Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wanderlusting Launch!

Behold! The launch of our new travel site: www.wanderlusting.info

It is still in its infancy, but check it out, subscribe, and let us know what you think! Anything travel-related will be appearing on Wanderlusting in lieu of The Breathing Room, but I'll update this on occasion with thoughts and musings!

Do let us know what you think. :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hospitality Exchange Overview

One of the first discoveries that drove me to hit the road was that of hospitality exchanges. Essentially, these are online directories of generous people all around the world that are willing to open their doors and host you in their own home. It almost sounds too good to be true! Sometimes you will be sleeping on the floor, other times you’ll have room to yourself, but it’s free, and it is your ticket to experiencing the culture you are visiting in a more intimate way. In London, my host took me on an informal Jack the Ripper tour. In San Francisco, my host Kathleen took me hiking out to a beautiful lighthouse called Point Reyes that I would have otherwise missed. When in Seattle I hosted two sisters from Vienna and one woman from Paris, and we had a beautiful day at the beach playing guitar and ukulele, and ending the evening with a meal they cooked for me.

It is natural that people get excited about staying for free around the world, but the true emphasis in these communities is that of cultural exchange. Your hosts are bringing you into their lives, friendships, and sometimes even their families! Oftentimes they will serve as invaluable resources about their own city, culture, and language. If you decide to utilize these wonderful sites, please ensure that you are joining for the purpose of enriching your travel experience through local perspectives. While it is not necessary or expected, it is kind to make or buy dinner for your host, or perhaps buy a drink for them at a pub as a 'thank you.'

It is an added and wonderful perk that hospitality exchanges mean 'free accommodation,' but the more focus you place on the monetary savings these sites bring you, the less likely you are to fit well in these communities. I have met some of my dearest friends by hosting travelers and staying with locals this way, and it is because of this that I continue to do so. As a host, it gave me the excitement of meeting new and foreign people while I wasn’t able to travel myself.


The most popular site by far is Couchsurfing though there are several other options available as well. Couchsurfing has the most aesthetically-appealing layout, the most safety features, the largest number of members (currently sitting at over 2 million), and is very user-friendly.

The second most popular option is Hospitality Club. This predates Couchsurfing and is a very welcoming community. It is a bit less attractive to the eyes, but is still a good option to use in many situations.

A few more sites with matching ideologies but smaller communities and (for whatever reason) a bit less of a following are: Stay4Free, Global Freeloaders, and Tripping.
All of the above-mentioned sites are free to join, though a few have optional ‘donation’ amounts.


When people first hear of these communities, they either rave about how wonderful the idea is, or shake their heads and say ‘it’s not for me.’ Whichever side of that coin you are on, we encourage you to read on. Upon first hearing of these sites, I was skeptical and found it all a bit dodgy. Wasn’t it foolish and dangerous?

The answer is no.

Like anything else in life, risks are involved. The same is true of driving to work every day, and if you plan to travel, there will always be something that can go wrong. The key is to utilize the safety features on these sites, and to send your requests to the right individuals.

As a woman, I often hosted travelers while living alone and also stayed in many homes through hospitality exchanges while on my own. When I was traveling solo, often using Couchsurfing, I would only send requests to families, couples, or females. In addition, I would only request to stay with those that had ample references. I can guarantee that most men on these sites are genuinely good people, but why add risk that isn’t necessary?

By following these safety steps, your personal welfare will be greatly enhanced:

1. If you are a woman alone, do not send requests to single men or groups of men living together, unless their references are ample enough to give you confidence in their character.

2. Read references carefully. Are most of their references from hosting or traveling, or just from people they met at gatherings?

3. Follow your instincts. If you meet them and feel uneasy, or if you feel uncomfortable in their home, find a way to leave the situation immediately. It’s always better to spend money on a hotel or hostel than to put your safety at risk.

4. Do your homework. Read their profile so you know what to expect, and send messages to people that left them references if you have any doubts. This is fairly common. Make sure to have a phone with you at all times in case of emergencies, and always have a back-up plan in case a host doesn’t feel safe or in case they have to cancel on you for some reason.


Your success in these hospitality exchanges will depend mostly on one thing – your etiquette.

