The following is my interview with WarmShowers.org:
DARREN ALFF: One of the biggest challenges for the traveling cyclist is finding a place to sleep each night. What kind of options does the traveling cyclist have when looking for accommodations?
WARM SHOWERS: There are a variety of options available to cyclists looking for overnight accommodations. For cyclists who are not carry camping equipment (also known as “credit-card” touring) the choices are:
- Motels: On the plus side, motels are widely available and provide many desirable services. They promise a warm, dry, and secure room; the opportunity to get cleaned up; and oftentimes diversions like a swimming pool, television and Internet access. On the negative side motels can be relatively expensive, especially in urban areas.
- Hostels: Hostels offer most of the benefits as motels but at a lower cost. Their main disadvantage is a lack of privacy. An ability to get along with (or at least tolerate) a wide variety of people is necessary to be comfortable. Hostels are also not as common as motels and are unavailable in many places.
- Bed & Breakfasts: B&Bs offer benefits that are similar to motels but they do so in an intimate atmosphere. B&Bs excel at providing individual service. But like motels they can be expensive.
Cyclists who carry camping gear (also known as “self-supported” touring) can utilize the services listed above as well as the following accommodations:
- Campgrounds: The main advantage of a campground is its elatively low cost. The services offered vary widely; usually a cyclist can get cleaned up and sometimes other amenities (like a swimming pool or free wi-fi) are available. The downside is camping in a frequently crowded public space.
- “Free” camping. This term encompasses camping in a public location (e.g., a city park) where no fee is assessed to inconspicuously pitching a tent in a secluded location. The obvious benefit is that it is free. The disadvantages are that you usually have no access to services or entertainment. You also may not be comfortable if you fail to select a good site.
More intimate accommodations may also be arranged for cyclists. Two examples are:
- Staying with friends and family. This is oftentimes the best choice in accommodations. All of the comforts of home are usually provided at no cost. The biggest problem is that friends and family are only found in limited locations.
- Hospitality organizations like the WarmShowers (WSL) listoffer services to guests that vary from host to host. Some hosts will provide comfort, services, and entertainment that are comparable to those of the other accommodations listed. Other hosts offer less. But regardless of the services provided they are always available at no charge.
DARREN ALFF: What are the advantages of the WarmShowers list over other types of accommodations?
WARM SHOWERS: Some of the advantages are:
- Hospitality is always provided at no cost to the recipient
- Hosts may provide useful information about the region where they reside. For example they may suggest activities and sights to see that are close by.
- Many WarmShowers hosts are experienced bicycle tourers; hence they may be able to offer cycling-specific advice. An example is identifying a bicycle-friendly route through the area or to a specific destination.
- If the host is offering accommodations you may be treated to all of the comforts of home
DARREN ALFF: How/why was the WarmShowers list started?
WARM SHOWERS: The WSL concept originated with Terry Zmrhal in the 1990s. When asked about its origins, this is what Terry had to say:
“I borrowed the idea from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) after doing a cross-country trip. I was very grateful for people who offered me a place to stay from the LAB hospitality guide and from people I met along the way, so I wanted to return the favor myself. I had spent considerable time reading stuff from rec.bicycles that I thought that would be a good source of people to work with.”
“I believe there were two of us that started it about the same time. I don’t remember who the other person was. I think I ‘advertised’ more than the other person did.”
In October, 1995 when Roger Gravel, who manages the WSL today, went to Florida, the List did not seem to exist. He discovered the WSL much later in a moribund state. Roger recovered an old copy of the List, contacted the hosts and the WSL was born again. It was made available as a cumbersome flat file to members who requested a copy until late 2005 when Randy Fay offered to have it converted into a MySQL database.
Randy geocoded the list of WarmShowers members (i.e., each member’s address was converted into latitude and longitude coordinates) and the website map that displays each WSL member’s location was born.
With Randy’s help and many other members making telephone contacts, Roger worked on bringing the membership database up to date. This was done by contacting members and removing those who were no longer valid from the list. This has become an ongoing effort as Roger has recruited volunteers who assist him in maintaining the accuracy of the database.
DARREN ALFF: If I wanted to sign up as a host (or a traveler who likes to be hosted) how do I get started?
WARM SHOWERS: To participate in the WSL you must become a member. Joining is free and easy.
Launch your computer’s web browser and go to the WSL website at www.warmshowers.org. Read the information that is presented there. If the WarmShowers List is an organization that appeals to you then register for an account.
The information that is required to establish an account is a valid email address and disclosing your name plus the name of the town and country where you reside. You are encouraged to write a few sentences telling the membership something about yourself. We also request that members specify the hospitality being extending.
After your registration has been submitted email is exchanged with WSL administration and a membership account is established. The whole process typically takes less than a day. Once a member’s account has been established they will be able to login and have full access to the resources of the website and membership database.
There are a couple of rules members are expected to follow when they register. One is that each account represent an individual or a small group such as a family; the WSL does not work with larger groups of cyclists traveling together. The other guideline is that solicitation of members is prohibited.
The hospitality a member chooses to offer is entirely up to them. Our members are a diverse group and so is the hospitality they offer. For example a member who is technically inclined can offer assistance in bicycle repair while another may promise a delicious home-cooked meal. The most common hospitality extended includes a spot to pitch a tent, meals, a warm (hot!) shower, laundry, and a bed.
DARREN ALFF: What type of requirements are there for hosting people from the list? And what types of requirements are there to use the list?
WARM SHOWERS: Hosting other members — as well as being the recipient of hospitality – is what the WarmShowers list is all about.
The guidelines for hosting members are (1) a WSL host cannot charge a fee for hospitality; and (2) a host is not required to honor all requests made for hospitality. There are no guidelines for receiving hospitality per se. It is assumed that WSL members have the maturity to conduct themselves properly.
Requesting hospitality is started by logging into the WSL website. An interactive map that is tagged with the location of all WSL members is available. Using this map, a member can identify WSL members who are on the route they plan to cycle. The accounts of members of interest can be examined to learn more about them as well as the hospitality they offer. Contacting a WSL member to request hospitality is typically done by using a simple email tool on the website. From this point on it is up to the WSL members involved to correspond and coordinate hospitality as they choose.
In addition to hospitality, members can also be contacted in order to obtain information. For example, information regarding a bicycle-friendly route or local attractions are a common request.
The WSL website offers other features that may be of interest to its members. These include:
- Forums where information can be exchanged between members
- Feedback on members is possible by writing a recommendation and attaching it to that member’s WarmShowers account
- Links to other websites related to bicycle touring
- The U.S. Adventure Cycling Association routes can be overlayed on the website’s membership map to help identify prospective hosts
DARREN ALFF: How has the Internet changed the way cyclists (and travelers in general) find accommodations?
WARM SHOWERS: The Internet has been a wonderful addition to the resources available to touring cyclists. For one thing, businesses catering to travelers have a venue where they can tell you about themselves at a reasonable cost. Travelers benefit by having a wealth of information available to assist them in making an informed decision.
There are also other resources on the Internet that may be of interest to touring cyclists. Here are some examples:
- Technical websites devoted to bicycles and bicycle repair
- Websites devoted to the art of bicycle touring
Ken Kifer’s website
The Bicycle Touring 101 website
- Businesses servicing the needs of touring cyclists
Adventure Cycling Association
- Newsgroups where bicycles and bicycle touring is discussed in a lively setting
- Journals written by touring cyclists who have traveled all over the world
DARREN ALFF: If you had one piece of advice for someone traveling by bike, what would it be?
WARM SHOWERS: Plan, plan, plan