Nearly twenty years ago, I found myself in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, holding a map of the city, stretched out at arms length, while I tried to orient myself. I had just walked off the ferry from Aalborg, Denmark, and had no idea where I was. I needed food and shelter, and to find a bank for some Swedish Krones. It was one of those moments when I secretly hoped someone would just come along and help me, but no one ever does. Then, a young, and I don’t mind telling you a very cute, woman approached me and said, “What are you looking for?”
I turned to her and said, “The tourist information center.” She smiled brightly and said, “I am the tourist information center. I found out that she had been practicing approaching me for a couple of minutes while I pathetically perused a map of Gothenburg. She told me that she and her roommate needed a few extra bucks and wanted to offer me the extra room in their apartment as a short-term rental. It would be clean and nice and quiet and right in the middle of the town. It was a face-to-face version of the way Roomarama does it today.
As we walked through streets, I was completely unfamiliar, I thought about how wary I should be following a stranger home in a strange country, even if she was really cute. I eventually found myself in the apartment of, not one but, two Swedish cuties.
While they gave each other high fives over their first house guest, I thought I had hit the jackpot of backpacker fantasy of two young Swedish women who take in a weary stranger off of the street and into their home. Nothing fantasy-ish happened – well, not entirely. Over the next two days both of my hosts had emergencies that took them out of town, one to Uppsala and one to Stockholm. I was told to eat their food and enjoy their apartment in the middle of town and when I left put the money in the empty coffee can in the kitchen and leave their house key in the mail slot.
I found myself in the middle of summer solstice, two blocks from the main street. The cost for the room (now apartment) was a little more than I would pay for a youth hostel and way less expensive than even the worst hotel. I learned a lot about Sweden over the next week. I shopped at the local grocery, made friends with my host’s neighbors who pointed me in the right direction for Mid-Summer festivities and great places to enjoy a beer. It is one of my favorite times while backpacking. Before I left, I threw my money into the empty coffee can and key into their mailbox. I ate all their perishable food and went on to more adventures as I bounced around western Europe.
While most people won’t have the dumb luck of renting a room and then promptly having the owners bolt town, I have never had a bad time staying in B&Bs and renting rooms all over the world. It is my favorite part of traveling. Staying in a real room inspired me to be within a community and see how the locals live. Tourist attractions are great, but it is the people and private homes that I always remember best.
Since then, times have changed dramatically. I have stayed in numerous homes around the world and have never regretted the cultural exchange and deeper insight into the country I am visiting. Of course, the I did not have the luxury of having the Internet help point me in the right direction. Roomarama connects travelers with rooms in hundreds of cities around the world at good prices. The Internet serves as a gateway to places that allow me to not have to stand on a street corner looking lost and hoping that attractive Swedish women will pick me up and take me home.