If you join Couchsurfing, for instance, there is a certain way to go about sending requests that will greatly increase your odds of getting hosted, especially in major cities where hosts are flooded daily with requests.

First and foremost, fill out your profile. When you are starting out with no references, this is imperative. Why would someone allow you into their home with no information about you whatsoever? Put yourself in their shoes. When I first began using hospitality exchanges, I filled out my profile extensively, with even more details than I thought necessary. Almost no host I have ever met will host you if you have not uploaded a current photo as well.

Read profiles carefully before sending a request. What type of person are you, and how will you mesh with their lifestyle? It’s all common sense – but you miss the details if you skip reading profiles. If you are conservative in beliefs and actions, avoid those that mention alcohol, drugs or partying. By the same token, if you are a party animal you should avoid requesting people that have an early work schedule or conflicting beliefs. If you smoke, yet you see in the profile that ‘no smokers may stay here,’ then do not request to stay with them!

Do NOT send the same request copied and pasted to several hosts. This will not only prove you have no interest in who you stay with, but also that you aren’t considerate of hosts that will accept you and clear your schedule. What if more than one responds? As a host, it was frustrating to receive a request, approve it, then arrange my schedule accordingly… only to find my guest was already taken care of!

Once you have selected a host, send a request that is personalized, lengthy, and descriptive of who you are and why you want to meet them. A good length is usually 3-4 paragraphs, though everyone has their own style. I spend the first paragraph introducing myself, why I am traveling to their area, and what inspired me to take my trip. The second, I usually mention what stood out to me in their profile and reasons I think we would be a great fit. This could be similar musical or political interests, countries they have visited that you would like to visit, or anything you feel you would have in common to talk about or enjoy. In the third paragraph, I let them know that as a ‘thank you,’ I would be happy to cook a meal for them or treat them to a drink at a pub. I also usually say something along these lines: ‘Even if you aren’t able to host me, I would still really enjoy meeting you to have you show me around your favorite parts of town if you have the time.’ This is just a breakdown of the method I tend to use; be sure that if you use this format you are honest and do not just add things about yourself to increase your odds. Honesty and a genuine interest in meeting them will go far.

-Tips and Tricks-
-Try not to request the busiest hosts, or the ones that come up at the top of the queue with 300 references! These hosts are often busier and your chances of getting hosted are slim. Try for hosts that seem eager to host but haven’t had as much experience.

-I can’t say this enough – have a completed profile!

-Avoid asking hosts or people you meet to ‘vouch’ for you, or ‘trust’ you. The vouching system works only because you may only vouch for people you have met and trust beyond the shadow of a doubt. Asking puts people in an uncomfortable position. Requesting references however, is something else altogether, though I still wouldn’t necessarily go around asking for them. Some people will reference you, and some will not; some people are more diligent at leaving references than others.

-To get started with references, join local groups and attend meetups. Remember though to only reference them if you felt you spend sufficient time with them. Couchsurfing has the best ‘Group’ tool of any of these sites. You simply go to the ‘Community’ tab, and search for whatever city you are heading. Most larger cities like London, Paris, and Dublin have weekly meetups that are fabulous.

-If someone hosts you, promptly leave them a reference. Don’t wait months! They took time out of their busy life to have you in their home, so pay them their respect!

-Have fun. These communities have changed my life. I wouldn’t be traveling as happily without them. They broaden your horizons and open up local perspectives!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

on Wanderlusting

There are many of you who have followed my blog over the last few years, and I am so thankful! It has been my pleasure to follow some of yours as well. I have some exciting news and changes to share with you. The Breathing Room has been the online home of my thoughts since several years ago, and I’ve been feeling lately the need to change this home to something more relevant and current to what my life holds in it now.

When Kurt and I decided to go all in and travel a few months ago, we had the seeds of an idea that could be something great and wonderful, and it is now on the verge of being realized! I receive questions and comments frequently about how people wish they could travel like we do, to stay with locals, to find cheap airline fares, to work for room and board, and embark on long-term travel adventures of their own. The problem is that as humans we get caught up in the ‘if only’ trap. If only I had more money, if only I could get the time off work, if only it were possible for me. It’s endless really – and if we continue to put our dreams on hold, we may never realize them at all.

I myself was trapped in that mindset for a few years; wanting to see the world but waiting for the opportune time. I was dangerously close to settling for what was comfortable instead of taking the initial leap of faith and just DOING it! In a matter of three months I have taken control and transformed what was a mundane, normal existence into something I’m proud to call my life! Now I am living my dream – helping to run a hostel in an Irish village where I hear Gaelic spoken daily and am a moment’s walk from the sea.

It took me years of researching how to attempt long-term travel. I found countless websites and blogs, all with tidbits of helpful information, but none containing everything I needed to get started. That is when the ‘seed’ for our idea began.

I am pleased to announce that soon our travel site called Wanderlusting will be launched! Beyond just featuring blogs from Kurt and me, it will also have many different elements to help others get started on their own travel adventure. It will cover the gamut – working for room and board, sleeping in local homes, safety while hitchhiking or ridesharing, how to obtain your visas, and most of all how to get this whole process started for YOU. Eventually, I also plan to offer my cheap-flight-finding prowess for a nominal fee (maybe 30-50 USD), to get you that much-needed ticket abroad.

I will continue to post here on The Breathing Room until the launch, and will keep you up to date on when that launch will be.

Thanks for reading – I’m excited to see you on Wanderlusting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

on existing in London

Existing in London this past week has brought this recurring, refreshing feeling.

My first thought upon waking is always of where I am (England), how I got here (The Picadilly Line or a double-decker red bus), with whom I am staying (lovely people), and whether or not I am excited to be awake (yes). I can't help but be overwhelmed by the sense that this is The Beginning; that everything about my life and the way that I live it is in the midst of a great change. I can almost feel the paradigms shifting around in my brain. This is the life! I am finally on the road! Living off of hummus, cheese, bread, and vegetables has never felt so rich and filling.

I've been reading more from one of my favorite nomadic authors, who continually inspires me. "I was excited when I realized I didn’t have to do it the way they thought I should. I could design my own life, one that fit my dreams. There is more than one way to do life and I was going to discover one that worked for me." (Rita Golden Gelman) I like her very much, and that fact seems so lost on so many people. Life can be however you want to be; the world's prescribed plan for success and happiness is not 'one size fits all.' It was never meant to be so. True, there is a marked pathway to achieve a secure, normal life, and that in itself makes many people incredibly happy, which is wonderful. I am content to realize, now, that if I choose a different pathway, it makes me no less of a success or a failure.

Yes, I am in The Beginning of this era of wandering, and I enjoy it immensely.

Of course, I must take into account the realism of it all so it won't catch me by surprise later: I am essentially homeless in a foreign land, the days will not always be easy ones, I miss my family and friends, and everything I carry with me weighs less than 20 pounds (I weighed it this morning). I am under no illusion that this will be a perfect journey. Things will not always go smoothly, and I'm sure upon my first illness I will wish I was on my mother's couch at home.

What is close to perfection, however, is waking up in London, wandering neighborhoods I fall in love with, meeting great-hearted people, and being at the very beginning of a long and beautiful road.

I do so like beginnings.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Seattle to New York

The First Month on the Road
March 2011

I never used to be impressed when I looked at a map of the United States. It was just home. This was, of course, prior to my vehicular adventure across the breadth of the nation during the worst blizzard of the year. Let's just say my appreciation for America's sheer immensity has changed. I have also learned that nothing stretches out a road trip quite like having a hysterical cat in a carrier for the first time, meowing his opinion to you the entire way.

Kurt and I set out from Seattle and headed east toward Idaho, where we spent a few days reminiscing with close friends and family and arranging our ducks in a nice, neat row. There is nothing in life as refreshing to me as familiar company after time apart. I relished in the moments we spent catching up with one another at The Garden Lounge, wishing more faces had shown up, but at the same time thankful for the small nature of the group.

Bozeman, Montana was next. Feet upon feet of snow covered Lookout Pass on either side of the road, and I clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles until we finally pulled into town at 11:30pm. Our host in Bozeman was Kate, a lovely woman in her 50's who was gracious enough to make us feel right at home. We discussed the fascism of Palin, the beauty of intercultural exchange, and explored the local Coop's selection of delicious hummus. Though far from a major city, Bozeman struck me as more alive than most places I have ever lived. It felt young, fresh, and awake. The streets were buzzing with activity long after I expected, and local shops beckoned with their unique facades and interesting window displays. I was given a lesson by Kate on making bread, and she generously sent us on our way with one loaf and homeade rasberry jam.

Following Montana we made an ambitious attempt to arrive in Sioux Falls, South Dakota the next evening. When setting out on our twelve hour drive it seemed plausible, though we realized in mid-Wyoming our critical error. Winter in the American Midwest will now and forever be likened in my mind to Siberia. Though my knowledge of Siberia is severely uninformed, I imagine (with my severely uninformed mind) that I am right on the money. Wind chill taken into consideration, it was -10 degrees (F) most of the way, and froze our antifreeze windshield fluid, speaking for itself. Wipers malfunctioned, ice built up so badly that it scraped the tires if we turned, the powdery snow would turn into a whiteout without warning, and we were the slowest car on the road by about 25 miles per hour. Once deciding to find a hotel room once we reached Gillette, Wyoming, sixty miles down the road, it maddeningly took us more than two hours to arrive.

A day behind schedule, we arrived in Sioux Falls at our host Pam's house. She educated us about where our blood goes once we donate it, and treated our weary tummies to some delightful eggs and toast the morning. We arrived in Iowa City on Fat Tuesday, staying up late with our hosts MaryAlice and Diego sharing videos, microbrews, and great conversation.

The entirety of our stay in Madison, Wisonsin simply cannot be covered here, as we protested with 200,000 people against the stripping away of union rights under the guise of budget cuts. I learned more about democracy and injustice in those few days than I planned. Our hosts Ralph and Alma were perfectly happy to come down the Capitol, fill us in on Lithuanian beer and Wisconsin cheese, as well as the illegal actions of the Republicans in the state. Though FOX News would have the public believe otherwise, there was hardly a soul in favor of Governor Walker. I knew the network was biased to an extreme, though now I know beyond a doubt that they blatantly, intentionally lie. There was not a scratch on the Capitol - no $7.5 million in damages, no violence, no vandalism. The protesters and security stood chatting and debating, while those wanting inside the Capitol waited in a calm, respectful line. There existed no protestors who "weren't leaving peacefully." Very sad, indeed.

We were met in Cleveland by Liz, whose groovy abode and great attitude enchanted me immedietely. As with all our hosts, it seems, our time with her was too short. She took us to a dive bar where a sign told us 'Please do not feed the crackheads.' Before departing the next day for New York, we stopped in at a local diner and I caught my first glimpse at the Great Lakes.

Just when I thought we were home free and almost to Long Island, I experienced Kurt driving us on the Cross Bronx through Manhattan. Suffice it to say that I wasn't sure we would make it. We did, however! I caught a sideways glimpse at the Empire State Building before deciding that looking forward was better than imagining certain death. Walking into Kurt's family home and dropping our bags felt fabulous.

Things I have learned:
-I hate toll roads/bridges/booths
-Do not travel with a cat
-If you must travel with a cat, get a muzzle
-Wyoming is intensely empty
-Gas prices are horrible
-Ohio really shouldn't charge so much to drive on their roads
-EZ Pass toll lanes on the Throg's Neck bridge are going to ticket us
-I like Cleveland
-Couchsurfing remains my favorite social networking tool

Tomorrow, LONDON!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

on going, going, going.... introspective!

You have heard it before. It's time to go; I am off once again.

Each time I enter a new phase in life, I tend to look back and write about nostalgia filling my soul, and memories fresh in my heart. I tend to dwell on what I leave behind and less on the path before me. I say my goodbyes. I give my thanks. I tip my hat to those who inspired and changed me. I usually deem it necessary to write an epitaph, if you will, of the era of my life coming to a close. Seemingly yesterday I left Moscow for Seattle; already this season has reached its end. The months fly by, whether we wish them away or not. Next week, I am off to New York. Next month, I am off to Europe. Tonight, however, I am in awe of what this year has taught me, and what each year continues to unfold within me.

I've wondered what purpose memories serve, and why they have the ability to move us so deeply. Why is it that something as simple as a song or a face can bring you back to a place you hadn't thought of in months? What is it within us that reaches out for years gone by? Nostalgia upsets me at times. What right has it to make me discontent with the present? Why does it pull at the strings of my heart? Who gave it that authority? The mind boggles, really. My mind does, at least.

Upon Nostalgia's arrival every so often, I physically ache for the past. I long for people I am missing, people with whom I have disconnected or lost touch, or entire seasons of life that are no more. Some of my greatest friendships have passed. Most of the people I've met since childhood have no bearing on who I am today. Despite the wonders of modern technology and the advent of social networking, I remain suprisingly distant from the majority of those I've encountered on my journey thusfar, at least beyond the superficial layers.

This whole arrangement strikes me as odd, really. We invest ourselves in one another, whether in relationships, intimacies, or friendships, while knowing someplace in the back of our minds that parting ways is inevitable. As dark as this sounds, what purpose does it all serve then? One definition of 'stupidity' is doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different outcome. Are we inherently stupid, or is there a reason beneath the obvious?

I think the answer - for me, at least - is this: My most prominent memories are often those where I showed my true character, rose high above, found success in lieu of defeat, and been the greatest possible version of myself. My greatest friends in life have answered my midnight calls, laughed with me in the beautiful times, held me when dreams shattered, and challenged me in the meantimes. Whether or not they are near now makes no difference - they mattered. I think perhaps memories and nostalgia exist not to give us sadness, or longing for what is gone. I think they are there to remind us that life consists of seasons. Some seasons will inspire us immensely; some will be uphill climbs. All are essential to shaping us.

Maybe moments and people resurface in our minds to bring us to a more full understanding of the here and now. Maybe we lose life's lessons if we take them out of context. No moment stands alone. Like dominoes falling one after another, the beginning ultimately begets the end result. Even if it's difficult to connect the dots, life makes those connections on its own.

It has been some time since I have written with the microscope facing my heart instead of politics, my travel plans, or any number of superficial things. That being the case, it took me three hours to get this blasted thought process from my brain and into black and white. Apologies for any nonsense, inconclusions, or improper grammar. I did my best, really, I did. All of this was to say - I am thankful to this season. I am thankful to last season. I am especially thankful for the season that awaits me... a one-way ticket across an ocean with plenty of lessons and inspirations on the other side.

In any case... onward!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Diabolical Plan. Mission: Earth.

The die has been cast, my friends!

Notice has been given to our landlord, passports are ready, temporary jobs have been found til March, tax returns are in our bank accounts, cheap tickets have been found, and all wheels are set in motion for what is bound to be a life-changing adventure. It begins next month, when we will road trip across the states to see Kurt's family in New York. From there we will depart into the great, mysterious, unexplored realms of - you guessed it - Europe! We will boldly go into this uncharted territory, and put into motion (starts 'Jaws' theme) 'Kurt and Dayna's Diabolical Plan.' We are quitting our habit of cigarettes using Quit for Life over the next few weeks, eliminating that expense and health risk as well.

We want to start in Europe, working our way across the continent in an easterly direction toward Greece and ultimately Turkey. A flight to Southeast Asia may be in order from there, depending on many factors including who we meet along the way. We plan on a low-maintenence, no-frills experience on a mission to enrich our lives meeting as many beautiful people as possible, soaking in the local cultures and languages as we go. We will use Couchsurfing while in the cities, working on organic farms and homestays for room and board in the countryside along our way. We plan on visiting many of you that have graced our couches and lives over the last year and a half, and are so excited to see you again.

With Kurt's site-building expertise, we will soon have an amazing and aesthetically-pleasing travel weblog up and running, including photos and videos of our travels, stories from the road, photos of our hosts and host families and a map that shows where we have been and are planning to go. You can subscribe to the feed, comment using your Facebook account, see our beaming faces, or donate as little as $1 at a time to buy us our daily cup of joe if you so desire. Expect titles of my blogs to be interesting things you will enjoy and laugh at, like: 'Learning to Milk a Cow in Croatia,' 'Hooping in Hungary,' or 'Failing to Speak a Local Language While in Search of a Bathroom.'

We are excited. Stay tuned for more updates and ways we can keep you involved!
Much love.
Dayna and Kurt

ALSO, apparently diabolical means evil or relating to the devil. I thought it meant spectacularly clever. Apparently I was misinformed. This should read 'Our Spectacularly Clever and In No Way Related to Evil Plan'. Just throwing that out there.