Saturday, March 6, 2010

Couchsurfing: Awesome, or Terrifying?

Ok, I need opinions.  Do I try Couchsurfing?

For the uninitiated, links travelers looking for a place to crash with hosts who have a couch to spare.  But it's also meant to be a way to make international friends and foster a sense of "world community" or something.

There are obvious pros and cons.

Pro: If my host is good, I might make a lifelong friend and have an incredible experience.

Con: If my host is bad, I am stuck in a stranger's apartment in a foreign city.

Pro: I get to see the city through the eyes of a local.

Con: I might have all my stuff stolen.

Pro: It's free, and potentially safer and more comfortable than a hostel dorm room.

Con: But what if my host is an insane criminal...?

So I ask you, does the potential awesomeness outweigh the potential terror?  Tell me what you think.  My life in your hands.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user cs.belgium under the Creative Commons license.)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why I Totally Dig Rick Steves

Ask anyone who's traveled Europe, and the first thing they'll tell you is to pick up Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door.  I did this accidentally on my first travel section browsing at Borders, and so began my obsession with this travel writer.

It's not about the advice, although I hear he gives good advice.  The unfortunate thing about travel writers is that the better their advice, the more popular they become, and the more overrun become the hostels and restaurants they recommend.  This is why I regard Lonely Planet as a comprehensive list of places to avoid.

And it's certainly not because his books are comprehensive.  In Rick's case, concision begets clarity.  Lonely Planet's Europe book attempts to pack an entire continent's worth of knowledge into a barely-portable tome.  Rick's, by comparison, feels like a pamphlet.  But this is a virtue-- it tells you exactly what you need to know and nothing more.

But what sells me on Rick is his attitude.  Rick has a travel ethos that I admire and want to emulate.  He travels to become embedded in the best of daily life in the places he goes.  A good day for him is not marked by seeing the Big Sights, but by meeting an endearing local shopkeeper, walking through a residential neighborhood unblighted by tourism, or experiencing something outside his cultural familiarity.  With this kind of attitude, even the worst experiences -- "I was robbed in Barcelona!" -- can turn into a cultural experience -- "Ha! What a typical Spanish experience I just had being robbed!"

The reason Rick Steves makes a great travel companion is that he gives you the inspiration to find the hidden gems, and he puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy travel as it comes.

Also, he looks like someone's crazy uncle.  Am I right?

Rick's Site

A More Different Rick's Site