Sunday, September 11, 2011

Finding a place to stay

We use several sources of information: maps, guidebooks, tourist information offices, the internet, information passed through by travelers we meet and co-incidence. Internet is a recent phenomena in this area and its significancy is rapidly growing. No traveler without a laptop, hardly any accommodation without wifi.
When traveling in Europe most of the time we camp on regular campsites, since staying in hotels or hostels would be too expensive in this part of the world. Besides that we like to camp. There are many campsites throughout the continent, very often with free wifi, and we usually find them just by locating them on the maps we use.
In countries with a decent touristic infrastructure we visit the Tourist Information offices in the places we pass and gather all the information that could be useful for us, including locations of campsites. Or we have them book a room, as we did in Martigny (rain!)
Sometimes, f.i. when we're tired or if the area is nice and there is a road sign indicating that there is a campsite we just follow that.
Sometimes, if available, we use a warmshowers address. As I mentioned under the button “Links” there is this website Two American guys who like cycling set this up. You can subscribe and then you declare yourself ready to host passing cycle tourers and provide facilities such as: a warm shower, a bed, couch or something else to sleep, safe storage for the bike, a meal etc. Only the first 2 items are required, the rest is optional. Requests for a stay can always be refused, so no obligations. Members are then also allowed to request a stay at another member's place. Thus among others so far we hosted a Taiwanes cyclist, two Koreans and a London couple, all long distance cycle tourers. And as you can have read in earlier blogs, we stayed in 3 warmshowers homes during this trip so far. We just sent a request per e-mail 1 or 2 days ahead and got yes as an answer. And all three were very agreeable stays with interesting talks, excursions, even IT-training and good food included. In Italy, the Balkans and Greece there are hardly any warmshowers adresses.
In countries like Albania and Macedonia and in the part of Greece that we went through there are no campsites either. Then we have to free camp, which we are not fond of and we have not done so far. So we have to find a guesthouse, a hostel, a room or a regular hotel. The Lonely Planet, but also guidebooks as Brard, provide you with pre-selected adresses. Most of the time they suite us fine. These guidebooks aim at travellers like us and backpackers, so you will not end up in posh business hotels. Only if nothing else is there. Mostly they are easy going places with rooms, sometimes also dorms with 4 or 6 beds, a garden or a inner yard where the guests hang out in a relaxed state, can cook and do their laundry themselves if they like, chat and exhange information, since they are all more or less of the same kind. Prices are considerably lower than in regular hotels and the atmosphere is mostly utterly agreeable. Very often they are small family run houses, so contact with the staff is mostly very personal. In south east Asia we have been in the most wonderful ones for just some euros or dollars per night.
Then there are sites like They give the same kind of information as the Lonely Planet, but now you can read reviews and book ahead. We seldom do the last, since exact far-ahead planning is hard for us. But f.i. for the Thessaloniki hostel we did, as this is a much frequented city. And it was very nice, this “Little Big House”. For Istanbul we most likely will use this possibility as well.
Another source of information is the fellow traveller. Whenever you meet other cyclists, either along the road or in a hostel, you stop and talk. What you mainly do is exchange information, on routes that are good or bad to ride and about places to visit and stay the night.
In practice the result is that you always find a place to stay. Some examples: In Elbassan (Alb) we stayed in a beautiful new hotel because it was recommended by a friendly young man that we met on a coffee stop. In Ohrid we went to an address that was recommended by the Lonely Planet. It was in the centre of the historic city and in the spaghetti of narrow streets and stairs we found it easily by means of our gps (hurray for those modern techniques). But it was fully booked. So I parked the bike and went strolling around. In places like these there are always people who rent rooms and within 10 minutes I had arranged the nice room with balcony in a private house (€15 for the two of us). In Edessa full again, at least they said so at two places (the posh little bastards didn't like sweaty cyclists I suppose). So we went back to another hotel sign we had noticed and found a decent room for €35. Today we're camping on the grass (exceptional in these dry regions) on Sithonia, the middle one of the 3 fingershaped peninsulas of Halkidiki, near the village of Vourvourou. When we leave our patch of grass we step right onto the beach of a blue lagoon and the Eagean sea. In order to get here we have made a 100 k detour. It was recommended to us by Mewes and Astrid (, two world cyclists who we met on our way to Thessaloniki. Standing still and talking along the road (they were on their return from China) we exhanged this information, next to some pears and grapes that both couples had scored on their way that day.
In 2010 in Colombia we met a Brit who cycled from north to south through this country. He told us that he had planned not to spend any money on accommodation during this part of his trip. He was a week under way and until then he had always stayed in the homes of people who offered him a free place to sleep and eat.
Hiram, the Taiwanees cyclist who we met in Yunnan and who slept in our house in november 2010, pitched his tent just everywhere under all circumstances, on a boat jetty in Harlingen, in a park near the Olympic stadium in Amsterdam. The two Koreans that stayed with us in May this year told us that in the beginning it took them up to 2 hours to locate a good spot for free camping, now it was the least of their problems, 20 minutes at most and they would find a proper spot. (Mind that mostly it's illegal, so you must carefully pick your spot.) 
So, all in all, finding a place to sleep is hardly any problem (for a cyclist?). And when carrying a tent it should not be at all.

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