By Derek Green
The other day I was reading about the possibility of a ‘Sharing Shed’ – a great concept that promotes community ownership of rarely used things such as tents, tools and trombones, as a way to counter mass-consumerism and all the problems this creates – clutter, waste and pollution.
In the world of travel, the ‘share economy’ is already huge; with the exception of flying, you can basically have a fully-featured travel experience without having to give one cent to a corporate giant like a hotel conglomerate, global car rental organisation, or the cruise industry. The adventures are potentially more ‘real’ and underline what travel is all about – seeing other parts of the world as they really are, and not so much how a salesperson and their shareholders want you to see them. Maybe you’ve already tried one or more of these ideas. If you haven’t, or are curious about how an entire trip can be built on the back of the concept of sharing, here’s a ‘how to’ guide that covers just about everything.
Room and house sharing
Many of you will have already used an accommodation service like Airbnb or Stayz. You know the drill; pay upfront, sometimes even months in advance, turn up on the day, collect the keys (or retrieve them from a key lock) then shut the door when you leave. Sure, you get to hand pick a great location with features that suit your style and budget, but often you will still miss out on making a ‘connection’.
Enter couch-surfing. Yes for better or worse, that is everything it sounds like. Meeting people in their own city, getting to know them, and oui, sleeping on their couch. In reality though, you might have your own room, and benefit from the local’s knowledge of the language, off-the-beaten-track sights and secret dining spots. Some hosts offer the option of staying for free in exchange for performing duties. These are agreed to in advance but could be anything from picking up the host’s kids after school, to helping build a well.
Have you ever wandered slowly down a winding, cobblestoned laneway as a late-afternoon puff of warm spring air brushes past with the fragrant scent of bougainvillea or frangipani? Looking up, you see atmospheric lighting in a nearby villa as a family sit down to a feast of local dishes prepared with care, love and generations of tradition. Captivating smells and laughter float down as you head back to your hotel. And what awaits you? A meal of instant pot noodles – just begging you to add boiling water!
Depending on where you are, eating out overseas every day can be expensive, unappetising, and lonely – sometimes all three. So what if you could insert yourself into this scene? Well now you can, and not only will the food and surrounds be more authentic, it’s likely to be cheaper. There are many ways to dine with locals. Whether it be out and about or in a family’s own kitchen, there’s not much that can compare with the sights, smells and pure exclusiveness of the experience.
When travelling, the dream is to have a friend in every city – someone to greet you, show you around, interpret, and shine a light on the things that would otherwise remain dimmed for all but those with contacts. Well now you can, using a city guide service. Guides are a practical and informative way to become acquainted with your surrounds during your visit. Most charge a modest fee, although some are free – just enthusiastic residents keen to show off their town. You can choose them in advanced based on your interests, for example food, history or art, and they might even pick you up from the airport, your hotel, or your share stay accommodation. Whoever you choose and however it all unfolds, chances are they will provide great insight whilst you traverse the city on foot, bike or even camel!
Hiring a car is often the default approach, but what if you could just borrow a local’s car that would otherwise just sit in their garage? Use it for a day or more, keep it clean, fill it with petrol, and there you have it – a low cost alternative to shelling out to a global giant, with far less chance of getting a sneaky charge on your credit card for ‘damage’ two months later. You might even meet the owner and discuss your trip over a coffee. There are services that offer RV’s and bikes as well!
Carpooling and hitchhiking
Ever driven in Manhattan? Or in Rome? Or Vietnam? Let’s face it, it can be intimidating and potentially unsafe if you aren’t confident. So what if you don’t drive, or more to the point, don’t fancy driving overseas? The days of sticking a note on the pinboard at a dingy youth hostel and checking back for a reply a week later, hoping and praying that someone with space in their combi is also heading to Liverpool, are long gone. Now you can tap into the digital ride-share pool and just tag along with someone heading your way.
Sure, you might argue over the choice of music, but at least you won’t be lonely!
I’ve always wanted a boat. The main problem with boat ownership though – expense aside – is that it tends to just sit there in your drive growing cobwebs until you can finally be bothered hooking it up, driving it to water and going through the whole rigmarole of checking the tides and weather conditions, launching, and the inevitable hassles of compliance, pack-up and cleaning. It’s not all champagne on ice and an esky full of tiger prawns.
So what if an under-utilised boat was just sitting there at a jetty somewhere, waiting for you and your crew to roll up at the last second like rock-stars, and head out to the great blue yonder? The good news it is there are several sites offering this service, and your vessel could be waiting for you anywhere from the crystal blue waters of Mykonos to the wonderfully warm seas that surround Lombok.
If you prefer to just explore at your own pace, and don’t really care about moments in history or the significance of any particular building or monument, you can still mingle casually with the natives without hiring a guide. There are several websites that can hook you up with activities such as cooking classes, basket weaving, nature trails or bird watching. Meet other travellers, work on projects that are relevant to the culture or history of the country you are visiting, and potentially take away more than memories.
For an extended stay in a foreign city, local neighbourhood sites are a great way to either meet people, or fill the gaps – both physical and metaphorical – in your daily life. The sharing economy is alive and well across the world, and lots of friendly people are waiting to pay it forward, and give you a rug, a TV, a toaster, or a lift in exchange for a chat or a cup of tea. When your stay is over, you simply reciprocate by using the same methods to give away anything you won’t need anymore.
The world is your oyster
The pre-digital view of travel planning and management as an era of booking agents, tour buses and chain hotels is fading fast, as consumers progressively gravitate towards app and web driven direct transactions. The time is now to add truly rich and valuable daily encounters to your journey – the possibilities are endless and bound only by your imagination and dare. All of these sharing concepts require an adventurous spirit and the usual cautionary approach to exchanging personal information – and potentially money – online.
Find the risk vs reward threshold you are comfortable with, keep an eye out for red flags, and go for it!