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From backpackers to retirees, more than 300,000 people a year travel through Europe by train, and it’s now possible to visit 28 different countries by train on a Eurail Global Pass. A lover of the rails herself, Silvia Fischer serves as sales and marketing manager for Eurail Group G.I.E. Fischer chatted with us about what’s new in Europe train travel and where she dreams of going.

silvia fischer eurail group


IndependentTraveler.com: If a traveler hasn’t been on a European train in a few years, what will they find that’s new?
Silvia Fischer:
One of the key differences is the quality and breadth of services, including high-speed train lines. In first class, seating is now more spacious, and many seats recline. Food is often served right to your seat, and in several countries you can charge your devices and connect to Wi-Fi straight from your seat.

With the Eurail Pass there have been plenty of improvements too, including the Children Travel for Free program that allows two children between 4 and 11 years old to travel for free with an adult Eurail Pass holder. This covers grandchildren as well.

Some other changes also include the addition of four new countries for Eurail — Poland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro — and new passes like the Scandinavia Pass and the Greek Islands Pass.

IT: Eurail’s research shows that Central Europe is the most popular destination for travelers 50 years old and up. Why is that part of Europe trending?
SF:
Countries like Germany and Switzerland will always be popular rail destinations due to the extensiveness of their networks. However, when people are coming back to Europe for a second, third or even fourth time, they are often looking for new experiences away from well-known hot spots. They are keen to explore areas that didn’t used to be as accessible, such as Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Croatia. It also helps that long-haul flights from the States are opening up to these countries too.

IT: You were recently in the U.S. What do you like about rail travel in the States, and what do you think could be improved?
SF:
Similar to Europe, the U.S. offers some grand scenic journeys that can only be witnessed by rail — there’s nowhere else in the world where you can see the likes of the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your seat! On the flip side, passenger or commuter rail within the U.S. can be quite limited, and in many cases stations are only located within city limits of major hub cities. Coming from Europe, where there’s more than 10,000 stations accessible by passenger trains, I find the difference quite striking.

IT: What tips can you share to save money on rail travel in Europe?
SF:
One of my top tips would be to book in advance before landing in Europe. One bonus of the booking period is that travelers can take advantage of promotional offers throughout the year and then travel up to 11 months later.

If you’re looking for a vacation that’s easier on the wallet, consider traveling within Eastern and Central Europe, or in the quieter months outside of the busy summer season.

bernina express switzerland


IT: Which European routes are absolutely essential to reserve in advance?
SF:
Due to popular demand, some high-speed, international and overnight trains in Europe require a reservation. That said, high-speed and international routes for countries popular with U.S. travelers like Germany and Austria don’t require a reservation. And in many cases there are alternative regional trains that passengers can opt for instead. The journey might be longer, but you skip having to make a reservation.

IT: What are your favorite tips for train travel?
SF:
My number one piece of advice is to download the Rail Planner App. It’s a great tool that provides train timetables and tells you where connecting routes or reservations are necessary. The app is free and works offline.

If you’re in search of some quiet time, it’s quite common in Western Europe to find trains with “silent” carriages or cabins — no chitchat allowed! This is ideal for catching up on a book or sleep. And don’t forget to admire the views from the window!

IT: What are your personal favorite rail routes in Europe?
SF:
That’s a tough choice! For the idyllic views in wine country, I’d say the Rhine Valley Line between Koblenz and Mainz in Germany. … For historic significance, it would have to be the Bernina Express between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy. This route follows two UNESCO World Heritage-listed lines, the Albula and the Bernina.

And for the uniqueness I would have to say the route between Hamburg in Germany and Copenhagen in Denmark. The train literally rolls onto a ferry to cross the sea.

IT: What train trip — anywhere in the world — is on your travel bucket list?
SF:
Outside of Europe, the Seven Stars line on the island of Kyushu, Japan, is on my wish list. A relative newcomer — it only opened in 2013 — it’s a luxury sleeper train that travels around Japan’s southernmost main island with views of lush green landscapes and even volcanoes!

