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On a woman sleeping alone on the road

A few weeks ago I had coffee with my friend Tad who has recently started MotoStays, a homesharing service for motorcyclists. We talked a little bit about what measures the site could take to make the idea of staying with strangers more safe for women motorcyclists on the road and he requested that I wrote more about my experiences with traveling alone. I agreed to think it over and put my own experiences down in words. This article is what came of it.


A little background first. It has now been almost ten years since I first started riding and travelling long distance via motorcycle. Over these years, I’ve ridden solo across a lot of the United States and Europe. In the beginning, most of these travels were much closer to home in Washington state. In these first couple of years, my preferred accommodation was hotels, motels or B&Bs. My rides were generally 2-3 days long, and I would usually book all my hotels well in advance before I left. This was circa 2006-2007 when mobile phones and sites like Couchsurfing were still in their infancy. I would generally look on the internet for good deals and decent reviews and make bookings either online if they offered online reservations, or via phone. I would usually plan on riding 300 miles a day before I stopped, found my hotel and checked in for the day. My experiences in the hotels were typical of other travelers’. Sometimes they turned out to be true to what I saw on the websites, while other times they would be horror shows, complete with leaky bathrooms and questionable neighbors.

My favorite types of hotels were the really budget ones where I could park my bike right outside my room and keep an eye on it at all times. Sometimes I’d see fellow motorcyclists in and around town and get chatting with them, although I never really struck up any great friendships. The hotel stops were usually just a place to stop for the night, get dinner at a local cafe, then go to bed after watching some bad TV. Sometimes there would be breakfast in the mornings. The B&Bs usually served up some delicious food, while the hotels would occasionally have a serve yourself continental breakfast. In hindsight, these stays were generally quite expensive, setting me back about $60-$110/night. I didn’t know any better though and that’s what I went with. To this day, if I feel like being a little luxurious, I still prefer staying at nice hotels when I can. The nicest thing at the end of a long day’s ride is a nice hot shower, a soft comfortable bed and linens, and meals that someone else has cooked.

I would occasionally get questioned by friends about whether I wasn’t afraid of staying in a hotel room by myself. I found those remarks a little puzzling. What was there to be afraid of? As long as you used your common sense, there really wasn’t any more danger in staying at a hotel than in your own home. In all my stays, I can only really think of one place I stayed at where I stuck a chair under the doorknob at night before I went to bed. It was a place I had ended up at because it was the only real choice in a little town at least a hundred miles from anywhere else. When you pay $35/night for a room, you know you might be in slightly questionable surroundings. Outside of this one event though, my hotel stays have been great, if a bit expensive.


A fairly comfortable room in an inn in Withrop, Washington

An old school motor inn

An old school motor inn


A couple of years in, I was introduced to the world of camping. This was by sheer necessity because I was planning my big ride to Alaska with my friend Sarah. It was going to be a very expensive trip, so we planned to save money by camping as much as we could. My introduction to camping involved a lot of trial and error, and quite a lot of using things and returning them to REI before I settled on a kit that worked well for me. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm layers etc. are such subjective individual things that you really need to keep trying until you find the right combination that works for you specifically.

Camping did end up saving Sarah and I quite a lot of money on the trip, not to mention provided some incredible stories that we will remember and relate for the rest of our lives. We camped in terrible RV parks, in nice campgrounds, in people’s backyards, and this one time on the local police station’s lawn because it was supposedly the only safe place from the bears that frequently wandered into town. As far as camping went, this was boot camp for me (no pun intended).

While I’m still not fond of the amount of time it can take to set up and tear down camp, there is no other feeling quite like the one where you sit under the stars near your tent at the end of the day, perhaps by a river or the ocean. You could be alone and perfectly at one with your surroundings, or you could be with your best friend, sitting by the campfire and swapping tall tales until the last embers die out. Your motorcycle waits patiently a few feet away, resting like you until another brilliant morning awakens you. Of course there are bad days, of setting up camp in the dark because you didn’t stop early enough, of waking up to the sounds of rain pattering down on your rain fly, or of getting the last sorry spot in a campground infested with bugs. But if I had to look back at my camping days and do a fair assessment, there were just so many more good days. I’ve since camped alone as well as with friends.

Motorcycle camping

Motorcycle camping

Breaking down camp while breakfast is cooking.

