Couch Surfing: Another Way to Travel the Globe for Free

Making travel accessible. That is one of the major pillars under which Leap Forward Travel was founded. While you’ll often see us writing from and posting photos of some of the most amazing hotel properties in the world (including my favorite, the Conrad Rangali in the Maldives), it’s best to have an array of options in your arsenal if you truly want to explore the world on a shoestring budget. Enter Couch Surfing.

couchs

With Couchsurfing.com, you can stay with locals in every country on earth. Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy.  Sure the idea of staying for the night in someone’s home has been around for a long time, but harnessing the power of a great Web site to tie together people from all over the world has made this concept an even easier and smarter resource. Throughout our travels in New Zealand, Jordon and I used the Couch Surfing portal to stay with four hosts over the course of four nightsand each with great success.

Couch Surfing is a bit like combining Amazon and Priceline.com, while also adding in a heaping scoop of Southern hospitality. The tool links together eager travelers looking to meet and stay with selfless hosts, all in exchange for for a good conversation about life and travel adventures. Through these matches, it’s not uncommon for perfect strangers to become lifelong friends.

The concept is easy: Write a profile, conduct a search of the area in which you want to stay, contact a host, and stay a night (or more). But there is an element of protocol in order for your request to be a success.

Mike’s Couch Surfing Rules:

  • Write a well thought-out and honest profile. Couch Surfing takes you through the process.
  • When searching for a place to stay, always do your research on a host’s interests and write a personalized request to them. (This is called “doing your homework,” and it’s important to both parties.)
  • Try to make the arrangement as far in advance as possible. (At least a week or two, if not months.) It’s not about just trying to get a free room last-minute; it’s about forming a connection between people.
  • Definitely communicate in advance of arrival. A follow-up message the day before is always best.
  • Always be polite, courteous, and considerate of your hosts, even if conditions aren’t ideal.
  • Be safe! The online rating of both hosts and guests serves as an excellent measure of past experiences. But always stay aware and follow safety best practices as noted on Couch Surfing’s site.
  • Always follow-up with a nice note to your hosts. An email is great, but a personalized thank-you card is even better.
  • Write a positive review after you’ve had a great experience. Your hosts will really appreciate it!

As a general practice, I always offer to take my hosts out to dinner. The cost of the meal is a fraction of what I would be paying if I stayed at a hotel, and it’s a gesture that really shows appreciation for the time and resources of your host. Besides, you’ll likely get a great conversation about the area in which you’re staying, smart local advice, and an exchange of ideas about traveling the globe that could forever change your life.

In terms of expectations, accommodations range from a private home with a butler and a dedicated room, to a basement full of a dozen other travelers lined up on the floor like sardines. In most cases, though, it’s generally somewhere in between. For the most part, you’ll be able to communicate with a host in advance to see if what they have available is what would be amenable to you.

While a few take for granted the generosity of hosts, the couch surfing community is really about meeting new friends and exchanging ideas about travel. Sure, it’s a free or cheap place to stay, but the opportunity to really engage with people of different locals and cultures is quite possibly the most important reason to travel in the first place. But yeah… for those on a shoestring budget, the price is just right!

The final thought is about reciprocity. The system works because of the graciousness and hospitality of some amazing people. No doubt it has to seem a bit odd at first to open your home to someone you maybe never met. But if the circular giving is to continue, there must always be someone to have a couch or a spare bedroom to lend—even if only once and a while. Hopefully as a traveler, you will one day have the opportunity to experience the couch surfing life, only to find a richness that comes with inviting others to stay in your own home.

While I still love traveling and staying at fabulous properties around the globe, and do it mostly by amassing points through credit card promotions and sign-up bonuses, there is a special place for couch surfing; and Couchsurfing.com facilitates it. I encourage you to consider including it in your portfolio of options as a means of making travel more enriching and accessible.

And to our past couch surfing hosts and now new friends, thank-you for inviting us into your homes. Each was a special and memorable experience, and I’ll always cherish the time we spent.

Hopefully by now that thank-you card has arrived.