Within Europe it’s tricky to choose, but if time allows, my ultimate dream would be undertaking a single trip that encompassed all the 28 countries covered by the Eurail Pass. Now that would be an incredible European experience!

Check out more travel interviews!

Top 10 Reasons to Travel by Train
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

The delightful cottage I rented through Airbnb last month seemed to have all right elements to provide a restful long weekend — a pretty location, plenty of space to spread out, a well-appointed kitchen. But my two-night stay ended up being less than restful because I barely slept. The bed was so squeaky that every time I rolled over, the metallic oinks and squeals would wake me up.

bedroom


I love that Airbnb, Home Away, VRBO and other vacation rental property websites exist, providing alternatives to hotels. But one of the downsides is the lack of consistent standards.

A new travel site called Sonder aims to correct that.

Like the other vacation rental sites, Sonder allows you to book individually owned private properties by the night. But Sonder requires that the owners meet a checklist of standards before they can be members and offer their “hometels” for rent. In fact, there are 237 items on Sonder’s checklist.

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

Owners must agree to have homes professionally cleaned after each stay. All properties provide consistent amenities, including speedy Wi-Fi, hotel-like bath products and kitchen essentials, including coffee and tea. And bookings are confirmed instantly; no need to wait around for the homeowner to respond, keeping your vacation plans in limbo until he or she decides whether to accept your booking. Units must be accessible via lockbox and key code; no need to coordinate with the owner to hand off a key.

The springy bed I slept on would never pass Sonder’s test — the company states that all beds are comfortable and decked out with luxury hotel-style linens.

The founders of Sonder said they came up with the idea after they arrived at a rental apartment in San Francisco. After waiting endlessly for the owner to call them back to let them know where to find the house key, they went into the apartment, only to find dog hair all over the furniture and half-eaten food in the fridge.

Right now, Sonder is only available in eight cities in the United States and Canada — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — and others will be added soon. Even though the West Virginia cottage I rented was lacking in comfort, such a rural destination isn’t even available through Sonder. So there are tradeoffs.

For city properties, rates tend to be comparable to Airbnb, but you’ll have fewer options. For example, I searched for a $200-or-less private home in Boston for a mid-December stay. Airbnb turned up 279 properties and Sonder just 11.

If you’re seeking a private space in a city, Sonder is a great alternative to other rental sites and hotels. But for now, you’ll need to stick with the other websites if you’re seeking non-urban rentals.

15 Things You Don’t Know About Vacation Rentals
7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

During a flight from Mexico last week, I sat next to a guy I’ll call Lenny Loquacious (not his real name, obviously).

man on phone on airplane


Apparently I’m more concerned about protecting his identity than he is, because for nearly five hours, Mr. Loquacious talked nonstop to the business associate sitting to his left. Non. Stop. For five hours. Loudly.

Lenny was blindly oblivious to the dirty looks that the half-dozen passengers around us kept giving him. Even the flight attendants rolled their eyes at him, and slipped me free bottles of red wine out of pity.

More disturbing than his behavior, however, was how much personal information he revealed during the course of the flight. I knew where he worked and lived. I learned his wife’s and children’s names. I knew where he traveled for work and when he would be away next. I overheard the names of his home town, his university, a few past employers and the chi-chi private club he was a member of.

In addition, he left his iPhone and business card-as-a-bookmark on his seat when he went to use the restroom. I could have pick up his phone and accessed a good deal of information if I’d wanted to; I knew the phone wasn’t passcode protected.

Clearly, the guy had no self-awareness. But even worse, he put himself at risk of a number of different crimes, according to an identity theft expert I contacted the next day.

“This is an individual who gets an F grade in security,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. “He’s already given out enough information [to] allow someone to pose as a bank or a credit card company or even his employer and be able to extract even more data from him to commit fraud.”

The lessons here are obvious: Don’t leave items containing valuable personal information unattended. Watch what you say when you’re in a public place like an airplane. And for the love of the passengers around you — not to mention the information about yourself that you should hold near and dear — pipe down.