Breaking down camp while breakfast is cooking.

When I rode cross-country across North America, I had the good fortune to discover some incredible campgrounds across this wonderful country. If you’re curious, the ones that stand out the most are Cumberland Bay State Park near Plattsburg, NY, and Horse Thief Campground in South Dakota, both of which I found quite by chance. Booking in advance didn’t quite work for me anymore, especially while wandering free around the country, not knowing where you’d be one night to the next.

About the safety aspect, I have never once camped in any place and felt unsafe. I have also never traveled with a gun, or with a weapon any more substantial than a Swiss army knife, or bear spray out in Alaska. Once again, most of us have enough common sense that we can make a fair assessment of where a camp spot is safe or not, both from human vermin and animals. Camping alone does mean that you are slightly more vulnerable, more exposed to the elements, and without the security of solid doors and locks. After you’ve done it a fair number of times though, you find yourself wondering why on earth people would deprive themselves of this most wonderful and cheap way of spending their nights on the road.


Next up, we move on to hostels. These can be great for motorcycle riders on a budget, unless they live in the United States. Hostels are unfortunately not very popular here. I can only recall staying at one during all my rides, where I ended up paying $10 for a bed in a co-en dorm at a hostel in Fort Worden on the Olympic Peninsula. They were slightly more common in cosmopolitan Canadian cities and ubiquitous when I was travelling in Europe though, to the extent that I never ended up using any of the camping gear that I had lugged across the Atlantic. Beds ranged from $20/night in Berlin to $60/night in Basel, although the latter was a bit of an outlier. In general, I averaged $20/night.

My hostel experience has been a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve stayed in some brilliant places in the center of an exciting city, and some dismal ones that were clearly former prisons or mental asylums. Sometimes I’d meet interesting people, other times it would feel tedious to have to strike up conversations with people you’d probably never meet again. These weren’t motorcyclists so often the only common ground we had was the fact that we happened to be visiting the same city at the same time. There would be times when you’d share a dorm with noisy people – or people who arrived and unpacked their stuff at 2 AM – so that earplugs were a strict necessity.

For motorcyclists travelling on a budget and wanting an alternative to camping, hostels – if available – can be a really good, cheap, clean and safe places to stay.

A hostel in Fort Warden State Park, Washington

A hostel in Fort Warden State Park, Washington


Which brings me to the final form of accommodation, namely other people’s homes. Strange people’s homes, to be precise. If I had been writing this ten years ago, this would have been a no-no. However, in the era of Couchsurfing and Air BnB, those barriers have long been shattered. While people renting out rooms in their homes to travelers is nothing new, it’s only recently that these have become so easily discoverable. The best experiences I’ve had have been on Couchsurfing, not on Air BnB, which has always felt a little transactional and more hotel-like rather than community-oriented to me.

I first got onto Couchsurfing around five years ago when I decided that I wanted to dip my toes into this new territory and find out for myself what it was like. My first experience was about the most terrible one I can imagine, and one that I wouldn’t wish on any one. I agreed to host a young man from North Carolina who was visiting Seattle. He claimed to be a motorcyclist, a Harley rider. While I perused his profile, I had an uneasy feeling and I didn’t really want to host him. Since I was new to Couchsurfing, I didn’t realize that I could just say no and that it was quite normal for CS requests to be ignored or refused by hosts. I also didn’t realize that Couchsurfing had a way to “verify” member locations and identities. This person was not a “Verified” member. To cut a long story short, I hosted him, we talked about bikes, had dinner with another friend of mine, then came home and went to bed while he crashed on the couch. I woke up the next morning to find that he had stolen my motorcycle, gear, my iPod and whatever money was lying around. He had taken my bike and – because he must have been pretty stupid – ridden to the nearest military base, where he was stopped, questioned and arrested. I did recover my bike, but the entire incident cost me $600 and a lot of trust in human nature. Couchsurfing wasn’t able to do anything about it because it was purportedly out of their jurisdiction. In hindsight, there were some very simple things I could have done to avoid this from happening, which I will describe in a bit.

