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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Staying with Locals

NORFOLK ISLAND | Monday, 6 June 2016 | Views [485]

Did the weather turn foul or what today? I reckon “foul” is a gross understatement because the wind has acted as a battering ram; bad enough that the Sydney flight was cancelled today. It was the sort of day where you sit warm by the fire, have a glass of red wine, read, write, do some cooking, or house cleaning, but I went out anyway. There are still many people I haven’t caught up with, but today I felt sad and a bit bored. I’ve yet to have my usual (in the words of Racheal) smile that lights up a room. With the current political climate (no pun intended) there has been a lot of hostility; one guy even flipped the bird at me yesterday. This morning I took my scooter with me but it was far too wet to ride. When I was here in March it was drama for the first couple of days so I’m hoping things change soon. Racheal is very heartbroken and I’m letting her reach out to me when she’s ready. Tonight was supposed to be pizza night but there are no bases and I didn’t get up early enough to get to the bakery, so I picked up some chicken kebabs for tonight. I hoped for the weather to clear up but it was too wet to do anything: no geocaching, no photos, nothing! I went home and chilled out. Perfect day to sit inside with a glass of red and write a story...today I shall talk about the disadvantages of staying with locals.

On travel brochures, travel appears to be all glitz and glamour. A 4-star chalet, a bottle of bubbles, and a charcuterie plate of olives and cheese are what you’ll likely see, especially coming to an exotic locale like Norfolk Island. Behind the scenes though, travel is far from that. You’ll never find me whipping out a credit card at the Sheraton, but my travel style is far from perfect. For my third straight trip to Norfolk I’m staying with Heide and Dave, and this time it’s when they’re in their roughest shape. Dave and I spoke for more than an hour just after I landed about all the stuff he's going through. He's received fair amount of criticism for appearing on TV last week. When I tell people I'm staying with locals, they tend to think it’s just a free sleep to go with a personal chef and chauffeur. Anything but! There are disadvantages to my style of travel and, to people unfamiliar with it, are quick to label it as freeloading.

There are rules I have to follow in homes. I’ve stayed with many different people on my travels: university students, devout Christians, elderly people, families with children, throwback hippies, and so forth. This means I’ve been subjected to many different rules and customs. Some homes I’ve stayed at don’t allow certain things such as alcohol, meat, or even drinks like Red Bull. In others I can’t use any product with fragrance (e.g. deodorant, washing powder) due to someone having an allergy. In some homes we’ve said a prayer before tucking into our food at dinner. If I’m cooking with certain ingredients such as peanuts, I have to ask if anyone is allergic. In many homes, shoes are removed upon entering (and not just in Asia). As a general habit I always remove my shoes upon entering a home regardless of where I am in the world (some friends in LA look at shoe removal as awkward). With some people I’ve stayed with I’ve had to be out of the house at a certain time due to things like working from home, homeschooling children, meditation, or the Islamic prayers. By contrast, if you’re staying at a hotel you can do whatever you like. If you’re out swimming or snorkelling all day, you can come in, drop your stuff, throw your towel one direction and your snorkelling gear in another, and then take off your wet bathers and walk naked around the room. You can order pizza or Chinese for takeaway and then just leave the wrappings lying round if you’re too lazy or can’t be bothered to clean up. Factoring in all these things it can be very tricky to travel my way if you have children. In a hotel, you can bring a friend or a gorgeous girl back to your room if you want. These are just a few things you’re unable to do when you’re staying with locals. When I stay with Dave and Heide, I often cook for them and usually I wash the dishes after dinner. In a hotel you can bring whoever you like back to your room, host a big gathering, and get drunk if you wish and stay up into the wee hours though staying with most people this is impossible. Bringing friends or guests into the home of another friend varies from awkward to tough, and it can put me in an uncomfortable position if they act inappropriately. When I stay with locals I do my best to keep my impact to a minimum. There’s no way to be 100% impact-free since I’m still having showers, using my laptop, washing my clothes, and so forth but I have to be as mindful and considerate as possible.

Some places can be downright difficult to find a local to stay with. A small place like Norfolk will most likely have no active members on CouchSurfing, BeWelcome, or Hospitality Club whilst a big city like Hong Kong will have plenty of active members yet they receive too many requests to accommodate all of them. In several cities (e.g. Darwin, Singapore, Busan) I’ve sent more than 20 CouchSurfing requests before finding someone to host me, and in Hong Kong I sent an astounding 51 CouchSurfing requests in a fruitless effort. For places with no active members of any of the hospitality sites, I spend hours writing emails and letters and a response isn't guaranteed. Norfolk proved somewhat tricky before my first trip and after writing several letters, it took three months to find someone to host me on Lord Howe Island. In a small number of situations I've had hosts cancel on me last minute due to work commitments, etc. A couple of years ago in Tokyo my CS host had to go on location for work and I had to quickly sort out another host, which can be difficult in a city with many travellers.

Staying with locals is not free. Sure, I'm not paying for accommodation itself but spending money in other ways. In fact, in some situations it can turn out to be more expensive than sleeping in hostels once you factor in various costs. In more expensive places like Norfolk Island you’ll nearly always save money by staying with locals unless of course you plan on having a three-figure dinner every night. In a cheaper place like the Philippines, you could stay in a hostel in downtown Cebu for maybe $7 per night; up that figure to $12 to $15 if you want something extra like air-con or hot water. Heide could say “you can stay with my aunt” but Heide’s aunt could live 20 km down an unsealed road that’s impassable after a monsoon, and it could cost nearly the price of a bed in a hostel to get there by bus or you could hitch a bone-crunching ride in a banana truck that’ll take three hours. In Hong Kong, I stayed in a hostel slap bang in the middle of Kowloon yet staying with Janet and Leigh entailed lengthy train rides to their home, and then I bought stuff to cook with; what I spent reaching their home and on stuff to cook cost close to what I spent staying in Kowloon.

Staying with locals is without question the most authentic and affordable way to travel but like most things in life, there are drawbacks to staying in someone else's home. I can't do whatever the hell I want but I've made loads of new friends all across the globe. I'll take it any day over a boring and drab hotel with a comforter that hasn't been washed in ages. Now, if only this heavy rain and battering wind would die down. Time for another red...

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