Picking the right accommodation when travelling can be a difficult choice: get it wrong and you could be suffering from bed bugs and bad room-mates.
But get it right and you could have found the place where you make some life-long friends (or at the very least you’ll have somewhere comfy to rest at night). Quench Travel as a look at just some of the bed-time options available to travellers.
The next time you’re planning a trip, whether it’s a weekend in London or exploring Monument Valley, try becoming a member of the global phenomenon that is Couchsurfing. The only extra thing you’ll need to pack is an open-mind and plenty of energy for spontaneous new experiences. The principle is that instead of paying for a bed you ‘surf’ (sleep on someone’s sofa or spare room) with a ‘host’ (a volunteer who lived locally) for free. This symbiotic relationship can give a range of benefits for both parties: language practice, money saving, local food, a personal tour guide and new friends.
The activity is supported by a social networking site called couchsurfing.org where around 3 million members have profiles and interact between one another their desire to surf or host around the world. Couchsurfing.org says ‘the world is much smaller than people think… we value real-life experiences with strangers and believe people who are different than us can be trustworthy and inspiring’.
Here are a few tips to getting set up and practising good couchsurfing etiquette.
Your main way of communicating is through a profile similar to what you would have had back in the Myspace days. Firstly, photos are key for building up trust so upload an album of you in various interesting settings looking as open and friendly as possible. Secondly you’ll need to develop a universally appealing persona in the ‘about me’ section, not many people are going to relate to how much you love At the Drive-In or playing with your Danbo. This may seem fake but think of it as PR for yourself, marketing yourself in the best possible light. A key component of your experience with your couchhost is going to be conversation so need convey to them what you’re going to bring to the table: is it your philosophical insight on life or perhaps your vast knowledge of western pop culture knowledge? Here’s a few good sellers: ‘fresh and ready in the morning’, ‘adventurous but chilled’, ‘hedonistic’, ‘enjoy being independent and spending time with host’, ‘resourceful and organised’.
Once your profile is ready, it’s time to get networking! Add current friends who have couchsurfing, join public groups for the places you’re going to be visiting, and begin sending couch requests. When you apply your search terms you can specify safety options such as people who are verified and have lots of references. You may find yourself sending anything up to 40 requests so here’s an example template:
‘’Hey, I’m looking for someone to stay with in …, arriving evening of the …, and leaving morning of the … (but I could find somewhere else if … nights is too long). I can make my own way to your place at a time of your convenience, and of course I can keep myself busy in the day if you’re working. I’d be delighted if I could come and stay with you 🙂 Speak soon I hope……x’’
You already know your couchsurfing etiquette because it’s everything that applies to student house sharing- don’t steal other people’s food, be clean, don’t break anything that’s not yours etc. I’d highly recommend the experience, even if you just try out it out once. Enjoy your travels and happy surfing!
Rachel Victoria Lewis
We all dream of lavish holidays, exotic travels and romantic breaks, and centred in these blissful ideals is the luxurious five star hotel you’ll be retiring to. However is the luxury really worth the amount of money that you’re going to spend? Just on somewhere to rest you’re head for the night? Traditionally five star hotels offered clean bed and bathrooms, a few free samples of shampoo and an overpriced restaurant, however in the past ten years five star hotels have been re-invented and now present a world of new experiences and indulgences.
From suites laced with pure gold to whole rooms made from block ice, and dinning 10 feet under the Indian Ocean to being smothered in chocolate in the world famous spa, five star hotels now offer every extravagance you could imagine. Long gone are the days in which a hotel was just a place to sleep. Five start hotels have a huge range of activities available to guest, often themed around the hotel. For example there are golf hotels, theme park hotels, and water sports hotels, all of which have so much to do you wouldn’t need to leave the hotel gates.
After a long day of activities at your five star hotel your stomach is sure to be rumbling, however do not despair most five star hotels now have world famous chefs catering for your palettes every need. The York & Albany hotel in London is owned by famous foul mouthed chef Gordon Ramsey, who from time to time pops into the kitchens to prepare sumptuous meals for the guests. In addition, if you find yourself feeling peckish in the day some five star hotel suites now come with your own butler for your every need. For instance Sandals five star resorts provide a butler which will unpack your luggage, serve you lunch on the beach and even shine your shoes.
At the end of the day all of this over indulgence does come at a price. A night in a five star hotel in New York or London can cost up to £900 and a night at the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel can cost a shocking £1350. However five star luxury can be achieved on a restricted budget. Many five star hotels in the Far East offer the same extravagances at a significantly reduced rate, for example in Singapore rooms at the five star Intercontinental Singapore hotel start from an amazing £130 a night. Another great way to save money is to book your hotel last minute, websites like laterooms.co.uk offer incredible last minute deals on boutique and five star hotels. With this in mind, I believe that we all deserve a treat some times and a break in a five star hotel is definitely worth it for special occasion.