After that first bad experience, I held off of Couchsurfing for a long time before I decided to give it a shot and host people again. What changed my mind is the amount of amazing Couchsurfing experiences I had while riding in Europe, where I was hosted by people – all male motorcyclists from all over. I found a motorcycle to ride in Europe from a guy I who emailed me after I made a post about wanting to ride in Europe in a Couchsurfing community for European motorcyclists. I was hosted by both him and his brother in Ljubljana, Slovenia, both of whom were wonderful hosts who introduced me to their city and their friends.

I started my ride from Slovenia and rode to Austria with an Austrian KTM rider who contacted me on ADVRider after I had posted on there. I rode with him and his friend Daniel to Vienna. They took me down some great roads and he hosted me at his place for three nights. While I was there, he went above and beyond to make sure that my bike was running properly, he took me out with his friends every evening, and he helped me plan the next phase of my journey. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I almost felt like he was an angel sent to keep me safe and to show me kindness and generosity at a time when I really needed it.

Later on in my journey, I Couchsurfed with another motorcyclist in Hamburg, who was also a lovely host. He helped me book some train tickets I needed to get for a little side journey, and he took me discover some of the best eating establishments in his city. My fondest memory with him is riding on the back of his bike while he took me on a scenic tour of Hamburg at night.

In Luxembourg, a fellow rider from ADVRider met me at my hostel and took me on a nice little tour around his city.

All of these guys are people I still stay in touch with to this day. I even hosted some of them at my place in Seattle when they visited and met with them in other cities while traveling.

Couchsurfing in Slovenia

Couchsurfing in Slovenia

Oh, and I also ended up staying with a few non-motorcycling friends whom I had only ever met online before. A slight variation in Couchsurfing!

After all these incredible experiences, I feel like I have to do the same, not just to give back to the motorcycling community but also to allow myself to be open to the universe and to experiences like these. To host a traveler was so easy and asked for so little from me. A couch, a shower, and a safe place to rest for the night – my guests didn’t really need a lot more than that. Some of them have even gone on rides on my bikes.  In exchange, I’ve been able to meet wonderful travelers with unique experiences and stories, with whom I stay in touch on our various social networks. This last is the other beautiful aspect of hosting – once you connect a new node in your network in the form of a traveler from another country, their network opens up to you as well, which can be great if you decide to go travel there someday!

This is why I am so excited about MotoStays – a home-sharing service where motorcyclists around the world can register themselves and either host travelers or stay with other hosts on the network. In other words, it is a structured way of creating a global motorcyclist network so that us riders can always be assured of finding other motorcyclists in a strange city with whom to stay, to find a garage and tools, rent or borrow their bike, or just to reach out to to go get some coffee or go riding with. It could potentially replace an assortment of such networks already in place, like the BMW MOA Anonymous book , the ADVRider Tent Space post, the motorcyclist groups on Couchsurfing, and the various long distance riding motorcycle forums out there. I really look forward to seeing this site grow so that five years later we wonder how we ever got along without it.

Going back to staying safe while using sites like these, some of the things I do on Couchsurfing are: I ensure that they are Verified members, I check that they have had positive reviews from at least a handful of real people, I restrict the people I host to women and couples only. I host males only if they are motorcyclists who check out okay. I restrict stays to one or two nights only, and I reserve the right to refuse to host someone if anything about their request feels wrong. This last is the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone considering hosting a stranger or being hosted by a stranger – our instincts are very fine tuned to warn us of danger and we absolutely need to trust them and listen to the nagging voice that tells us that everything isn’t quite right. If anything about the interaction feels wrong, be prepared to walk away, even if it means sounding rude or having to ride off in bad weather to find another place to stay. I’m not sure what kind of safety features MotoStays has but I hope they will be well thought out and tested. I will try to use it on future long distance rides and report back.


To summarize, if you’re a rider who is hesitant about staying with a stranger or hosting another stranger, I hope this article will reassure you that there are some amazing people out there and some great experiences to be had! The motorcycling community consists of a lot of kind, generous and interesting people. We share a bond that’s unlike any other. No matter what our age, race, sex, job or educational background, we know we can have great conversations when we get together and go out of our way to help a fellow rider in need. Connecting with each other via Couchsurfing, MotoStays, the Anonymous Book or the tent space thread puts an amazing network of people just like us at our fingertips. If you find that it just doesn’t work for you, of course there is the comfort of old school hotels and camping to fall back on! :)