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Round the World: Time Off from Work

I often mention that I’m very lucky to have found a way to travel on points. I don’t often talk about how I’m also very lucky to make enough money to pay out-of-pocket for things I can’t pay for with points, that I’ve got great friends to travel with, and that I live in a place with easy access to three major airports. While everyone can earn points cheaply, to travel the way I do really does require those last things, as well.

So it’s kind of sad when I say that probably my biggest impediment to traveling is time off from work; it’s a reality that most of us face. I’m very lucky to get more vacation than most, but all my travel has to be centered over a weekend, and for out-of-the-country trips, centered over a long weekend.

Since that’s reality, the best thing I’ve done is to try and maximize my situation. I do this in two ways: first, by being as open as I can about the situation and second, by being willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

My boss knows that I like to travel, so expectations have already been set that most long weekends, I’ll be going somewhere. She’s usually the first person I talk to when planning a trip. That may seem a bit ridiculous, but it’s very important to keep that line of communication open. She’s the gatekeeper for most of my trips (i.e. she’s one of the few who can determine whether or not I can go), so I do whatever I can to keep her happy. It also helps that I have a boss that is very open to these kind of things.

The other piece to this puzzle is being willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. If I’m gone for a long weekend, my work can wait until I get back. If I’m gone for five weeks, it can’t. That means that my coworkers will be picking up the slack while I’m gone. One of the absolute best things someone with a 9-to–5 job who likes to travel can do is to jump on any chance to assist a coworker with a project when they need help. Maybe it’s when they go on a two-week vacation or maybe it’s when they get overwhelmed with a specific project, either way, it’s only a matter of time before a coworker has to pick up the slack for you. If you want to keep a good relationship (and to make sure they’ll help you out), happily assist them whenever you can.

For now, a regular job for me and most others is a reality. By constantly keeping my boss in the loop and by keeping my coworkers happy, I can minimize the impact that my job has on travel. Most people don’t consider time-off strategies when planning travel, but if you want to maximize both of these areas, it should be one of the first things you think about.

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Round the World: Immunizations

I’m not the biggest fan of going to the doctor. It’s not that I’m particularly afraid of something being wrong; I honestly want to know if something is. It’s more that I don’t really like to be told what I’m doing wrong when I already know I’m doing things wrong. One more step on the ladder to self-actualization, I guess.

Because of that, immunizations are one of the things that was really easy to put off. Here we are a month out from the trip and I still hadn’t gotten any of the medicines I needed for the trip.

This may seem like an easy step that could be skipped: don’t have sex with locals, don’t eat suspicious food, and don’t drink the water and you should be covered, right? While honestly, those are good ways to mitigate something going wrong, there’s actual codified reasons for going. Namely that you simply can’t get a visa to certain countries without proving immunization.

My group of doctors luckily had specific travel appointments. It wasn’t covered by insurance, but they could write prescriptions for everything I needed and make suggestions on how to find the rest. Plus, since this doctor specialized in travel immunizations, she could better suggest cheaper generics that would work just as well and would be covered by my insurance. Your doctor may not have something like this, but if you’re going on any trip, it’s definitely worth asking.

For the stops on our trip, I was pretty well covered with getting five things: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B1, Typhoid, Malaria2, and Yellow Fever. While all are suggested for traveling to the places I’m going, the only actual requirement was Yellow Fever to get into/out of Madagascar. There were a couple that were also suggested, especially if you plan on coming in contact with livestock, but I’ve learned my lesson in that arena.3

Immunizations may seem like something you can put off, but it’s kind of important to do this at least a month before you trip. The CDC has a great resource for determining what you need. Some of the medicines require you to take it before you go, in addition to while you’re there. So you want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get all of that sorted out. Don’t be like me, be proactive in this. It didn’t end up hurting my trip, but it really could have derailed the whole thing.