Camping’ is probably the word in the English language most often followed by a groan. You just have to mention the idea before people pour forth a stream of complaints and horror stories. Perhaps because the image conjured up is one of wet weekends in the Lake District, cold communal showers and long days doing nothing in a field of mud. It’s true that camping has its disadvantages, but good old fashioned sleeping beneath canvas can actually be a good cheap alternative to hotels and hotels.
As students, we all like to spend as little money as possible – well, I know that I do anyway – and the cost of travelling can add up. The cost of one adult in a tent can be as little as £7 a night, with even cheap hotels are up to ten times that. The most expensive thing about about camping is the equipment – after all, in order to camp you need a tent. However there are ways to get hold of this stuff for less or sometimes nothing at all. Argos sells tents for under £20 and people are often more than happy to lend things out provided you promise to bring it back in one piece.
You can also do without the faff of booking or planning ahead, or not planning ahead and being turned away. You can just roll up and set up, and if there is no room, so what? There will be another camp-site around the corner. This means that you can be more flexible and spontaneous with your holidays. When I was young my parents used to pile us kids into the car and drive around France, Germany or Spain stopping where we thought looked interesting. This approach to holidays yielded some hit and miss results. Once we chanced upon a beautiful camp-site in Holland five minutes from the beach that rented bikes and stayed for a week, going swimming in the sea every day. Another time we followed a map to a camp-site they signposted which in fact had not been built yet and had to spend a further three hours driving round in the gathering dusk.
The biggest problem with it though is that you are entirely at the mercy of the weather. When it’s sunny, it’s great. When it rains, it’s just awful. We all know what happens – it rains, you leave the tent for five minutes and when you get back your raincoat drips everywhere and your wellies cake everything in mud no matter how careful you are. You’re stuck in a small space, damp, cold and bored. Or you could be as unlucky as a friend of mine who woke up in the middle of the night to discover a small river flowing through the middle of her tent. To which I say, there’s no shame in giving up and googling the nearest B&B.
For any student traveller who is too broke for hotels and too chicken for couchsurfing (probably most of us), hostels are the accommodation of choice. You can pretty much guarantee to find at least one in any big city you visit and often in smaller towns as well.
If you’re unsure of where to begin Hostelworld.com is an excellent place to start searching and booking. As well as advertising hostels in 180 countries it has the bonus of guest reviews, so choosing a high quality or stylish hostel is no longer such a big gamble. The style of hostels varies as much as the style of hotels, from big chains all the way down to a few spare rooms in someone’s house.
An important choice when booking a hostel is whether you want to be in a private room or a dormitory. If you’re travelling as a group then shelling out an extra few quid for a private room is well worth the money as you can be guaranteed privacy and security. Also, if you’re sharing a room with friends then although you are still at the mercy of their weird sleeping habits, you feel more able to shout at them for snoring, sleeptalking or loudly having sex in the bunk above you. Staying in a private room in a hostel is essentially the same as staying in a hotel, albeit super cheap and more basic.
Staying in the more traditional dormitory is a whole other experience. Sharing a room for the night can be an amazing way to make friends when you’re travelling, as the communal atmosphere encourages you to share not only your space, but also your time and your stories with other travellers, who can be from all ages and all over the world. It’s a great time to pick up other travellers’ recommendations for the area, whether it’s where to find the best pizza in Naples or which bus to take from New York to Philadelphia.
There is, obviously, a downside: sharing. Sharing is a nice thing to do, but can be taken to extremes. For example, a friend in Northern Italy stayed in a dorm without lockers, and one of her fellow hostellers thought it acceptable to share her belongings. Security is a big worry with hosteling so it’s good to be extra-conscious of keeping an eye on your valuables. Another downside is the noise at night; hostels are sometimes not the best places for a good kip. The things you hear in the night can range from annoying but acceptable snoring and partying to the more disturbing overheard sex and, for a friend in Melbourne, the confusing sound of a woman’s prosthetic leg falling the bunk above you. These are not conducive to a good snooze.
The other guests are crucial to the success of any hostelling trip. The hostel itself (location, quality, even cleanliness) is completely second in importance to the other guests. Terrible dorm-mates can ruin a seemingly perfect hostel, just as amazing ones can save an awful hostel. Obviously, you can’t pre-book your roomies, but if you try to keep spontaneous and flexible, hostelling is a great way to travel. The random nature of it is all part of the adventure, and even the worst hostels at least make for great stories!