Radio Riding, Couch Surfing and Anti-tourism


(Photo: Expats.cz)

For the past few weeks I’ve been making preparations to cover the National Conference for Media Reform, which is next weekend in Memphis.

I love covering events like this. I’m getting paid to do something that I’d pay to do. I’m blessed, as that’s true of most of my professional life. I also really enjoy traveling, but I hate too much structure and I really hate those roadside dollhouses (so much like funeral homes) that they call hotels. This blend of being adventurous, cheap and lucky has delivered me into the often digital underbelly of anti-tourism.

Here are a few things I’ve found to be terrific resources for the discerning vagabond:

• Radio Riding — Simply put, it’s a lot easier to hitchhike if you do so with truckers, and it’s a lot easier to hook up with truckers if you use a CB radio. My portable unit cost me $10 on Craigslist and eats eight AA batteries for every six to 10 hours of use. Using this method two weeks after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I traveled from NOLA to Mobile — 120 miles — in just over two hours and four vehicles.

DigiHitch.com offers good advice to those with wandering thumbs. Regional hitching guides and online hookups are available to meet other travelers.

• Rides long and short can be found via online classifieds. I’ve made several new friends this way. Erideshare.com serves thousands in the United States and Canada.

• Housing can be secured through Couchsurfing.com and Spaceshare.com, though the latter is really event-specific. Give space or borrow it — it’s a way you can stay in other people’s homes and get to really know what life is like in the places you visit. My wife and I have hosted more than a dozen folks, and they always left our home better than they found it.

• If you have to pay for housing, try hostels.com, which isn’t just for college kids any more. Most American hostels accept folks of any age and provide dorms and private rooms. Typical costs are between $12 and $40 a night. As a bonus, you get to bunk with other world travelers just like yourself and can explore the city together. Another alternative is to find a furnished apartment for rent and ask the landlord to rent it to you for a few days. When we had an unexpected gap in tenants in 2005, we rented a partially furnished one-bedroom apartment to people from out of town for $20 a night.

Travelocity.com is, in my book, the king of discount travel. My round-trip ticket to Memphis was $201; and then I saw that, if I added a rental car, the price actually dropped to $171! I’ve paid as little as $160 for round-trip tickets from Cincinnati to San Francisco. We also take bumps when we can. If a flight is overbooked, they ask for people to fly standby. You have to wait around the airport a while, but this earns you a fee round-trip flight good for a year.

So I’m really interested in hearing your travel tips. What’s worked for you?

— Stephen Carter-Novotni

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