After almost 18 months of travel, something crazy happened.
This past weekend, I found out — for the first time in my full-time travels — what it’s like to not have a place to stay for the night.
Yup, I was homeless. Well, more than usual. :)
(That’s a shot above from about 5:00 AM, after…oh, maybe 20 minutes of sleep total for the evening.)
It all went down in Charleston, SC. I decided to head there for the weekend, and just figured I’d figure out lodging once I arrived.
So what did I do?
And what can YOU do to ensure a roof over your head during your travels?
- Couchsurfing: a network of hosts all over the world. This is HUGE when it comes to traveling, even if you’re not on a budget; it can be a fantastic way to meet awesome people. More than likely, there’s a couch available wherever you’re going.
- Even if it’s the same day, send out personal messages to as many hosts as you can. Sit down for 30 or 60 minutes, and be honest, nice and respectful in your communication. Even for people open to it, last-minute guests can be disruptive.
- You can also search for a city’s last-minute posting board where you can explain your situation and reach out on a more global level. Often, there are other hosts who receive these alerts who might not show up in the regular search (it’s how I found my host this time).
- Get in Touch with Friends (Call/Text): do you know anyone who either:
- A) might know someone in the area you are, OR
- B) have an idea of what you can do (also a seasoned traveler)
- Put a message out to your social network – letting people know where you are and what you’re looking for can yield amazing results!
- Talk to the Locals
- At the cafe, restaurant or shop, ask the people there if they know anything – maybe there’s something that the tourists don’t know, or maybe you’ll even meet someone who has a spot where you can crash!
- You can use Hostelling International or Hostels.com to find locations
- Approx. $20-$30/night for a dorm bed
- Great way to meet other travelers
- Motel 6, Super 8, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn, or any other local chain
- Anywhere from $25-$75/night (or more) depending on your area
- See if there’s one in town, and if they have beds/rooms you can rent
- Usually $100 or less/night
And the MOST IMPORTANT Part to Remember:
- Be Positive + Trust it Will Work Out.
- Seriously: don’t freak out! :)
- I know it can be stressful: keeping calm and carrying on (!) is so critical to your success! If you’re desperate or on edge, people will pick up on that energy.
- You want to let everyone know that you’ve got this handled and you’re as cool a customer as they come. That’s the kind of person people want to be around, and who they’ll want to help out! :)
If nothing above works out:
While I was able to secure a place my first evening through Couchsurfing, my host didn’t respond to any of my texts or calls on Saturday night (I was waiting for him to get back home so I could go back).
So at 11 pm, I found myself with nowhere to go, and no prospects.
Now what do you do?
- Hotel Lobbies
- This was my saving grace, and it hit me in the moment as I wandered by a pretty swanky spot and saw some open chairs, thinking “maybe I could just stay there” – it’s certainly safe!
- If you don’t make it obvious you’re staying for the night, or if you can find a quiet and “dead” area of the hotel, you might be able to spend the whole evening!
- If you are confronted, feel free to use (or modify) this story – thanks to Mike for this idea at 3 AM!
- You just drove into town and you’re meeting your sister. She’s out with her friends, you don’t know where she is, and she’s not answering her phone. The reservation is under one of the friends’ names, and you don’t know any of them.
- Mustering up a bit of exasperation (which shouldn’t be difficult, given the circumstances) can really help to sell this!
- This worked like a charm for me – until they needed to freshen up the lobby and they needed me to vacate. I’m sure they would have just kicked me out immediately if I came clean about my situation.
- All-night Diners
- Stay up all night and read, talk with others, and make your meal last longer than you ever have before!
- Even if the place close at 4 or 5 AM, it can still get you through the majority of the night.
- Train/Bus Stations
- You never know who else might be hanging out at these, so perhaps a less-desirable option than the others, but these places are usually open 24/7
What ELSE to Focus on:
- SO important to get good food into your system to keep you going – nuts, fruits, salads – skip sugared, salty or fried foods!
- There’s no need to push yourself or hit the gym, but maybe do a bit of stretching or yoga if you’ve been curled up or in funky positions all night!
- Sleep When Needed
- If you feel safe and are comfortable, take a nap
- Listen to your body – if you can’t go any further, that’s OK. You don’t need to prove how tough you are by staying up for 36 hours. :)
- Once the next day arrives, naps in a sunny and safe park are a great way to spend the day!
- Other Healthy Practices
- Meditation, Journaling, Sudoku – whatever will keep you sane, positive, and keep you going – this is the perfect opportunity to bust these practices out and put them to work!
What could I have done differently?
The simplest option, and what would have made the most sense: get back on Couchsurfing and send out messages!
Yes, even at that late hour – post to the last-minute board, send out personal couch requests – again, you never know who else is up and can help out.
The reason I didn’t start reaching out again is because I believed I’d hear back from my host. It just didn’t seem possible that he’d never get back to me!
Oh, and what happened to my host?
He was home, but wasn’t watching his phone. (This was the text he sent me at 7:42 AM.)
Um, I guess that happens…?
He did apologize (via text) and I’d like to believe that he’s a good person; this was just an uncharacteristic moment of catastrophic flakiness. :)
On the plus side, it’s important to experience a “worst-case” scenario because you realize: it’s not that bad, and you can handle it!
Now that I’ve “wandered the streets” for an entire evening and lived to tell the tale, I understand that I can get through this if it happens again, though I’ll certainly try to avoid it!
One final point…
I am SO FORTUNATE.
Let’s not forget about the 600,000+ people in the US (NAEH) who experience this reality of nowhere to sleep every night – and who don’t have the option of hanging out in a cushy, hotel lobby.
I’ve often referred to what I’m doing as the “middle-class version of homelessness” because I can still afford to eat at a restaurant or stay in a hotel if I choose or need to.
But all jokes aside, I really don’t know what it’s like to not have a home and have no prospects of what to do next. I am so unbelievably grateful for this fact.
I look like a clean-cut kid, I don’t smell of garbage, and I’m generally pretty easy-going. It’s not likely someone will look at me and call the cops.
When you look at the pie this way, I have it ridiculously easy.
The night after my “ordeal,” I was back to a super comfortable bed, absolute peace and security, and farm-fresh food.
OMG. Do I really have anything to complain about?
Have you ever experienced a homeless night? How did you handle it?
I’d love to hear your response + any other comments you have below.
Looking forward to learning more!