As Siciliano says, “Nobody except for criminals wants to hear what you have to say.”

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

One of the pleasures of staying in a hotel is enjoying all the little luxuries that come with your room — slipping into a bathrobe or pair of slippers, trying out a new brand of body lotion. But for many frequent travelers hotel amenities leave a little to be desired, even at expensive properties.

hotel toiletries


Cecilia Freeman, a member of the IndependentTraveler.com community team, recently found herself disappointed by the in-room coffee at a Seattle hotel for which she paid $275 a night. “The coffee was Starbucks, but they stocked these generic fake sugar and creamer packets with a useless napkin and a stirry straw,” she told me. “Every time I travel and stay in any level of hotel, I always get the same lame amenity pack for the coffee. I wondered if Starbucks would be happy its coffee was accompanied by this awful generic stuff.”

It spurred her to look at other common hotel amenities with a more critical eye: “Shower caps? Who uses those? Shoeshine sponges? The list goes on … the whole amenity package for all hotels needs a redo.”

In fairness, I remember one occasion several years back when I did use a hotel shower cap — but that’s one time out of hundreds of hotel stays. Why don’t hotels cut some of these rarely used amenities and offer free Wi-Fi instead? In an informal survey a few years back, we discovered that it was the hotel amenity travelers want most.

I reached out to a couple of other well-traveled colleagues to get their perspective on hotel amenities. Brittany Chrusciel, an associate editor for IndependentTraveler.com’s sister site, Cruise Critic, wants to ban bar soap at the sink. “I don’t mind a bar in the shower, but I’d much rather have liquid soap for hand washing,” she said. “Half the time there’s no soap dish, so the bar slithers all over the sink and makes a mess. Plus, it’s a waste when you only use it for a day or two. A hand soap dispenser is so much neater and more convenient.”

My own biggest pet peeve? Hotels that only offer a single pillow on each side of a bed, with no extras in the closet. Cruise Critic senior editor Chris Gray Faust agreed: “I like having a fortress of pillows.”

There are some hotel amenities we love, including bottled water (preferably free), hypoallergenic pillows, facewash and cotton swabs. Best of all: a little note that says “Forgot something? Call the front desk” with an offer to supply things like toothbrushes, toothpaste or razors.

9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable
33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

What are your favorite and least favorite hotel amenities?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Thanks to my perfectionist ways, I tend to do pretty well in airports. I arrive early, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to get on and off at security, organize my carry-on items well and constantly check the departure board for changes related to my flight.

But in the same way some travelers are always on the prowl for discounted getaways, my travel obsession of late is studying new strategies to master the airport experience. Fortunately, there are others out there like me, and they’ve shared their tips to hack your way through the airport.

woman looking at airport departure board


Here are five tips and recommendations that I’ve found particularly useful lately:

Take screengrabs of your mobile boarding pass: This great article on the New Zealand website Stuff reminded me how finicky some apps can be — and that Murphy’s law dictates they’ll give you the most problems when you’re just about to approach the security officer in line at the airport. Avoid such problems by taking a screengrab of your boarding pass and displaying that. Chances are, it’s much easier to open your phone’s photos folder than to count on an airline’s app to work exactly when you need it to.

Pack an outlet splitter in your carry-on: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing desperately to charge your phone at the airport but finding all the outlets are occupied. Insider smartly suggests packing an outlet splitter, which turns one outlet into two. Then you just ask another tethered device addict to share the outlet and you both get to charge up. Outlet splitters cost just a few dollars and are widely available.

Download airport apps: I have plenty of airline apps on my phone, along with GateGuru, but I never thought to download apps for the airports themselves. Airplane News’ 10 Common Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport reminded me to download the airport apps too. I found this especially useful on a recent trip to seek out a decent place to eat and find an alternate restroom when the one near my gate was closed for cleaning.

