Accommodation when you get there

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Before you hit the road, you’re going to want to organise some accommodation for when you get there (unless you want to be ultra-adventurous and trusting and leave it up to serendipity). In our culture that has almost always meant staying in a B&B, hotel or hostel, all of which are becoming increasingly expensive and impersonal.

There is absolutely no reason to have to pay for accommodation anymore if you are on the road. There are many projects now flourishing, some with millions of members in every nation of the world who have signed up to host you when you are in their neck of the woods. The even better news is that there is something for everyone’s style and taste.

Couch-surfing,(210) free hospitality websites and … just showing up

Couch-surfing is my favourite travel community, and out of all the free hospitality projects out there, it is certainly the one with most critical mass – at the time of writing, they have 3.7 million members throughout the world with 150,000 members in the UK alone, all willing to let you stay in their homes for free whilst you are on the road. That’s a lot of beds and couches to choose from, regardless of whether you’re going to stay in London or New York, Craggy Island or Pala.

Not only do you get a free couch (or often a bed) for the night, you get to make new friends into the bargain. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, couch-surfing also means that you instantly get plugged into all the local knowledge about the best places to go in that area, getting you off the tourist trail and into the little gems that only locals know about. You also get access to a kitchen, meaning you don’t have to eat out. What makes the couch-surfing project stand out is that it has evolved beyond just being a free accommodation website, and now actively facilitates fun activities that people on the move can get involved in with locals. Time magazine went as far as saying that couch-surfing isn’t “just a means of accommodation, it is an entirely new way to travel,” whilst the New York Times has remarked that it “takes an ancient notion of hospitality and tucks it into a thoroughly modern paradigm”.

WarmShowers(211) is a very similar project to Couch-surfing, but specialising in hospitality for cyclists who are touring around the country. This way you get to meet other cyclists who understand what you need after sixty miles on the road – a warm shower – and who may become a cycling buddy in the future. If you’re very lucky, you might even get some wacky form of cream made from wild plants that will sort that saddle rash of yours out for you. A couch-surfer called Jim, who came and stayed with me for a couple of nights while I was writing this book, had been using the WarmShowers website throughout his journey, and had some excellent tales to tell from it. Most of these wouldn’t be appropriate for a family book such as this, but one involved him staying with a very financially rich family who insisted on plying him full of expensive champagne for the night, causing him a hangover that took him three full days of cycling to recover from.

Other similar sites include Hospitality Club(212) (which grew out of a desire to facilitate international peace and which also has a huge membership), Global Freeloaders(213) and Servas.(214) If you speak a little Esperanto,(215) an international auxiliary language first created by the writer L.L. Zamenhof through a book titled Unua Libro in 1887, you will find yourself an international network of people happy to host you on your travels, enabling you to learn more of this neutral, international peace promoting language in the process. Another option is to just show up in town and start engaging with the locals in as positive a way as possible, and see where it takes you.

Whereas Freeconomy fulfils the role of Department for Skills and Labour in the gift economy, and Freecycle and Freegle the Department of Stuff, websites such as these look after the Department for Temporary Accommodation.

Wild Camping

For the more adventurous amongst you, I recommend putting your tent or tarp on your back and pitching up wherever you like. If you want to go truly moneyless (i.e. not using a tent that was produced using industrialised processes) on your journey, I’d highly recommend learning how to build your own shelter from what’s around you. The woods is a great place to stay, as much for the scenery and its ability to keep you hidden as for the shelter-creating materials it presents you with.

Bushcraft Shelter

If you really want to experience a taste of how it is to live in the wild, then I’d highly recommended learning how to construct your own bushcraft shelter using whatever is at hand. A large part of learning this art involves identifying what qualities and properties you actually need in order to stay warm, dry and comfortable for a night, and then knowing how to find the materials that contain those requirements. There are many styles of shelter to choose from, and again I would recommend Ray Mears’ Outdoor Survival Handbook for those of you who want to see the complete menu of options for truly wild camping.

Long-term free accommodation

If you want to stay in a place for more than just a night or two, Stay4Free(216) is a project which allows you to have a house all to yourself. How it works is simple – you sign up, list both your home and your desired destinations, and contact anyone on their database that could potentially fit the bill, requesting a house swap. If they fancy coming and spending some time in the part of the world your house is in, then you can agree dates and details between yourselves. All that is left to do is to organise getting there, which you can do by any number of the means I examined earlier.