Not unreasonably my friend has just asked “But what if they steal all your stuff when you’re asleep or are just really weird?“
Unsurprisingly this is not an usual reaction from friends when I say that I’ve invited a stranger over for dinner, a shower and a place to stay for the night. The first is probably a good point but from my experience so far of cycle tourists (and from touring myself) most cyclists are actively trying to reduce the amount of weight they are pedalling around not add to it. The addition of my very dated 1980’s stereo or equally knackered TV are not going to be appealing items to weigh down anyone’s panniers.
Actually, when I actively think about it the most expensive item I own by far is my mattress and if that move that by stealth (whilst I’m sleeping on it, get it on the bike and pedal away into the night well, good luck!
What I’m talking about is a worldwide organisation, of which I’m a member, called Warmshowers. Despite the strange name it is an absolute gem of an idea. Basically cyclists and bike enthusiasts all around the world offer accommodation to weary cycle tourers for a night or two…..for free.
The accommodation can be anything from a bed to a couch to garden space to pitch a tent. The host chooses whatever they are comfortable with and able to provide. Many hosts also kindly offer to feed guests as well, dinner, breakfast. All for no charge.
Why!! You might be asking would anyone invite a stranger into their home, offer them a bed and a meal all for nothing.
I was going to say the answer is complicated but it’s not, it’s simple. Because it feels good and we enjoy it. The huge draw as a host is that you almost always get an interesting companion for the evening, someone who has similar interests (if you like cycling) and often useful travel tips and information. They are always, always grateful too for a warm welcome, a warm bed and of course a warm shower!
I should know having been on the receiving end of some incredible Warmshowers hosts and hospitality throughout the years. I’ve arrived on people’s doorsteps with my touring bike whilst half crazed with fatigue after an impossibly long day in the saddle, usually after I’ve miscalculated distances. Often, knowing there’ll be a friendly face and a safe place at the end of the day has been the one thing to keep me going when it all just seems to tough.
I’ve stayed with some incredibly generous and interesting people, people who are passionate not just about the same things as me (bikes) but also about their community their environment, their world. I definitely think this kind of hosting arrangement attracts people with certain things in common, and to some extent a way of viewing the world as a place in which you help strangers and sometime receive that help yourself.
It is most definitely a community too albeit a global one. I’m always astounded by how many places you go to in the world which have Warmshowers hosts, remote parts of South America and Asia to quite a number in my little home town in England. In fact the site has over xx thousand members worldwide
If anyone has ever used couch surfing it’s a very similar model but I would say that the demographic using it and definitely hosting tend to be on the slightly older side. Less student gap year-ers and more people spread across the age spectrum.
This includes families with children of all ages. A good friend of mine both tours with her children and actively hosts families doing the same. For her I think it has been both encouraging and inspiring to know that adventures can most definitely still be had with small humans in tow. (link to baby on bicycle blog)
Even my own family have gotten on board. Now my parents are most definitely not cyclists but after hearing first-hand of the wonderful hosting and support I’d received whilst touring on my own in far flung places they got bitten by the Warmshowers bug and joined up; they wanted to give something back and to say thank you for my experiences. The exact same reasons that I host too, my ratio of being hosted to hosting others now fairly even.
Of course, any experience has its risks but the site and its users try as much as possible to mitigate these. All users have profiles and hosts and guest can give feedback. I personally, if I’m hosting tend to look for those with lots of profile information, it show’s they’ve engaged with the process and also those who have some feedback as either a host or a guest. It’s not fallible but then what is. I often wonder what those hosts that I’m staying with feel about the prospect of a new guest just before I arrive…. Little do they know!
Essentially it’s a process based on both trust and reciprocity. Not all those who host cycle and not all those who cycle tour have the ability to host but somehow it balances out and is a hugely popular, ever growing site. It can also be a safe, friendly way to get into cycle touring. Big trips, especially when you’re just starting out can be a hugely daunting prospect but a small 2 or 3 day tour, leaving from home and staying with (pre-planned) Warm Showers hosts along the way can be a great way to start. It’s also a fantastic way of meeting other cycle buddies close to home. However you engage, as host, cyclist, on short trip or a worldwide epic Warmshowers has introduced more to my life than just the little oases of comfort, welcome though they are. It’s brought me long term friendships spanning continents which survive throughout the years as well as some truly memorable hosts and experiences.
So, next time you are thinking of what to do with your spare room, why not think about inviting a stranger to say?
Banner photo from the Warmshowers.org library