Tune in to your brainwaves: In the recent Inc. article 10 Tips From Travel Experts, Flight Attendants and Other Frequent Fliers, an executive in South Carolina recommends a noise reduction and stress relief app called Brain Wave, and I’m absolutely hooked. Not only is it great for chilling out on the plane, but I also find it helps me deal with the anxious masses at the gate.

Pick airport security lines to the left: I should have known this because I’m left-handed, but somehow it slipped my mind: Because most people are right-handed, they tend to gravitate to the right-side security lines. So it’s likely the lines to the left will be shorter, according to our own 18 Best Airport Hacks. This tip has been around for a while, but it’s still holding fast and true.

What’s your best airport hack?

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

The last minutes of summer are ticking away, with just two days left until the official start of autumn. So while the final countdown is on, I count down for you a batch of intriguing things in the world of travel that will help you decide where to go this fall (and winter), and how to get there in the smartest possible way.

autumn road


10 Transport Apps to Help You Get Around
A technology reporter for the Guardian reveals his picks for the best 10 apps to help you navigate various transportation options. While the article is U.K.-centric, most of the apps are applicable to other cities around the world.

9 New Hotels Worthy of Your Instagram Account
Vogue magazine runs down nine new properties around the world that are chic enough to appear as a square image in your social media feed, including an artistic enclave on the beach in Nicaragua. Perhaps one will be on your travel list for this fall?

8 Adventurous Ski Holidays for 2016-17
Are you a skier? These are the hottest (coldest?) ski experiences in the world this coming season, according to the Guardian. Heliskiing in British Columbia late this fall, anyone?

7 Ways to Stay Safe When You’re Traveling Alone
Everyone travels alone at some point. Blending in, booking hotels strategically and trusting your gut are among the tips that a batch of frequent solo travelers offer in this Mental Floss article. (For more info, see 15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo.)

6 Ways to Stay Healthy When You Travel
If anyone knows what to do to stay healthy on the road, it’s someone who hasn’t been home in nine months. In this Medium article John Fawkes intermittently fasts, takes probiotics and melatonin, and incorporates other habits into his day to stay healthy. (Check out 9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling.)

5 Underrated European Destinations
Romania and Montenegro are among a handful of spots in Europe that more travelers should make a priority to see, says a woman who quit her New York City job to travel the world. This autumn’s shoulder season could be the ideal time to check some out.

4 Affordable Ways to Travel Long Term
Huffington Post travel blogger Shannon Ullman suggests that volunteering abroad not only is personally rewarding, but also allows you to stay in a place for a longer period of time without spending a lot of money. She offers three other ways you can afford to travel longer.

3 Off-Season Luxe Destinations for Less
Two spots in the Caribbean and one landlocked U.S. destination made the TODAY Show’s list of three well-discounted destinations for this fall.

2 People Traveling for a Year on $20,000
Writer Chris Guillebeau profiles an Arizona couple who ditched their stay-in-one-place lifestyle and hit the road, allowing housesitting opportunities to determine their destinations. Hard to believe they financed nearly the whole year merely by selling their car!

dog bark park inn cottonwood idaho


1 B&B Shaped Like a Beagle
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you suddenly discover a bed and breakfast built in the shape of a floppy-eared dog. The blog My Modern Met features the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, a two-bedroom cottage shaped like a beagle. Go fetch?

Where are you headed this fall?

5 Photos to Inspire an Autumn Trip
12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of ringing in the New Year in Times Square, and you’ve always wanted to stay at the New York Marriott Marquis, with its revolving restaurant and stone’s throw location to the famous midnight ball drop. You go online to make a booking, only to find that all 1,900+ rooms are sold out. A dozen booking websites return the same frustrating result.

If you’re truly determined to get a room in that hotel, you can spend hour after obsessive hour scouring the Internet trying to nab a cancellation. Or you could let a new website do the work for you.

hotel room view


Type in your desired hotel and travel dates, and Open Hotel Alert will send you a simple email or text message as soon as a room opens up. You then click on a provided link to reserve the room on Booking.com, the site’s affiliate partner.

