I’ve surfed on couches, swapped houses and hitched to hostels… but when NightSwapping was suggested to me by a fellow traveller, I was hesitant to say the least. All the same I was intrigued by this new sharing economy approach to tourism. Despite my initial doubts, it turns out NightSwapping is actually quite a genius way to earn yourself free accommodation around the world – in 160 countries to be precise. When I discovered that all I needed to do was host other NightSwappers in your home or guestroom to earn ‘Nights’ – you host for 2 nights, you earn 2 ‘Nights’ – I had some kind of traveller’s epiphany, and the way I travelled was instantly transformed. Alternatively you can buy ‘Nights’ on the site if you can’t host, and this is where my NightSwapping journey started.
It all began in Spain… After almost missing a flight to Barcelona, thus missing the connecting bus to Madrid and getting drenched by a passing taxi while asking for directions to my hostel in broken Spanish, I turn up to the somewhat dingy hostel I’d booked to find that my reservation had not been recorded… and that there was no room. Excellent. I can laugh about it now… but verge-of-break-down is probably more how I’d describe the feeling at the time. By a stroke of luck some Jesus-like bearded figure appeared out of the dark of the luggage room and into the light of the hostel lobby, merely uttering a few words before lighting up a cigarette and stepping onto the humid, raining streets of Madrid. “You could try NightSwapping” he muttered. Like all epiphany moments, it was somewhat surreal, but enlightening all the same. Despite initial hesitations and questions about the legitimacy of this new concept, I was straight onto the hostel computers to find out…
What followed was a series of NightSwaps in quick succession from Madrid all the way through Castilla y Leon and onto Cantabria where I reached the Northern Spanish coast. The first stage of my NightSwapping journey, staying with a kind couple in their guestroom, involved a trip back in time to the cobbled, winding streets of medieval Frías, the 3rd smallest city in the world. What is particularly distinguishable about Frías, it’s surroundings and Ebro River, is the tranquility of its streets, despite many a group of tourists. I was driven there by my host NightSwappers through the dramatic and lush landscape of the Burgos Province countryside. I hope to return to NightSwap with them again.
I eventually ended up in Cantabria near Santillana Del Mar for my final Spanish NightSwap (for now). Santillana is undeniably à voir. It’s a beautiful, oldy-worldy town and one of the true cultural treasures in the region; a real gem of a NightSwap thanks to the kindness of my hosts. Before my arrival we chatted on the site and the reservation was confirmed fairly quickly – I knew she was trustworthy and a good choice, not just thanks to the certified label on her NightSwapping profile along with detailed description and long messages, but because of the way she would leave un abrazo at the end of every message! The weekend began Geocaching with my host and friends, followed by cooking local dishes together like Cocido Montañés, and learning about Santillana’s famous, sandstone bull sculpture by visiting the famous Cueva de Altamira, where the stunning conservation of Palaeolithic age rock art is exhibited in a series of cave reconstructions open to the public. An extremely varied and culturally rich trip was had by all thanks to the ‘exchange’ concept at the core of NightSwapping’s travel ethos, which my fellow NightSwapper host embraced con todo el corazón.
You may be wondering where the ‘Swap’ in NightSwap comes in during my Spanish adventure? Well at the time, on that infamous, rainy, mid-summers day in the crowded hostel lobby in Madrid, I hadn’t hosted before, and therefore hadn’t any ‘Nights’ saved up on my NightSwapping profile. However, on my return to the UK, I was, and am still, hosting NightSwappers in my Devon home and Manchester uni-pad at every free weekend in order to save up Nights for my next adventure.
“It’s not down on any map; true places never are”. This Herman Melville quote is fairly summative of my own personal NightSwapping experiences because NightSwapping makes exploring and travelling a unique, cultural-immersive experience like no other, allowing local hosts to show you the local tastes, tips and tricks, like no guidebook or internet forum has done before.
Copyright © 2015 Lucy Barker