Ever heard of Couchsurfing.com? Does the idea of welcoming strangers who can't/won't pay for a motel into your home sound a bit sketchy? Well, Warmshowers.org is different and here's why:
Warmshowers.org is a peer-to-peer free accommodations service specific to bicycle tourists. Sign up to host or be a guest and the most incredible people will begin to enter your life, two wheels at a time.
The website is very basic, evidence of its grassroots, non-profit origin. Cyclists and hosts create accounts that explain a bit about who they are, whether they are able to host, etc. Touring cyclists then message hosts to find out if they can stay a night or two in the warmth of another cyclist's home. Hosts and guests have the opportunity to review their stay upon completion, thereby strengthening the reputations of both for the benefit of future stays. That's about all there is to the website, but there is so much more to be gained from the experience.
Bicycle tourists are an intrepid and friendly bunch, full of tales from the road and fit from earning their daily bread. As an active, adventurous person, this is exactly the type of person I seek to bring into my life, and in several years of being a member of this organization, I have yet to be disappointed by the interactions it has provided me.
When Johanna and I toured parts of Canada and the Northeastern United States last summer, we stayed with a wonderful family full of teachers (like us) outside of Toronto. Though we were with them only a few hours, we instantly felt like we had known Ted, Wilma, and their kids for a long time. It also felt good to be welcomed into their home like family at the end of our first day of riding.
Later on that trip, Rick and Nola of Portland, Maine took us in, even though they had family in town. There is a camaraderie among touring cyclists, a sort of understanding of how much it means to be under a roof in a cold night that would otherwise be spent inside the thin walls of a backpacking tent.
More recently, Johanna and I had our first hosting experience, with Cole from Toronto and Steffen from Germany joining us in our home for a few days. They had both heard great things about Santa Barbara from afar and we truly enjoyed sharing our city with them (as well as some high-calorie food options and our washer/dryer).
Beyond just touring for the love of the trail or the bike, many touring cyclists using Warmshowers have a charitable goal. Cole, for example, is raising money for Cambodian children to become educated. You can find his story here.
We don't get to host much, due to our very busy schedules and our own travels, but I highly recommend it. Hosting strangers that are weary from the road is very rewarding, in the same way that helping the needy can be. Vetted by the discipline required for bicycle touring, you can be almost certain that the people you meet will be worthy of your help, which makes giving even better.
In short, Warmshowers.org is more than just a resource for bicycle tourists looking to put a roof over their heads; it's an opportunity to make connections with people from all over the world, who resonate the sort of principles and spirit we to which we should all aspire.