What you need to know about Warmshowers | The free hosting site for Bicycle Tourist

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Warmshowers is a hospitality exchange service for people engaging in bicycle touring. In short, you get free lodging and often free meals just because you are traveling on a bicycle. It is like couchsurfing, but for cyclist. There is nothing quite like it.

I used Warmshowers extensively when I did a bicycle tour in Europe in 2018. In fact, during my 3-month trip in Europe I only paid for accommodation a handful of times! I stayed with a different Warmshowers host almost every single night. When I returned home to South Africa I started hosting bicycle tourist. I get a lot of request from cyclist who have just completed the Trans-Africa route – a 12 000km route across east Africa that starts in Cairo and ends in Cape Town. Warmshowers has given me a great opportunity to meet likeminded people and make lifelong friends.

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My advice for Warmshowers guests

If you search on the map on the Warmshowers website, you will see that there are thousands of hosts all around the world! You can view their profile and send them a message through the website. There is also a Warmshowers mobile app, but in my experience, it has given me nothing but problems. I would wonder why a host has stopped responding to me, only to find out later that they never even received my message via the app. By far the safest way to use Warmshowers is through their website. You can also use their website on your mobile devices, instead of using the app. It is a bit harder to use the site that way but at least you know that your messages to host will be sent immediately.

Warmshowers will send you an email whenever you have received a new message on their site. This is good because it means you do not always have to log into the site to check your inbox.

The number of “hosts” on the site is a bit deceiving. The reality is that most of the hosts are inactive. They entered their address when they signed up with the site and checked the box that said they are available to host, but after that they have done nothing. You will find that most of the messages you send to hosts will amount to nothing. This is especially true in the bigger cities like Paris, Berlin, Barcelona etc. The hosts in these cities get HUNDREDS of requests in the summer from bicycle tourist looking for accommodation. In Paris I sent at least 30-40 messages to people who have checked “available to host” on their Warmshowers profile. Most of them were ignored. Some people rejected my request and only ONE person said that I can stay with them. Luckily, one is all I needed!

warmshowers map
The Warmshowers map around Paris shows that there are hundreds of “active” hosts.

In the smaller towns and in the countryside, you are far more likely to find someone to stay with. The hosts further away from the city are few and far between, but in my experience, you will almost always get a response from them. Even if they are not able to host you, they will still take the time out of their day to send you a message to wish you well. This is because they do not get as many requests as the people in the big cities do. I also find them to be the best hosts. They are usually incredibly happy that you have found yourself in their small corner of the world.

It is important that you study the profile page of the person you are going to stay with. Every host is different. It should state on their profile what they will be able to offer you. Some hosts will only over you a bed, not food. Others will not offer you a bed or food but will allow you to set up a tent on their property. I once made the mistake of assuming that the person I was staying with will have a bed for me to sleep in. I had ditched my tent and sleeping bag a few weeks prior and so camping out was not an option. When I arrived, my host politely asked, “Where is your tent?” to which I had to reply, “What tent?” Fortunately, I am good at dealing with awkward situations and I think I made a joke or something. I found myself sleeping on her couch that night and apologized for not spending more time studying her Warmshowers profile.

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Remember that Warmshowers is not paid accommodation. It is not like Airbnb. The person you are staying with is opening their home to a complete strange, completely free of charge. Because of this you need to understand that your host might want something out of the exchange. What I mean by this is that your host might ask you to cook the food or help with other things around the house. I would always offer to do something to show my host how grateful I am for letting me stay with them, even if they do not ask anything of me.

Most hosts will not expect you to do chores or anything for that matter. What they might expect is that you engage in conversation with them. I found this is a HUGE reason why people host cyclist on the site. They crave that exchange of experiences. This is something you need to accept if you are going to be using Warmshowers. I say this because there will undoubtedly be days when you arrive at your hosts house tired. All you will want to do is eat and sleep, but you will not be able to do this. You host will want to talk to you or maybe even take you out for a drink.

I remember once in Spain I arrived at the person I was staying at for the night. I had just done a massive ride through the mountains. I was physically and mentally exhausted. My host insisted that we go see the local festival and market taking place at the beachfront and then go for drinks with his friends. He promised me that we will be home “early”, around 11pm. Long story short, I walked around like a zombie at the festival for an hour. Afterwards I explained the situation to him. I told him how tired I was and that I mean no offence, but that I would love to go home and sleep. The disappointment was all over his face. I left the next day on good terms with my host and we still keep in touch to this day. What I did learn was that on the days I was too tired to socialize, I was better off spending 15 euros and checking into a hostel.

You should remember to leave a review of the person you stayed at, on the site. This will only take a minute or two but will mean a lot to your host. I remember when I was bicycle touring, I did not care much about any of the reviews I received on the site. I was too busy traveling to pay attention to them. However, when I became a host, I started to appreciate the positive feedback from cyclist who stayed at my house.

My advice for Warmshowers hosts

You will notice that this section is a lot shorter than the one above. This is because there is a lot less you need to know if you are hosting someone on Warmshowers, than if you are being hosted by someone. You are the one who is letting a stranger into your home. That is huge! Therefore, it is usually more their responsibility, than yours, that you both have a good exchange. With that said, there are still some things you need to know if you are going to host traveling cyclists.

The best advice I can give a Warmshowers host is to have good communication skills. Always communicate with the person you are letting into your home. If you have house rules then let them know what they are, so that there is no confusion. If you want them to do chores or anything for that matter, do not be afraid to ask. Cultures are different. What might seem completely normal in your home, could be entirely out of the ordinary in another. It is non-sensical to get upset over something the person staying at your house did, or did not do, if you did not communicate with them about it beforehand.

The quality of your communication determines the quality of your relationships.

When you write your profile page, try to be as detailed as possible. Be sure to make mention of exactly what you will be able to provide to traveling cyclist. It is also a good idea to give a brief introduction about your life and experiences.

Your people skills are put to the test when you open your home to strangers. You will meet a whole host of different characters. It is important to understand how different people act and how to respond to that. For example, some of the cyclist who enter your home will be introverted. They might not want to engage in conversation as much as you do. There is a difference between someone being quiet and someone being rude. Learn to read the situation. That is just one small example I can think of.

You will meet people through Warmshowers that you get a long with great! I have heard of many situations where people who met each other through Warmshowers go on future bicycle tours together. How awesome is that?! You will also meet people who you do not get a long with very well. This is completely normal. It is true on Warmshowers and it is true in life. If I knew why that was I would be a philosopher, but I am not. I will say that in all the years I have used Warmshowers, I have had a hundred good experiences and only one negative one. Here is the great thing about Warmshowers. If you do not have a good experience with a host or a guest, you can just part ways. It is as easy as that. You are not a paying tenant or a landlord. You do not need to get the police involved or anything like that. All you have to do is say farewell and use the experience as a learning curve.

Final Thoughts

Warmshowers is great! I could not recommend it more strongly if you are going on a bicycle tour. If I ever went on a bike tour again I would definitely make use of the site. Even if you are not interested in bicycle touring and you are just curious about what Warmshowers is all about, why not register on the site and host your first cyclist? Unfortunately, I have not been able to host as many cyclist this year as I would have liked to. I have been available to host the entire year, but for obvious reasons a lot less people are traveling in 2020. Hopefully, it will pick up again in the new year. If you have been using Warmshowers or plan on doing so in the future, let me know in the comments or get in touch with me on social media. I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

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