By Paula Last
What do you get when you mix the Internet, a few air mattresses and a bad economy? Student travel, made easy.
If you think that student travel is just about cheap digs, you’d be wrong. The ‘shareconomy’ means that many locals now offer weary travellers an actual home away from home.
Websites like Couchsurfing.com and Air BNB can help you find a couch, a room or a suite. (Full disclosure, I am both an Air BNB traveler and host, so I’m a bit biased on the subject). However my experience has given me tips for fellow travelers, which may save you a headache or two.
Crashing for free
Who doesn’t want to stay somewhere for free?
Sites like Global Freeloader, Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club are known as ‘hospitality exchange communities,’ meaning there’s no charge.
The idea is that you’re signing up for a travel philosophy, not just a free place to stay.
Danna Harman’s couchsurfing article on the Huffington Post makes it sound a little like online dating. She found herself tweaking her profile to sound ‘hostable.’ After a few rejections, Harman landed a couch and found herself enjoying life with the locals.
Paying a fee
Fee-based sites like Air BNB, Rent-a-sofa and newer sites like Wimdu are less expensive than a hotel, but more comfortable than a hostel. You get that ‘homey’ feel, but decide whether you want to share a bathroom.
The other benefit of these sites is that the payment is handled via the website, so there’s no awkward conversation at the door. For Air BNB, guests pay online when they book, but the cash is sent after you’ve had a chance to check the place out. This can still leave you stuck if the place is a dive or your host cancels at the last minute, so doing your homework is better than relying on getting your money back.
Do your homework
Reviews are what stand between getting a good night’s sleep and telling your friends in September about the worst night of your life.
Read the host’s reviews, and get good reviews of your own. If it’s your first trip, then choose a site that also has references. Get your friends to confirm on your profile that you’re not a psycho who is going to wreck someone’s house.
After the screening step, booking early is your best friend. Places with the best reviews will get snapped up and you’ll be left wondering if the place with blurry photos and no reviews may be good enough at the last moment. (Probably not).
Reviews also tell you if the place is a good fit. Do you want to sit up until midnight, swapping stories with your hosts, or do you want a private room where you’ll be left alone?
Traveling is supposed to be fun, so what’s with all the rules? One thing I’ve learned about the lovely people who have stayed with us, is that they often don’t read our house rules. (It’s fine, really). But from host to traveler, I’m telling you to read the house rules. They are a guide to your future travel experience, and can help you avoid places that are too stodgy for your taste.
If you’ve ever had a roommate from hell, you should know how to behave in someone else’s home. And while I know that no one reading this would ever use up the toilet paper and ‘forget’ to replace the roll, politeness reminders are never a bad thing.
For Couchsurfing and similar sites, remember that ‘free’ doesn’t mean ‘freeload.’ While no cash has changed hands, a good guest makes a contribution. Bring a gift, cook dinner, tell a good story, and be ready to share your experiences and culture with your host.
For fee-based sites, handing over some cash doesn’t magically turn someone’s personal abode into a hotel. Remember, you’re in someone’s home. Treat it, and the people who’ve opened their doors to you, as you would want to be treated.
Show up on time, mind the curfew if they have one, don’t give out their phone number to your friends (or strangers) without asking their permission, don’t look down your nose at their place, and if there’s a problem, give them a chance to fix it. If you’ve done your homework by choosing a well-reviewed place, a truly good host will want to address any problems that arise.
Leave a review
Reviews are where you get to tell people about your hosts, and your hosts get to tell people about you. The more good reviews you get, the easier it will be to book. In exchange, your hosts will appreciate a kind word or two about them, if you’ve enjoyed yourself.
If you do have suggestions for your host that you didn’t mention in person, be nice enough to contact your hosts privately so they can make the place better for the next person, rather than gain an undeservedly bad reputation.
Bad reviews can be necessary, but reserve them for a good reason, such as false advertising and something truly heinous that ruins your vacation. And don’t hesitate to report bad hosts to the website so they can follow up.
With these suggestions in mind, be safe out there, and have a great vacation!