Find a Bed. Make a Friend


   Today's Seattle Times travel section zeros in on cheap sleeps. Check out the story on AirB&B, a new online source that connects travelers directly with people all over the world with spare rooms, apartments or homes for rent. I'm certainly going to give this a try the next time I'm planning on being in a big city such as New York or Paris. 
      All of this got me thinking about how much a part of the travel experience lodging usually is for me when I stay in a B&B, or even better, try out a homestay. Staying in someone's home - either a B&B or a spare room - is like having an instant friend in a strange city. I do it whenever I can, especially when I travel alone. 
    I recall an especially nice experience on Lopud Island in Croatia where a woman named Ane met our boat and showed my husband and me to a room in her home overlooking the sea. It was a bargain at $30, but more than the very comfortable room, I remember Ane and the kindly way she looked after us.

     Making these sorts of connections is the subject of my Travel Wise column on hospitality exchanges such as CouchSurfing and two Washington State travel clubs, Casa Casa and the Affordable Travel Club.
     I was amazed when I started to look into CouchSurfing how many Seattle people are involved, and what a resource it's become for connecting travelers and locals, whether or not they actually have a spare couch to offer. CouchSurfing has really become a cultural exchange network, as much about making a friend as finding a bed. An guess what? It's not just for backpackers in the 20s looking for a cheap place to stay. Lots of people in their 50s and up are using the site to connect with each other, either here or on the road. 
     If you're coming to the Seattle area, check out all the CouchSurfers here who might be willing to help you out, meet for coffee as well as offer you a place to stay.
    Two that really impressed me are Maia Lassen-Purser and Miles Erickson who serve as CouchSurfing "ambassadors'' for the city of Everett. He's a pilot. She's a dancer. They both apparently love to cook. They have a double futon. I wasn't able to connect with them by phone on deadline, so I didn't include much about them in my column, but if they're an example of the kind of people who "CouchSurf,'' what are you waiting for? 
    Here's an e-mail I received today from a couple with some first-hand experience:
   "Just had to write and tell you about our couchsurfing experience after reading Sunday’s article.  We traveled to Iceland, and beforehand found a couple in Reykjavik that had a couch available.  They commented that they preferred to host travelers close to their age (50+) but were open to anyone.  I emailed them, told them there were 4 of us all 55+.  We did not need a place to stay, but would love to have a home hosted dinner of typical Icelandic food.  We offered to reimburse them for the cost.  A few emails later found us at their door complete with Washington State wine we brought from home, along with Chukar Cherries, Almond Roca and some postcards from Seattle.  We had a fantastic evening of talking and a great meal.  They served a casserole of salted cod – a staple up there.
    "We also we contacted by someone who read my post on Virtual Tourist, and we made arrangements to have dinner at their house also.  Along with everything we brought to the first home, we also brought some American hot wheel cars  for their 4 year old son.  There we were treated to leg of lamb that the father of our host had raised. Just another way of using some of these sites.  I can’t wait to travel again so we can try it somewhere else!"  -- Ronda and Dale Miller

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