So Much More than a Free Bed

When I tell friends about the concept of hospitality exchange, their usual reaction is, "So... you mean your accommodation is free?" "Yes," I sigh, "but there's so much more to it." Yes, you get a place to sleep. You also get a local's view of the destination along with valuable tips and knowledge that aren't found in a $20 guidebook, you get a meaningful cultural exchange and, more importantly, you get to make new friends. [caption id="attachment_735" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="One of the travelers was so tired he didn't even make it to the bed!"][/caption] I am addicted to hospitality exchange because of the countless people I have met along the way: a colorful variety of unique individuals who have served as inspirations in my life. I can never say what my favorite experience was. It may have been zooming through the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City on the back of scooters, guided around authentic hotspots by a group of students who wanted to show off their country (Google Saigon Hotspot if you find yourself in Vietnam!). Being fed by a gourmet cook in New York City was hardly a bad experience, nor was staying with a hitchhiking apple picker in small-town Pennsylvania who had about ten mattresses for me to choose from. [caption id="attachment_736" align="aligncenter" width="375" caption="My host in NYC made french toast for his guests in the morning. Delicious."][/caption] Crashing on the couch of a French chef (who cursed like an American sailor, by the way) was particularly warm, except for the claw-happy cat. Cramming into an apartment with half a dozen other travelers from around the world, all hosted by an Australian expat who was living in Iceland "just because" was a cozy experience. His chocolate cake was as unforgettable as his provocative dancing, though in different ways. I'll always remember my first guest: a Frenchman who asked to stay for 3 days and, after I fell in love with his humor and passion, stayed for 3 months. I shared hearty laughs with my host in Istanbul who speaks 12 languages and, when asked where she was from, would respond, "it's a long story." It really was a long story, too. I'll always appreciate the hospitality I was shown by the cute Italian couple in Madrid who sent me off with a bag of treats for the road. Staying with a family in the Canary Islands who only spoke Spanish was particularly amusing; I don't speak a word of Spanish.<!--more--> I once stayed with a girl simply because her name was "Tuba", which I found funny, and she took me to a free music festival in Turkey where I discovered terrific bands I'd never heard of. Hosting two young men with their four enormous dogs was a fun challenge, because my tiny dog thought he could intimidate those bear-sized creatures. I recently stayed with two older gay men in Manhattan. I'm straight and about 50 years younger, but that didn't stop one of them from playfully flirting with me all day. And my most recent guest was a 19-year-old French girl who explained that she likes to hijack. It was too cute, but I eventually had to tell her that she actually liked to "hitchhike." The list goes on and on, and will continue to grow. [caption id="attachment_737" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="A delicious breakfast made by my amazing vegan host in Istanbul."][/caption] On a hospitality exchange site like Tripping, everyone who meets travelers and locals starts with a surge of excitement and curiosity which quickly morph into a friendship, where two strangers are genuinely interested in each other and enjoy one another's company. After years of hospitality exchange, I'm still amazed at how quickly friendships are forged. One of my hosts, an inspirational traveler from Bordeaux who set up a scavenger hunt for my friends and I on Easter, wrote that "it's sad to have such good friends for a weekend then have to say goodbye." [caption id="attachment_738" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Easter Egg hunt put on by a Tripping host in London (can you spot the hidden eggs?)"][/caption] He's right, but it's wonderful to think that I now have one more friend to visit somewhere in the world - it's a good excuse to travel. This guest post was written by Kevin Fairdosi, fellow Tripper and world traveler. Be sure to check out Kevin's blog: