would never stay with Males (again, I’m sure there are many who are nice but I’m not taking that risk! In my experience, there can also be a lot of opportunist guys that try and take advantage of travellers trusting nature) My hosts of choice are couples, families or mother types.
3. Be a gracious guest – these are people that are letting you into th
eir homes. No one expects it – but consider taking a thank you gift, help with the dishes, or just be interested in your host – it saddens me when I hear people using platforms like couchsurfing just for a free ride.
4. Leave a review – airbnb, couchsurfing etc have a review facility. Leave one to assist the rest of the travelling community.
For additional security and peace of mind, I prefer the paid hosting sites, but use your judgement.