I have had the pleasure to know Rashmi Tambe of Global Women Who Ride fame for some time virtually. Finally we had a chance to meet face to face. Her site has so many compelling stories – you really should check it out if you have not. Her reviews in the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) and such are always informative and good fun too. You can learn more about Rashmi here: http://www.globalwomenwhoride.com/the-author/ As a true road warrior she is out traveling again – last I heard in Bombay/Mumbai India. Travel well!!
A few weeks ago I had coffee with my friend Tad who has recently started MotoStays, a homesharing service for motorcyclists. We talked a little bit about what measures the site could take to make the idea of staying with strangers more safe for women motorcyclists on the road and he requested that I wrote more about my experiences with traveling alone. I agreed to think it over and put my own experiences down in words. This article is what came of it.
Paraphrase for homesharing part only here: (Read the full post here. )
HOME SHARING NETWORKS
Which brings me to the final form of accommodation, namely other people’s homes. Strange people’s homes, to be precise. If I had been writing this ten years ago, this would have been a no-no. However, in the era of Couchsurfing and Air BnB, those barriers have long been shattered. While people renting out rooms in their homes to travelers is nothing new, it’s only recently that these have become so easily discoverable. The best experiences I’ve had have been on Couchsurfing, not on Air BnB, which has always felt a little transactional and more hotel-like rather than community-oriented to me.
I first got onto Couchsurfing around five years ago when I decided that I wanted to dip my toes into this new territory and find out for myself what it was like. My first experience was about the most terrible one I can imagine, and one that I wouldn’t wish on any one. I agreed to host a young man from North Carolina who was visiting Seattle. He claimed to be a motorcyclist, a Harley rider. While I perused his profile, I had an uneasy feeling and I didn’t really want to host him. Since I was new to Couchsurfing, I didn’t realize that I could just say no and that it was quite normal for CS requests to be ignored or refused by hosts. I also didn’t realize that Couchsurfing had a way to “verify” member locations and identities. This person was not a “Verified” member. To cut a long story short, I hosted him, we talked about bikes, had dinner with another friend of mine, then came home and went to bed while he crashed on the couch. I woke up the next morning to find that he had stolen my motorcycle, gear, my iPod and whatever money was lying around. He had taken my bike and – because he must have been pretty stupid – ridden to the nearest military base, where he was stopped, questioned and arrested. I did recover my bike, but the entire incident cost me $600 and a lot of trust in human nature. Couchsurfing wasn’t able to do anything about it because it was purportedly out of their jurisdiction. In hindsight, there were some very simple things I could have done to avoid this from happening, which I will describe in a bit.
After that first bad experience, I held off of Couchsurfing for a long time before I decided to give it a shot and host people again. What changed my mind is the amount of amazing Couchsurfing experiences I had while riding in Europe, where I was hosted by people- all male motorcyclists from all over. I found a motorcycle to ride in Europe from a guy I who emailed me after I made a post about wanting to ride in Europe in a Couchsurfing community for European motorcyclists. I was hosted by both him and his brother in Ljubljana, Slovenia, both of whom were wonderful hosts who introduced me to their city and their friends.
I started my ride from Slovenia and rode to Austria with an Austrian KTM rider who contacted me on ADVRider after I had posted on there. I rode with him and his friend Daniel to Vienna. They took me down some great roads and he hosted me at his place for three nights. While I was there, he went above and beyond to make sure that my bike was running properly, he took me out with his friends every evening, and he helped me plan the next phase of my journey. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I almost felt like he was an angel sent to keep me safe and to show me kindness and generosity at a time when I really needed it.
Later on in my journey, I Couchsurfed with another motorcyclist in Hamburg, who was also a lovely host. He helped me book some train tickets I needed to get for a little side journey, and he took me discover some of the best eating establishments in his city. My fondest memory with him is riding on the back of his bike while he took me on a scenic tour of Hamburg at night.
In Luxembourg, a fellow rider from ADVRider met me at my hostel and took me on a nice little tour around his city.
All of these guys are people I still stay in touch with to this day. I even hosted some of them at my place in Seattle when they visited and met with them in other cities while traveling.
Couchsurfing in Slovenia
Oh, and I also ended up staying with a few non-motorcycling friends whom I had only ever met online before. A slight variation in Couchsurfing!
After all these incredible experiences, I feel like I have to do the same, not just to give back to the motorcycling community but also to allow myself to be open to the universe and to experiences like these. To host a traveler was so easy and asked for so little from me. A couch, a shower, and a safe place to rest for the night – my guests didn’t really need a lot more than that. Some of them have even gone on rides on my bikes. In exchange, I’ve been able to meet wonderful travelers with unique experiences and stories, with whom I stay in touch on our various social networks. This last is the other beautiful aspect of hosting – once you connect a new node in your network in the form of a traveler from another country, their network opens up to you as well, which can be great if you decide to go travel there someday!
This is why I am so excited about MotoStays – a home-sharing service where motorcyclists around the world can register themselves and either host travelers or stay with other hosts on the network. In other words, it is a structured way of creating a global motorcyclist network so that us riders can always be assured of finding other motorcyclists in a strange city with whom to stay, to find a garage and tools, rent or borrow their bike, or just to reach out to to go get some coffee or go riding with. It could potentially replace an assortment of such networks already in place, like the BMW MOA Anonymous book , the ADVRider Tent Space post, the motorcyclist groups on Couchsurfing, and the various long distance riding motorcycle forums out there. I really look forward to seeing this site grow so that five years later we wonder how we ever got along without it.
Going back to staying safe while using sites like these, some of the things I do on Couchsurfing are: I ensure that they are Verified members, I check that they have had positive reviews from at least a handful of real people, I restrict the people I host to women and couples only. I host males only if they are motorcyclists who check out okay. I restrict stays to one or two nights only, and I reserve the right to refuse to host someone if anything about their request feels wrong. This last is the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone considering hosting a stranger or being hosted by a stranger – our instincts are very fine tuned to warn us of danger and we absolutely need to trust them and listen to the nagging voice that tells us that everything isn’t quite right. If anything about the interaction feels wrong, be prepared to walk away, even if it means sounding rude or having to ride off in bad weather to find another place to stay. I’m not sure what kind of safety features MotoStays has but I hope they will be well thought out and tested. I will try to use it on future long distance riders and report back.
To summarize, if you’re a rider who is hesitant about staying with a stranger or hosting another stranger, I hope this article will reassure you that there are some amazing people out there and some great experiences to be had! The motorcycling community consists of a lot of kind, generous and interesting people. We share a bond that’s unlike any other. No matter what our age, race, sex, job or educational background, we know we can have great conversations when we get together and go out of a way to help a fellow rider in need. Connecting with each other via Couchsurfing, MotoStays, the Anonymous Book or the tent space thread puts an amazing network of people just like us at our fingertips. If you find that it just doesn’t work for you, of course there is the comfort of old school hotels and camping to fall back on!
Woman Sleeping Alone : Read the full post here.