There are a number of scenarios where this service could prove useful:

– If you’ve saved up all your loyalty points to use on your honeymoon at a specific beach resort, but the property is sold out.

– You’re going to a popular conference in a large city, but all of the hotels near the convention center are booked. Set up alerts for all of the hotels in the vicinity of the conference, and you’ll receive a notice if one of them opens up.

– You’re planning on having client meetings at your hotel and really wanted a suite, but only standard rooms are available. The notification you receive from Open Hotel Alert will tell you which room types have opened up.

Open Hotel Alert has more than one million properties programmed into its site, according to its founder, Mark Downs. And as with similar sites like Hotel Room Alerts, there’s no additional fee to use Open Hotel Alert.

11 Things Not to Do When Booking a Hotel
6 Lies Your Hotel Might Not Tell You

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

It’s summer. The majority of European workers are likely on vacation while American workers are toiling away at the office, warehouse or other workplace. This isn’t necessarily because Europeans get more time off on average than their American counterparts (although they do). Poll after poll shows that around half of all Americans don’t use all of their allotted vacation time.

kanisa baker


Kanisa Baker has had enough. Americans must take vacation time, she says, for their sanity, for their health and for a fulfilling life. The 40-year-old from Maryland started Travel More Work Less, a website and online community that encourages people to use their vacation time. She knows firsthand how hard this is — but also why it’s so important.

IndependentTraveler.com: Why did you decide to make this your mission?
Kanisa Baker:
I used to be self-employed and could take off as much time as I wanted. But when I took a job with another company, I found that I was barely using my vacation time to take any significant trips. After talking to friends and coworkers and doing research on American workers, I saw how many of us are not taking much-needed and deserved time off.

Some studies show that we are more likely to suffer from heart disease [if we don’t take] vacation — women especially. I started Travel More Work Less so that together we could identify real strategies to break from the routine and stresses of life and put more vacation days on the calendar.

IT: Why do you think Americans don’t use all of their vacation time?
KB:
Because of a lack of planning. Many of us have an “autopilot” lifestyle, and planning a vacation can be a lot of work. You have to identify the location and the best time to go, search for the best price, figure out which activities are available, determine the best place to stay, etc. So many times we throw up our hands and either stick with our regular daily routine or just have a “staycation.”

There is choice and intention behind taking a vacation. If you don’t plan for a “real” vacation, you end up using your days off to stay home or visit family. Those options can be even more stressful than a day at work.

IT: Some people don’t use vacation time because they can’t afford to go away. What would you advise them to do?
KB:
This is one of the top reasons holding people, myself included, back. The costs associated with life, work and stress get in the way. Travel then gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. One useful piece of advice is to focus on small, daily and intentional [money-saving] habits like eating out less, letting go of the unused gym membership, or selling stuff that you don’t need, all to increase travel funds. Save that money instead in a vacation fund.

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation

IT: What advice do you have for people who are worried about work piling up if they took time off?
KB:
I wrote a guide about this exact topic, and one of the strategies I discuss is implementing a cross-training program within your company/organization. This could reduce the amount of work to come back to after a vacation.

IT: Is it okay for people to check email or do work while they’re away?
KB:
Well, checking email on the beach is certainly better than checking it in the office. But being on vacation means it’s important to be in the present moment with your loved ones. Perhaps it’s best to vacation is spots where Wi-Fi is very limited!

IT: Do you think people would take more time off if employers gave their employees more vacation time?
KB:
That’s a tough one. It really comes down to the person. Either you are someone that values and sees the importance of vacation time or you aren’t.

IT: Where do you like to travel on vacation?
KB:
As I’ve gotten older, I found I get really antsy on long plane rides. So I’ve enjoyed exploring vacation spots closer to home like Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. My last vacation was to the Florida Keys and Mexico.

Check out more travel interviews!

Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier
10 Things to Do Before You Travel

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

eyeglass case asparagus pill organizer duct tape dental floss prescription bottles


Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash
Pack This: 11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Would you welcome a traveler you’ve never met to come sleep on your couch for free? If you would, you’re not alone; CouchSurfing.com, a website devoted to connecting travelers with local hosts, has a network of some 12 million members, including Jamie Matczak.

jamie matczak borgarnes iceland


Matczak lives with her chocolate lab in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and has been a Couchsurfing host for three years. She’s hosted guests from Hawaii, France, Denmark, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Texas, Wisconsin and South Korea. “I look at it as a fellowship type of exchange,” says Matczak. “I am providing a room in exchange for a new friendship!”

We chatted with Matczak by email about why she’s chosen to host, whether she’s had any safety issues and how welcoming strangers into her home has changed the way she travels.

IndependentTraveler.com: What made you decide to start hosting?
Jamie Matczak:
I had stayed with families on a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2011 and was looking for a similar experience on a solo trip to Spain in 2012. I discovered the Couchsurfing site and loved the idea of offering travelers (surfers) a couch/room as they are traveling. I signed up, and even though I didn’t use it for my trip to Spain, I began to receive requests as a host. I had previously hosted women from France through a different program and enjoyed the experience.

IT.com: What are the biggest benefits of hosting?
JM:
The biggest benefit is getting to know someone new, possibly someone from another country. As a traveler who has been to more than 30 countries, I enjoy hearing about life and cultures in other places. I want to have conversations and learn, and that occurs with all of my guests. I also like the opportunity to show some highlights of my city, Green Bay. Surfers arrive at my house as strangers but leave as friends.

IT.com: As a woman who lives alone, have you ever had any safety concerns about hosting strangers? How do you protect yourself?
JM:
The site has verification checks, so you know if people are legit. Every profile also has a references area, so I can read what other hosts have said about a potential surfer. I typically don’t accept guests who don’t have any references, or if I feel something seems “off.” I tell friends or family when a surfer is arriving, just as a back-up. So far, I have not had any bad or unsafe experiences. I choose to believe that people on the site are using it for something positive.

IT.com: Why host people for free instead of charging a nightly fee with a service such as Airbnb?
JM:
I have considered using a site such as Airbnb where a fee is charged, but I don’t think that would fit with my busier lifestyle. With Couchsurfing, I don’t feel as bad if I have to decline a request or turn off “hosting” if needed. Also, I think if I charged a fee, I would feel under more pressure for my home to be spotless and perfect. Most Couchsurfers are happy to have a bed and are easygoing if my home doesn’t look perfect. And it’s really not about the money. With Airbnb, I might gain more in my pocketbook, but not necessarily gain a richer experience.

IT.com: Who’s the most memorable guest you’ve ever had?
JM:
EVERY guest has been memorable in their own way. As a few examples, I hosted two friends from Australia who were driving to all 50 states. I met two women from Wisconsin who were in Green Bay to volunteer for the weekend. I hosted a young woman from France who was studying for the semester at our local university, and when she arrived, her campus apartment was not available. In January, a father and son from Germany stayed with me because the father took his son to a Packers game as a high school graduation gift. Most recently, I hosted a young man from Korea who is walking across North America.

IT.com: Are you still in touch with folks you’ve hosted? Have you ever slept on their couches in return?
JM:
Yes! Most of them are on Facebook, so that is a great way to stay in touch. I have not visited any of my guests, but I hope to in the future. I have tentative plans to visit the family of the German father and son, as well as a former surfer who is now in Taiwan.

IT.com: Has hosting people changed the way you travel? If so, how?
JM:
Definitely. I lot of people ask me what I “get” out of hosting. It’s not just a new friendship, but I also feel like, as a solo traveler, I have been really fortunate on my trips. People have loaned me a cell phone to use or offered me rides when I’ve been lost. Of course, you have to be cautious and careful when traveling alone, especially as a female. But hosting people has made me more aware that most people in this world are good and want to do good things. They want to be helpful to other travelers, just as I do.

Check out more travel interviews!

The 7 Cheapest Ways to Travel
How to Solve Common Airbnb Problems

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter