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A Experience
Comments from a Freeloader!

My first inkling that I was going to Europe came on New Year's Eve, 2001. A few toasts, a decision to travel again, and with my family and friends support I began making plans. It wasn't long before I realized, with a grad students budget, that I wasn't going to get far without making some concessions in traveling. So began the search for cheap everything.

Luckily for me the student services at my university were able to help me with my search for airfare. Cheap airfare aside I was still looking at quite a lot of money to find lodgings while on my trip. Having been a member of a courier service I recalled seeing an article about hospitality exchanges. Yet this concept, where a person or couple plans on swapping homes for a week or two with others from the country they wish to visit, wasn't feasible for me. While browsing these hospitality exchanges on the internet I chanced upon the name Global Freeloaders.

It didn't take me long to find the site. Nor did it take long to realize that this was what I was looking for. The idea of staying with local residents who were interested in travel, cheap travel even, was such an awesome concept I wondered what the caveat was. (After my trip I realized what that caveat was too- be prepared to make friends you're going to have for life!).

So I joined the service and made several requests to the various areas I would be visiting. In the request form there were some helpful hints that made it easier. Such as telling you to introduce yourself and let the potential host know a bit about your personality or what it was that you were looking to do in the city you were visiting. Not knowing the best way to approach the introduction I relied on the basic information of my age, occupation, and interests. Not to mention how grateful I'd be if anyone would allow me to stay with them.

It didn't take long for the gracious reply's to come back either. The first Freeloaders I had made my request to were in Dublin, Ireland. I received a reply almost immediately. There was no hesitation in the reply either, simply an invitation to stay the night. I remember being overwhelmed with cheer that there was another person out there that wasn't afraid to live life and meet new people, even allow them to stay in their own home having never met them before. Then two more reply's from Dublin came in. I thought to myself, "Okay, these Irish are just really, really nice people. There's no way I'll get this much response from other cities."

I was SO wrong. Each area I sent requests to responded. Some of the Freeloaders in the area weren't able to accommodate me and just wanted to wish me well on my journey. Most of the responses were just like the one in Dublin that was an immediate invitation to stay with them. I replied to each person with gratitude and a description of my plans. I also made sure that I contacted them a few days ahead of my departure to confirm that I would be staying with them. Each Freeloader in turn expressed either excitement at the opportunity to show me their beautiful area, or with eager anticipation in directing me to where I could see the best sights, eat at the best local restaurants, or deal with the transportation systems. How could I go wrong with my own personal guide/host/new friend in each area I was going to???

And that's about how it went too. My initial confusion upon entering a new city and trying to orientate myself vanished as soon as I contacted the Freeloader I was staying with. I could write several pages on each leg of my journey concerning the people that I stayed with, but perhaps just a taste to whet the appetite for future Freeloaders who might be considering using this service would be better...

The historian/genealogist/soon-to-be barrister in Dublin that made sure I was introduced to the best people Dublin had to offer; the brilliant woman I stayed with in Edinburgh whose home speaks volumes about her travels; the couple in Manchester who were putting up another Freeloader the following evening but took time out of their busy schedule to take me to the local pubs; the woman outside Canterbury that teaches refugees English so that they might have a better life; a young French woman in Paris who refused to allow me to take her out the second night I was there because she wanted to make me dinner and save me money; and the enormously intelligent man just outside London who took me to the best curry cuisine in the area.

All of these people made me feel so comfortable, so relaxed. Each one seemed to put aside their daily lives to ensure that their guest would be well taken care of. I owe each of them more than thanks, I owe them a debt of gratitude for making my trip so great. I believe that is what made my trip so great- meeting real locals who took me into their home and showed me what it was like beyond the tourist-trap glitter that each city seems to offer. Global Freeloaders, the Freeloaders from each city, have given me memories that will forever be with me.

In November I will be hosting a Freeloader couple from Manchester, England who are on a round-the-world vacation. I'm very excited to have the chance to host them after meeting them while on my trip. I'll have the opportunity to show them the sights of my city, as well as introduce them to my friends and family. Another Freeloader will be arriving in the summer, and even though I haven't met her I'm already anticipating making a new friend.

I'm waiting for more requests for accommodation here in Los Angeles. That's a lesson everyone should learn- you can never have too many new friends!

Thank you again Global Freeloaders,
Fair Winds and Following Seas,
Safe Travels,

Christopher Coogle

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