  1. Hep A and B are good for life and I had those when I spent a couple of weeks going through Mayan ruins in the Mexican jungle in 2006
  2. I’m sure that Malaria medicine has come a long way since the last time I took it, but man, it gave me the most insane dreams. Can’t wait.
  3. On the Inca Trail a couple of years ago, there was a llama that looked like it needed to be hugged, so I obliged. When coming back through customs, the agent asked if I’d come in contact with any livestock and like an idiot, I said yes. They put me in customs jail until they could get everything sorted out. Moral of the story: don’t tell customs agents you hugged a llama.

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Mike: What’s in your Bag?

In preparation for a five week adventure that only involves one backpack each, a good question that I’m always asked is, “What’s in your bag?”  In all the traveling that I’ve done over the years, I seem to appreciate the simplicity and flexibility that comes with traveling smart and light.  Never have I gotten home from a trip and said, “I should have brought more stuff.”  The exact opposite has always been true for me.  Shrugging, in my early years of traveling, I realized that the extra weight of carrying with me 4 pairs of shoes, and 20 different shirts far exceeded the annoyance of carrying along extra baggage.  Now, I will see, traveling with one backpack is much easier to do when going to a summer destination.  However, in our case for the 2014 ATW trip, Jordon and I will be bouncing back-and-forth across the equator—experiencing lots of different weather conditions along the way.  So in celebration of travel minimalism, I disclose the travel gear that works perfectly for me:


THE NORTH FACE Terra 35 Backpack – After years of using my trusty Jansport, I wanted something with a little more padding and back support.  I have found it in The North Face Terra 35.  I find it to be the perfect size-wise bag for logging serious flight miles.  It is adaptable, sleek, and easy to use; and provides a vertical mesh channel on back panel provides superb cooling comfort. The Terra 35 completely anatomically correct to help support proper posture. Cushy shoulder harness and tricot-lined hipbelt keeps you comfortable.

 


Columbia Tamiami II Long Sleeve Shirt, Large, Beacon – Proper travel shirts are a must.  You need something that is lightweight, convertible, and especially quick-drying.  Theses shirts by Columbia can be used in a day, then washed overnight for use or packing the following day.  I travel with 2-3 of these in different colors on every trip.This keeps the shirt fresh and odor-free over multiple wearings. Other features include mesh-lined cape vents at the back shoulder, which provide maximum airflow and breathable comfort; deep pockets at the front chest for stashing gear; a rod holder for hands-free convenience; and button tabs for rolling up and securing the sleeves.

 


ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Tee,Black – A great choice for all your sporting adventures as well as daily wear, this ExOfficio Give-N-Go men’s tee is made of the same fabric found in ExOfficio’s popular Give-N-Go underwear. High-performance and low-maintenance, the Give-N-Go is particularly suited to travel–whether by foot or plane–as its quick-drying fabric allows you to wash on the go and pack fewer pairs of underwear.  Perfect as an undershirt or for working out, the Give-N-Go tee has a slim fit with a straight hemline, forward shoulder seam, and tagless label. It’s made from 94 percent nylon and 6 percent lycra, and they’re ultra-light at just 4 ounces per square yard (5.5 ounces in total). It also features treatment with Aegis Microbe Shield to control odor-causing bacteria.


Levi’s Men’s 527 Slim Boot Cut Jeans – The Levi’s® brand embodies a pioneering spirit that is always driven to innovate. Levi’s jeans have been worn by presidents and ranchers, Americans and Russians, doctors and outlaws, kings and coal miners. They are a common thread with a common promise: to provide quality clothing in which to Go Forth™

 

 


Hush Puppies Men’s Outclass Oxford,Dark Brown – Hush Puppies invented casual. They apply their philosophy of fun, comfortable, genuine style to every shoe they make – from work to weekend. In 1958, when they first introduced the soft suede Hush Puppies shoe, something amazing happened; the world discovered casual, comfortable style– and that style has been a favorite ever since. Because they combine advanced comfort technology with fun, contemporary styling, Hush Puppies fit perfectly into everyday life. So it’s no wonder Hush Puppies have become a worldwide favorite. With a full line of footwear, apparel, and accessories for the whole family. Hush Puppies can be seen on the feet of celebrities, in movies, and in 80 countries around the globe.

