Bicycle Travel Etiquette: How To Be A Good Host

Jun 13, 2013

Photo by Louis Melini

This entry is the third in a series on Bicycle Travel Etiquette. To read the first and second entries, see An Introduction to Bicycle Travel Etiquette and Bicycle Travel Etiquette: How To Be A Good Guest.

If you happen to live in or near one of the thousands of communities along the Adventure Cycling Route Network, you have probably seen them — traveling cyclists riding bicycles, gear strapped onto their trusty steed. These are travelers of a special sort, they are often intent on seeing the countryside up close and personal and enjoy the slower pace that travel by bicycle affords them. Most nights on this trip away from home, they sleep under the stars or in a nondescript motel room.

Many of these travelers are far away from home — whether from another country or another part of the U.S. — and they all have a story. Wouldn't it be great to get to know some of them? Many people in this position sieze the opportunity by striking up a conversation with a bicycle traveler randomly and inviting them to stay a night and share a meal with them or in a more organized fashion, by participating in Warm Showers, the free worldwide hospitality exchange network for touring cyclists.

No matter how you find yourself encouraging a stranger to join you at your home for an overnight stay, the opportunity for a great experience exists. Increase these odds by considering the following guidelines before extending that invitation. Many have been contributed by regular hosts of traveling cyclists.

How To Be A Good Host

Manage Expectations

Discuss expectations with your potential guest about meals and/or kitchen privileges, bathroom usage, and sleeping arrangements. Do you have pets? Children in the house? Allergies they should be aware of? Do you work unusual hours? Is a certain amount of notice before arrival necessary? Your Warmshowers profile is a great place to share all of this information in advance. Keep things as straightforward as possible.

Shower facilities can be few and far between when camping regularly, probably the first thing your guest is going to want to do is get cleaned up. Give them a little space to do so before peppering them with questions about their trip (but ask those questions later!). Show them a secure place they can leave their bikes and gear, and an appropriate area to clean their bike if possible or needed.

If your budget doesn't allow you to feed your guest, let them know in advance so they can make other arrangements. Food is fuel for traveling cyclists, making their appetite likely to be measurably more than yours. Recommendations for nearby restaurants is a plus.

Golden Rule

Treat your guest the way you’d expect to be treated if you were invited into their home. Keep agreements made about time and place, if your schedule changes for any reason, let your guest know.

Be a Resource

If you plan to host regularly, it's nice to have a stash of resources collected in advance so you don't have to repeat yourself every time. A map of your local area is invaluable for locating services cyclists might be interested in, everything from your favorite bike shop to grocery stores and restaurants. Offer directions for the best way out of town that just happens to pass a great bakery or unbelievable scenic view.

Trust Your Gut

If you feel uncomfortable about the situation for any reason, don’t agree to host. If something does not feel right in your first conversations, it likely isn’t a good fit for you, listen to that. Thank them for the inquiry and pass on the opportunity.

A Little Goes A Long Way

Even if it doesn't seem like a big deal, limit the amount of time any one guest stays with you. Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” This goes for serial hosting as well.

If you are on or near a popular bike route, you may receive many requests for hosting, be aware when you are reaching your hosting threshold, no matter what that limit may be. If you’ve had a run of guests, it might be time to take a break before welcoming any more. It’s ok to say no.

If all of this sounds like a lot to consider or manage, or if a little spontaneity is not a good fit for your life right now, being a host may not be in your best interest for the time being. Be aware of your limits and needs and honor them for everyone's sake.

The next entry in this series will wrap things up and include some quotes from guests and hosts. If you'd like to contribute to that post, please comment here, tweet something to @acaroutes or email me directly at jhmilyko@adventurecycling.org.

Photo courtesy of Warmshowers host Louis Melini. Left is Louis with Lorenzo from the Basque region of Spain and right is Salva from Spain.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

Comments

CycleA

Thanks for posting! A friend and I did a tour last year, and we stayed with some of the most wonderful people. There is such a great community of cyclists and supporters out there! One thing that happened during a stay that was less than pleasant was that we stayed with a very, very kind family (and were very grateful), but they put us up in an enclosed porch that we shared with a host of cats and their litter boxes. We like cats, and the hosts had been up front about owning them, but the cats had sprayed nearly every square inch, and the stench of urine was so strong that our eyes were watering. (I'm not kidding - as a cat owner myself, this was so far beyond normal stink that I can't even tell you.) By the time we arrived, our nice host was making dinner, so we didn't want to hurt their feelings by staying somewhere else. Neither of us could sleep - even with a door open to the outside - and the next day our heads hurt so badly from the ammonia that riding was miserable.

We wanted to leave a review on warmshowers.org to let other cyclists know, but our hosts had been so nice that we didn't have the heart. We noticed only one other person had mentioned it, and they had really slammed the host hard. We didn't want to do that, so we left it alone, but we still don't know if that was the right way to handle it. I guess I would just say that, if you are a host, please don't put people up right next to the litter box, or in a room that your pets have decimated with scents. Even if you get used to the smell, others are not accustomed to it, and it's kind of awful.

