|Our Couchsufing hosts in Greece|
Michalis Mathioulakis CQ CP and Pernille Busborg, both professionals in their 40s, don't fit the typical profile, and my husband, Tom, and I long ago traded in our backpacks for rolling carry-ons.
Within minutes of arriving at their apartment in Thessaloniki, Greece, we were relaxing together on their porch, sharing stories and talking as if we were old friends.
So much for stereotypes. Couchsurfing and other types of alternatives to traditional hotel stays, the subject of my recent Travel Wise column for the Seattle Times, are for travelers of any age. Don't like the idea of sleeping someone's sofa? No worries. The "couch'' part is mostly a figure of speech. Our Greek hosts offered offered us a comfortable guest room in their roomy condo. We shared meals, met the neighbors, and when it was time to leave, Michalis drove us to the airport.
There's no charge, or obligation to host. Like a type of pay-it-forward blind date, the understanding is that you'll find a way down the line to repay the hospitality you receive, perhaps by inviting someone to stay with you, or just meeting for coffee and conversation.
"People are always surprised at what's out there for older travelers,'' says Joyce Major, the Seattle author of "Smiling at the World,'' an account of a year she spent as a traveling volunteer.
Major, 65, hosts travelers in her Capitol Hill apartment, and "surfs'' whenever she can, most recently on a 10-day trip to the East Coast. Filtering the listings for people who have spare rooms, with real beds, not just couches, she looks for hosts with interests that match hers.
"Everyone was 40 and up, and in all the places, I had my own bedroom. People insisted on making me dinner and making me breakfast, and just having these wonderful conversations."
With more than six million members worldwide and a large "Fifty-Plus'' contingent, Couchsurfing is the biggest and loosest (anyone can join) hospitality exchange network, but other organizations offer similar ways for travelers to connect.
Servas International, operating since 1949, is more structured, requiring hosts and travelers to be approved after personal interviews, and agree to stays of at least two days.
BeWelcome includes a category for families. Europe-based Women Welcome Women connects women ages 18-80 in more than 80 countries.
Locally, the Affordable Travel Club in Washington State has been at this since 1992. The club offers those over 40 private home hospitality in the United States and 50 other countries, including many in Washington, Oregon and Vancouver B.C. Members pay annual dues of $65-$75, plus a nightly gratuity of $15 to $20.
Many hostels have deleted the word "youth'' from their names and added private rooms, making it easier for older travelers to enjoy the camaraderie without having to sleep in a dorm room.
In Kotor, Montenegro, my husband and I paid $60 a night for a newly-renovated private room with a kitchen and bathroom in a hotel within the walls of the Old Town.
We had our privacy plus all the benefits that come with a hostel stay, in this case, travel tips shared by young, English-speaking managers over shots of homemade plum brandy.