 

ExOfficio Men’s GiveNGo Boxer Brief – Well-suited for adventure and travel, the high-performance Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs from ExOfficio have built-in features to keep you dry and fresh no matter where you roam. The extremely breathable and moisture-wicking fabric is quick-drying so you can wash-and-dry on the go and pack fewer pairs, and is treated with Aegis Microbe Shield to control odor-causing bacteria, making it ideal for wear in hot, humid climates and on sweaty adventures. A terry elastic back and functional fly add comfort and convenience. Take the Give-N-Go camping, fishing, hiking, paddling, exploring, backpacking or nowhere at all.

 

Exofficio Men’s Bugs Away Breez’r Cape Hat – The BugsAway Cape Hat has a rollaway cape to provide maximum bug and sun protection, which can also button under the chin to keep it in place on windy days. It is rated UPF 30+, dries quickly, and wicks moisture to keep you cool. Permethrin, the active ingredient in Insect Shield, is invisible, odorless, and tightly bonded to the fabric fibers, and lasts the expected lifetime of the garment (70 washes). It repels mosquitoes (including those carrying West Nile virus and malaria), ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and midges (no-see-ums). Insect Shield repellent lasts 70 washings.

 


Tripshell International TR-Adap-BK Travel Plug Adapter With Surge Protection – Tripshell is an universal travel adapter that covers outlets over 150 countries including US, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, UK. It comes with surge protection that protects your electrical appliances safe from Spikes/Surges in foreign electricity supply. It has built in 6A fuse, L-N surge protector, 110/230 Vac voltage indicators, and children safety shutters. Power rating: 2.5A Max. 100 240 Vac. – 100 Vac max. 575W – 230 Vac max. 1380W

 

Mini 2200mAh Portable Power Bank Pack External Extended Battery Built-In Highlight Torch  – 2200mAh external battery comes with one USB ports (5V/1A) which can be used to charge your smart mobile phone, MP3, MP4, PSP, or any other mobile digital products. Easily recharge it with the Micro USB cable. It supports pass-through charging so that you can charge the external battery and the digital products simultaneously. It is made of excellent quality 18650 Lion battery that can make the life of the external battery longer, and the charge and discharge cycles reach at least 1000 times.

 

 


Exofficio Men’s Bugs Away Chas’r Short Sleeve Tee – Enjoy your life in the great outdoors without the worry of pesky insects and bugs cramping your style. Nothing can ruin a weekend camping adventure like an evening of itching and scratching away at the mounds of mosquito and bug bites you got on your afternoon hike. Show those bugs who’s the boss when you show up in the ExOfficio Men’s Bugsaway Chas’r Tee Short Sleeve Shirt.


Frogg Toggs Action Poncho – Frogg toggs ultra-lite2 bi-laminate action poncho w/ hood, one size fits most colors: khaki, and green made in frogg toggs ul2 non-woven bi-laminate materials, w/ stuff/storage sack included; ultra-lite and pre-packed, waterproof & breathable, washable and recyclable materials w/ no pvc or phthalates

 

 


Swiftwick Performance Seven inch Cuff Socks – Olefin produces a fast drying, lightweight sock with superb abrasion resistance and long-lasting durability. As a fiber, Olefin retains less than .01% of its weight in moisture and resists deterioration from chemicals and perspiration. The combination of nylon and spandex with the Olefin fiber helps create a softer, more comfortable sock with incredible breathability for everyday wear. Olefin, the only Nobel Prize-winning fiber, has a great story. Its production leaves very little waste; therefore, it has less environmental impact than most polymers and is easier to recycle. Olefin also has the lightest specific gravity of any other fabric.

 


eBags Small Packing Cubes – 3pc Set – These amazing packing cubes help keep me organized.  I can comfortably for 3-4 of these in my THE NORTH FACE Terra 35 Backpack.  I organize clothing, accessories, and toiletries easily and efficiently; and can pull “sections” of my bag out with ease.  A must for staying organized along the adventure!

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