A very good friend of mine asked me more details about the reality of finding a local place for a night. Well, I will give you several typical examples:
The first scenario I want to introduce to you might be the worst because this one is really seducing. At the beginning, I had no idea about the best way to start my home search. Each time I was in a new place I always went to the bar to have a beer while starting a conversation with someone. Of course the first contact seems easier but here is the trap:
- It is hard to introduce yourself to a group of friends hanging out together without imposing yourself
- You spend more time explaining what your project is and what you’re looking for
- You can’t always capture 100% of their attention
- It can be difficult to suggest someone goes home earlier because you wish to use their shower
- This person might live far away. It might be difficult to resume the journey where they live without getting lost (inconvenient?)
As you can understand, there are many variables you can’t control when you go to a bar.
However when you arrive in a tiny village (less than 50 locals), the bar is usually the right place to start because everybody will be there at 5- 5:30pm for a knock off drink. Word of mouth works pretty quickly and everybody will soon know your situation. Also in a very small village everybody looks after each other and knows each other business. As a result you only need to tell one person and everybody will know (and quickly look after you!).
The second example is more vicious. It’s when you speak with someone who can’t host you but this local knows somebody who may be able to. Of course you think, “Yes, it’s done, this new person is the answer!” Unfortunately in 95% of the time it’s wrong. You put faith in these words and then forget to follow your instinct. This person you are referred to can’t help you either. It’s already 8pm, the time is wasted and the lead was a dead end. You are still homeless and now you must start again from the beginning and it’s getting darker…
This happened to me three times and then I promised myself to not act on advices from a local who can’t host me but only give a referral.
My standing Method
When you start your home search around 6pm, people you will ask to stay with may not have had dinner yet. To be polite, it’s better to say you are on your way to town to get some dinner but usually they will invite you to join them.
6pm is coming soon so I jump on my bike to find a place. Usually, I go to the inner city suburbs. Instead of going to a bar (which often took too much time) I’m using a more direct method. Indeed it’s a waste of time to look for a place to stay if you are not at the doorstep. First I went to the bar because I didn’t want to seem rude going directly knocking on peoples’ doors. I was wrong.
The first thing I always establish is eye contact to reduce the “surprise effect” and I throw a “Hi, how are you today?” to start a conversation. Otherwise I wave to try and catch attention from inside the house.
When waving, smocked windows make it a lot more difficult. Some areas of New Zealand are so touristy that the people living here prefer more privacy. Yes, it makes everything harder and frustrating because it’s almost impossible to see if someone’s home, even with the lights on. In that case you don’t have many possibilities: find someone in the street walking the dog, going to the bar or wait the darkness to look through the windows and catch their attention (scarier for the locals).
Sometimes the person you approach will be surprised and will not respond for various reasons. Just keep talking; it’s essential to establish a rapport and build a comfortable feeling for them. You must follow your instinct because there are always signs telling you if this person is open to a conversation or doesn’t want to hear about you:
Does the person smile? Does this local give you his/her name after you gave yours? Is there a spark in his/her eyes when you tell your story and your goals? These signs are important and you must heed them. If you don’t get a good feeling overall but still think there is a chance, you’ve got nothing to lose by saying: “Would you agree to host me tonight to help me to realize my dream?” By appealing to this person, he/she might be inspired to host you even if they don’t fully appreciate your true motive (and plan).
If you get a NO, maybe you didn’t say the right things, maybe they didn’t appreciate your true spirit or some people just aren’t receptive to this way of life. It doesn’t hurt to try and can be beneficial to later scenarios.
Each time I got a no, I reviewed the situation to see where my mistakes were and refine my approach.
Regarding the house you choose, there are no rules. However a house with a boat has less probability of success because this house might be empty ¾ of the year or the people living within don’t want to change their habits. Boaties can be very close-minded. It may not be always be the case; I have stayed in huge and beautiful houses more than once (with boats). Conversely, caravan owners are usually polar opposites to boaties.
Here is another tip: a good place where you can ask is the supermarket just before its closure. It’s always easy to speak with a “checkout chick” because your adventure usually appeals to their spirit and your challenge to stay with locals (for the two reasons I explained in my previous blog). That’s what happened to me in Methven.
The most difficult place by far was Geraldine. This town is an old people town and old people feel too threatened to take a risk in receiving someone they don’t know. It took me 7 hours before I found somewhere to stay (of course it was raining). I was exceptionally lucky to find Kerrie at 9:30pm, only because she forgot to turn her car lights off. I established trust in her eventually but it all began with my good deed.
Concerning the age of the locals you ask, 40 to 60 years old were the most receptive. Many of them have a son/daughter near your age who has left the house to study or begin their adult life somewhere else. Don’t forget we are human beings. Parents don’t want to see somebody who could be their child homeless. Young working families tend to be more financially stressed and see a visitor as a “cost”. Money is usually tight for them.
I feel this blog offers valuable basic advice but the main principle you must apply is to follow your heart as it leads your pushbike and be intimately in tune with your surroundings and the people in it. Go with the flow.