Traversing the country by bicycle means slowing down. It means zooming in on the details of the sights you’re passing and having time to reflect on your surroundings. Slow travel makes memories more authentic and associations with places stronger.
This approach extends not just to how we travel during the day, but our choices for lodging arrangements each night. As a conscious decision to engage with more people throughout our trip, we decided to skips traditional hotels whenever possible and stay with locals instead. The way we are doing this is through a unique community called Airbnb.com.
Airbnb is a community marketplace that connects travelers and hosts all over the world. People can list and book accommodations online. The best part is that it’s open to everyone. Hosts can rent out their rooms, spare apartments, or an entire house, while travelers can enjoy a unique lodging opportunity.
Airbnb is one of our primary methods of lodging throughout our trip. It’s an extension of our slow travel philosophy and complements it in such a way that makes for a complete and rich experience.
An Unique Lodging Experience
We often wonder how our bicycle touring experience would differ if we chose to stay in traditional lodging facilities each night. The neatly arranged beds, the centered flat-screen TV and the cheaply-framed Monet reproductions would eventually start to blend into a collage of blurry images. We’d easily forget the faces, and more so the places, we stay. The differences between a motel in Ohio and a motel in Wyoming would be minute or virtually non-existent.
Our hope with choosing Airbnb instead of daily motel stops was to avoid this outcome and embrace the opportunity to create memories. So far, we’re pleased to say that we haven’t been disappointed!
I fondly remember our arrival to Baltimore in the first week of our trip. We rolled in hungry and tired from the day. Since this was in the first leg of our journey, we were still getting used to long days of cycling. But all our concerns and worn muscles seemed to vanish when we stepped into the home of our host, Deb.
Unique art work decorated the walls. The neat, elegant space exuded complete peace and coziness. Deb opened up her entire home to us. She even offered her jacuzzi as a cure for those aching muscles which we fervently wish we had had the time to take advantage of (especially as we started our next day on the road!).
Deb showed us to our room, and I was amazed to find a personalized welcome letter waiting for us on my bed. In Boris’ room, an impressive display of cow-themed decorations took center stage. “Oh those! I grew up on a farm, so I like cows,” said Deb with a cheery smile. She grilled a delicious dinner for us, and left an array of breakfast items for our use. We were in post-cycling heaven. We savored these moments that we knew no motel would ever be able to offer us.
Connecting to a Place
We don’t always have the luxury of extensively exploring the cities and towns where we will stop along the tour. As much as we’d like to do so, we need to maintain a schedule. So often we either arrive too late or we’re too tired for evening explorations. But the amazing thing about staying with a host each night is that you draw something from each experience that you will always remember and associate with the city or town. So, we zoom in on those details of our stops just as we zoom in on the details of the road when going at a slow, but steady 15 mph.
For this reason, I will forever associate Baltimore with Deb’s sweet collection of cow-themed ornaments. I’ll think back fondly to our personalized welcome letter and to a rich and delicious dinner. I’ll remember Deb’s contagious smile and chatting with her in the living room. Though we didn’t get the impression of Baltimore typical tourists receive, I think we took away something equally if not more special – a warm welcome to a home that I’ll always remember whenever I think of Baltimore or a friend mentions the city.
Slow travel justifies our intentions for embarking on trips like this in the first place – to see the world up close and personal. This style of travel will allow us to walk away from 70 days on the road, having met an array of gracious, affable hosts. We will have formed strong connections to places and had rich experiences whose memories will outlast the type of fleeting, attraction-focused impressions we would have otherwise had by zipping from destination to destination.