There’s nothing like the open road and fresh country air to ease your frazzled nerves. This weekend, grab your GPS, fill up your gas tank, and let the road take you!
We love road trips in my family, but if you like to travel as often as we do, it can become costly. There are a few apps and websites out there that make extended road trips safe and affordable.
One such site is www.couchsurfing.org . You can also download the couchsurfing app on your smartphone. What a fantastic way to see the world, meet new friends, and obtain a personal tour guide at the same time! The premise: this website functions as a social network as well as a host finder. Hosts who have a spare bedroom, a couch, or even a spot on the floor or an air mattress will list their space on the site. Travelers (called “surfers”) can view the accommodations and reviews of the host on the site. Hosts and surfers alike can become “verified” as an extra measure of safety (the site verifies they are who they say they are).
This is a friendly (somewhat bohemian) community of folks who love to travel and love to host others. The hosts who participate are usually knowledgeable, take pride in their towns, and enjoy connecting with tourists. The cost of reserving space on a host’s couch? It’s completely free! It is recommended that the “surfer” show a token of appreciation, such as a souvenir from their hometown, or a bottle of wine, or a dinner.
The community also hosts many events where locals come to meet each other. On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I was lucky enough to meet a few members of the couchsurfing community during the Three Rivers Art Festival. What a friendly, eclectic group! Everyone I met had surfed and hosted many times, and not one had a bad experience.
Another great website for unique and inexpensive accommodations is www.airbnb.com. This is also an app available in the Google playstore. The premise of this site is much the same as Couchsurfing, except there is a cost. The cost varies based on the location, the time of year, and the type of accommodation. Airbnb offers everything from shared rooms to entire homes for rent. Many accommodations are unique. For example, in Brooklyn, you can rent an entire houseboat for $75 per night. In the Poconos, you can book a cozy yurt with woodburning stove for less than $60 per night. Fun stuff! And like Couchsurfing, you can read reviews of the hosts and accommodations, and you can also verify your host is the “real deal” by viewing their Facebook stats.
My first Airbnb experience was truly awesome. While traveling to Vermont to view the fall foliage this year, I was discouraged with the lack of affordable accommodations. While I love to camp, it was a bit too cold for it in mid-October. I stumbled upon the Airbnb site and found a home with a private room available during the dates of our stay. The home was built high upon a mountain just outside the state capital of Montpelier. The location was perfect for our travel plans, centrally located and easy to access. Though we only booked a bedroom, the host allowed access to the entire home, including the deck, the kitchen, and the living room with wide screen television! My son was thrilled to be granted access her Netflix, HuluPlus and Pandora accounts. Many of the hosts from Airbnb provide breakfast, and our host was kind enough to provide a variety of juice, fresh fruit, and artisan bread. Best of all? The cost of our stay was under $100 for two nights!
My last tidbit for the budget-minded traveler is the somewhat controversial youth hostel. Check them out before you judge. They are in all of the major cities, and they are quite affordable. Yes, we have all seen the movie and heard the horror stories from college friends who have backpacked across Europe. However, it seems these stories are much exaggerated. Many hostels take pride in their establishments and are honored to host travelers from all over the world. The one I stayed in recently with my son in Niagara Falls, Canada was actually a large Victorian family home. The family who ran the hostel was warm and friendly, and went out of their way to help us out. The whole building was sparkly clean and the bathroom was well stocked with towels, all kinds of toiletries, and an antique porcelain claw-foot tub! Again, using resources such as tripadvisor.com and hostels.com, I was able to research the reviews of the available hostels in the area ahead of time, and I was confident this was a good choice for us.
The biggest benefit of the above mentioned accommodations is they are NOT your typical chain hotel. They are unique, filled with character, and very personal. I brought my tween and teenage children on these adventures, and my main goal was for them to absorb different cultures and ways of life. We met and talked with people from many different countries around the breakfast table at our hostel in Canada. We talked about places we’ve been and places we’d like to see. We chatted about the things they eat for breakfast in their countries, what they do for a living, and their dreams for the future.
At the house in Vermont that we reserved via Airbnb, we were lucky enough to meet a woman who arranged a walk across the country on a quest for happiness. She had Buddha statues in her home, and her bookshelf consisted of volumes of literature from ancient philosophers that we may not have perused otherwise. She sent us a long email beforehand with her personal recommendation of off the beaten path attractions we should (and did!) visit in her area.
While in Pittsburgh, one of the natives made me a mix cd of local music that was performed at the Art Festival. I had never paid much attention to Folk or Bluegrass before, and now I am a big fan!!
You can’t get that at the Holiday Inn