The way I see it, I’m hardly in my room at all. When I travel, my days are long and I’d rather spend the money on good walking shoes, French perfume, Turkish spices and treasures from English car boot sales. By the time I hit the sack, I’m exhausted from walking and exploring.
How funny (sad) it is that I never traveled for YEARS because I thought I couldn’t afford it. Poor me. How disillusioned I was. When I get back from a fabulous trip people often look at me and say, “Oh, I wish I could travel like that but I don’t have enough money…” Really? And they think I do? I stopped believing the myth of “someday” the day I decided to quit wasting time and simply travel – no matter what. There’s absolutely so much I’ve learned about how to be frugal and see the world, but in this post I want to share a few sources on accommodations.
For those of us who live within our means and place travel as a high priority, these accommodations may be familiar. When seeing the world outweighs working and consuming and saving enough money to stay in a 4 or 5-star hotel, you can be sure to find both quaint accommodations, and friends for a lifetime. In my experience, people I meet in my travels (or theirs) are kindred spirits. I now have many addresses of friends who live in countries all over the globe! If I’ve stayed in their home, I’m always quick to invite them to come and stay with me in mine, and several have! It’s fantastic to make new friends from cultures that are different from the one we know and it delights them just as much to come to Texas and stay with me as it was for me to stay with them! It’s a sharing experience; a win-win.
Two years ago I joined a local Hostelling International meetup group. I’d never considered staying in a hostel but I was interested in learning about them. I thought they were for “youths”, and I’m a far stretch from being that. What I discovered in these monthly meetups was the “brand” Hostelling International (HI) offers wonderful accommodations all around the world. Each month members would share PowerPoint presentations from inside (and outside) the HI hostels they’d stayed in while traveling. I saw photos of the reception areas, the kitchens, the bunk-bed dorm rooms, the common areas, the outdoor balconies and common porch areas and, surprisingly, it looked really inviting and beautiful. I also learned that in Europe, it is really common for families to travel like this and so I frequently saw photos with children. What I didn’t see was photos of wild and carefree 20-somethings in a drunken stupor. (This is how I imagined it would be). So I tried it last year in London, England and it was GREAT! In fact, I’m hosting the September 2012 HI-USAA North Texas meetup and this time I’ll be showing photos of my hostelling experience in London! I’m also looking forward to my HI hostel experience this July when I attend the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.
And who’s heard of CouchSurfing? Once I got serious about traveling on the cheap and adding like-minded travelers to my collection of friends, I had to get serious about couchsurfing. This form of accommodation brings you into the home of people who are willing to show you their city and make suggestions of what to see and do. The philosophy has less to do with the fact that the accommodation is free, but more to do with building relationships and learning about how others live. Everyone that participates in couchsurfing has a profile page and the site allows you to communicate with potential guests and ask as many questions as you want to feel comfortable with one another. I’ve welcomed travelers into my home, fed them, and included them in my social plans. I’ve also couchsurfed at others’ homes and I’ve been able to experience their city and way of life in a personal way. Although there is a $25 cost associated with “verifying” your address, one needs to be forthright and direct in questioning your guests about any concerns before they turn up on your doorstop.
Airbnb is a rapidly growing company that has a strong web presence. It is similar to couchsurfing but it is not free. In many cases, however, the nightly rate is much, much lower than a nightly hotel rate. Again, the philosophy is about forming relationships and learning about how other people live while you stay with them in their home. Hosts are most helpful in suggesting shopping and fun things to check out in their city. There is a comfort associated with Airbnb as they provide a $1,000,000 insurance policy on your property while you are hosting. The company also provides a professional photographer to photograph your home, showing potential renters how the property looks. This past fall, my daughter and I stayed in Sonoma County, California, in a beautiful Airbnb home that was owned by an architect. Not only was her home absolutely gorgeous, she offered many suggestions to restaurants, outings, wine vineyard tastings and allowed us to share the use of her kitchen. Using both CouchSurfing and Airbnb, I have made life-long friends.
Being a teacher won’t make you rich, but there are plenty of fringe benefits. Here’s one: those who are associated with education or academics, and who will be traveling and staying in one place for at least a few days, weeks or months, might be interested in Sabbatical Homes. Although membership is free, contributions are accepted. The fee for posting a listing is $45 (educators) and $65 (others). Educators may post a home-wanted ad for free, while others pay $20 for this service. Listings are valid for 14 months and are renewable. Home rentals, exchanges and home sitting opportunities are available. I don’t have personal experience with this service because I’ve never stayed in one place too long! However, if I ever find a “favorite” place internationally and want to live there for a couple of weeks, I would definitely use this resource.
Another resource for educators is Educators Travel Network (ETN). This innovative membership-based travel network is for people who currently work in, or have retired from, the field of education. Membership fees are $36 per year and as a member, you have access to entire homes for $40-$50/night. There is also a reward program in place. You receive $10 in ETN Reward Dollars each night that you host. These Reward Dollars count toward billing from ETN, as well as annual membership renewals. Unfortunately I don’t have personal experience with this resource, but hope to try it out soon!
In closing, I want to encourage you to be brave and trust the world for a change. There are so many people that want you as their friend. The media wants us to believe that the world is a scary place, but I refuse to believe it. We’ve all got a lot to learn from one another. Sharing a home and a meal is a step toward world peace and understanding. Let me know if you have personal experience with any of these forms of accommodations. Be adventurous and try it this summer! Happy traveling!