June 21, 2013, 7:18 PM
Reply
Jennifer Milyko

Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like a good illustration of what seems normal to the host is unusual or uncomfortable to a guest. Something for both to consider. I appreciate you sharing the story, hope it helps someone down the line.

June 28, 2013, 5:44 AM
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Patrick Lyford

Hi Jenn,

Read your comment on my blog, "Riders Of The Wheel" re: the two very different cyclists who my wife and I hosted. My issue was with what one cyclist posted on his personal blog, not on Warmshowers .org. The disparaging remarks about one host and the poor behavior he exhibited at another host's house was demeaning, at best. Not to mention the demeaning commentary about the Apache people and others in a small mining community in Arizona.

I really think cycle touring is an opportunity to see how others live and to take that in, incorporate it into the tour, and see how that changes you as you go along. Coming from a blue collar family, my challenges were with wealthy people because the things they take for granted are way beyond what I see as normal in my world.

So, I think a good rule of thumb is that, unless someone has really treated a rider poorly or has mistreated them, any posts about hosts ought to be either positive or neutral. A rider is not just representing him/herself when they post about a host. They represent riders/touring cyclists in general. Same as when cyclists break the rules of the road, drivers begin to assume that all riders act like the person who they were upset with.

For the person who posted about the cats, I would post about that...but it can be done in a way that doesn't demean the host. For example, "While our host was great, where the host let us sleep was hard to take because of the smell of where the cat's had sprayed. For anyone, allergic to cats or not, this was beyond what would be considered normal. Since I wasn't aware if the host knew about how bad the odor was, I took him aside and spoke to him privately about it. While not trying to be ungrateful for him hosting me, I did let him know that it would be something riders would expect him to address in his post on Warmshowers.org, so they could decide to contact him or not." I think that covers the issue, but, more importantly, it gets addressed with the host directly, who can then respond with "Gee, I didn't realize that and I'll fix it." or with "So what? It's a free place to stay." Or something completely different. I know the host that the people are talking about and believe he'd be very approachable about the issue of the cats.

Commentary on public/social media comes back to haunt all of us, riders and hosts, so use the lessons we've learned growing up...and speak to the host directly if something has bothered you...or didn't seem right. If a host respond negatively to a reasonable suggestion, all of us need to know that, too. Thanks for listening...

Patrick

July 8, 2013, 5:31 PM
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Jennifer Milyko

Patrick,

Thank you for bringing your thoughtful perspective and response to this conversation.

In the end, it seems clear to me that a successful experience of hosting and being hosted is the willingness to have clear communications with kindness.

I will do my best to incorporate this in the final product on Bicycle Travel Etiquette.

July 10, 2013, 2:20 PM
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John Hodge

I do hope I'm not too tardy to join this conversation.

Over the last couple years we were hosts to more than a dozen parties via Warm Showers and from just encountering bicycle tourists around town. For the most part our guest were wonderful, but last year we had two parties in succession that I'm afraid pushed us past our limit. One party, a husband and wife on a tandem, were simply rude and obnoxious. The second negative experience, though, was particularly galling: after helping him fix his bicycle so that he could continue his tour, he then stole more than $50 worth of bike parts from me.

Common to both of these parties was that they were going from one Warm Showers or Couch Surfing host to another, so basically they were credit card touring without having to pay for lodging. We've since decided that this may a warning sign of a bike tourist that is merely seeking to take advantage of hosts.

Another pattern that seems to have been common to nearly everyone we've hosted was that the younger our guest the more polite and respectful they've been. One group in their early 20s got up early to make us breakfast and another 18 year old was a wonderful guest and is now a friend of the family. Meanwhile, the two parties that treated us poorly were all composed of people in their 60s. Given that we're in our mid-40s, it may be that older guests simply felt that they didn't need to treat us with respect. Given how wonderful the younger guests have been, maybe there is some hope for the future.

Following the Warm Showers guest who stole from us we've decided to remove ourselves from Warm Showers. We still keep an eye out for the occasional touring cyclist in town but we're much more wary than we used to be. Sadly, our Warm Showers experience has left us less trusting of other people than we used to be.

September 22, 2013, 10:36 PM
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Patrick Lyford

John,

I certainly understand your frustrations considering the situations you've encountered with bicycle tourists. As someone in my 60's, I don't think these folks represent us, but you've had a few negative experiences which are unpleasant.

Taking all of that into consideration, I'm continue to believe that Warmshowers.org offers all of us as cyclists an opportunity to reach out to other cyclists with a place to stay, some conversation, food, drink, maybe some suggestions on what way to ride to their next destination that might be more interesting. Letting a few "bad apples" take that away from us is giving into the minority, I believe.

Making sure that comments are put on Warmshowers about these folks is very important when considering others down the road who may be contacted by these riders...as a warning to them. Warmshowers can also be contacted and riders can be removed from Warmshowers by those administering the site. It's important for all of us that we all work to make Warmshowers a safe site for all to use.

I do hope that you consider opening your home again sometime soon. In 2015, I'll be doing a 6-7 month long ride around the U.S. and Canada and, who knows, I may be in your area of the country looking for a place to meet up with local cyclists. Thanks, Patrick.

September 23, 2013, 12:51 PM
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