Imagine a life in which everything is exactly where you think it is and you never have to look for anything again. You have only what you need and everything has its place, and you’re happy. That’s my life and the life of a growing number of people that has been on the rise since the start of the recession in 2008.
Of course, minimalism existed long before economic Armageddon, before the U.S. even (think monks), but has recently been popularized by a fringe group responding to the rampant consumerism in the U.S. Minimalism became popular out of the recession because several people decided to cut the excess out of their lives simply as a way to make ends meet.
I personally started paring down my life during my first semester in college. Dragging all of that stuff to my dorm room and seeing how little space remained was a flash-point. That and my childhood room I had left behind was still half-full of stuff I would come to never use again. What’s the point of holding on to it all? And so I began my first major purge of things I do not use, all the while reading some minimalist blogs like Zen Habits for advice.
By 2010, I felt that I had my stuff down to a manageable amount, but knew I could take it further. I couldn’t get passed the whole “but I might need this someday” line that we all tell ourselves when we try to get rid of things. But after spending more and more time hiking, including a couple of week-long outings on the Appalachian Trail, I was slowly realizing how little I actually needed to be happy.
I proved it when I studied in Sweden for 6 months, living out of one bag and a carry-on. I reluctantly returned to the U.S. freshly infected with wanderlust, got rid of even more stuff to make traveling easier, and flew off to Iceland later that summer to live out of my backpack for 3 months. You can guess what I did when I got home (if not, I got rid of more stuff). That’s the short version anyway.
A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of strategies for decluttering and getting organized. Different ways work for different people. You’re on Spartan Wanderer, so I’m going to speak from my experience. This is my strategy and I’ve been at it through multiple rounds over the years.
Depending on how organized or messy you are, this could be a massive undertaking. Start by tidying and don’t worry about getting rid of stuff just yet. Simply put everything where it needs to go. Put the clothes in the closet, file away or stack the papers, and put the other stuff where the other stuff goes. Even throwing away trash and clearing dishes can make any situation a bit more manageable.
Keep, Maybe, Trash
After you’re all tidied up, tackle the clutter room by room, section by section. If you compartmentalize like this then the whole process is a lot less daunting. For each section, make a pile of stuff that you definitely want to keep, a pile for things you’re torn about, and things you want to trash (or recycle, donate, sell). Even the messiest closet or work area can be dealt with in one decluttering session. If you try to do every room at once, or even an entire room at once, you’ll have piles all over the place and it will seem like you’re making the situation worse.
Make the Most of Everything
From the three piles you now have before you, you’ll want to make the most of two things: space and waste. Freeing up space is incredibly, well, freeing, both psychologically and physically. Becoming a minimalist means decluttering in such a way that what you have left is a completely functional and efficient existence. The extra space makes work as well as everyday tasks much more effortless than before. You no longer spend time looking for shit and everything left has a purpose.
As a new minimalist, you wouldn’t simply throw away your old stuff. A key facet of the lifestyle is leaving a small footprint, which means getting rid of your stuff responsibly. It sounds like more work, but it could also be to your benefit. Used bookstores and consignment clothing stores will buy your stuff from you, and you can also sell on Craigslist, making this positive lifestyle change profitable as well. Everything you can’t sell would definitely be appreciated at your local Red Cross or other thrift store.
Decluttering is great, but it does have the tendency to build up again if we don’t take measures to stop it. As long as we’re living, we will need things. We are constantly cycling things in and out of our lives. We should be aware of this as we go along and make sure that we are indeed cycling and not just accumulating.
One of the easiest ways to stop clutter in its tracks is to go digital. Start paying your bills online, subscribe to online magazines, and scan your paper files into your computer. I’m not a sentimental person so 99% of my photos are also digital. If you’re not an aspiring archaeologist that desperately clings to these relics known as paper books, you could invest in a Kindle and free up the space your bookshelf is taking up. Becoming more digital makes you more mobile, something all aspiring travelers would benefit from.
Make a list of things you’ve been considering buying, completely forget about it and come back to it in 30 days or so. If you forgot about something on the list you probably don’t actually want/need it as much as you think you do. This is a great way to prevent yourself from accumulating things you’ll be sending off to your local thrift store a year later. If you absolutely need something, see if there’s anything you’re not using that could be sold on Craigslist in order to offset the cost. One thing out, one thing in.
It’s not easy, and can be harder for some. But it is a significant lifestyle change, and the first time you do it will be the hardest. The process becomes more normal, natural, and almost reactionary each subsequent time. You may never get down to a backpack, but then again that’s not the goal. There really isn’t a goal in minimalism. It’s more of a journey, and each one is personal and different. More freedom of movement, more energy, more time, and less clutter, stress, and worry. Aim for that.
Travelers like to brag.
We love rambling on and on to anyone who will listen when we get back from a trip. We love swapping stories about the road, always trying to one-up each other with a funnier, scarier, or just plain crazier exploit. And of course, some super-competitive nomads will employ the coup de grace and slap their passports on the table.
Passport stamps can almost be a currency to some travelers who later use them to buy “cred” amongst other wanderers. I’ve never understood the ridiculous over-emphasis placed on these little bits of bureaucratic ink that are too often used as ammunition in pissing contests.
It’s not possible to quantify the enrichment we gain from our journeys. It’s like trying to count how much knowledge you have after you get a college degree. Some people study abroad for half a year and return feeling disappointed while others might stumble across an epiphany during a weekender. That’s why I prefer to take the stamp for what it is: simply a symbol of governmental bureaucracy, and nothing more.
The act of itemizing countries as something to be checked off a list turns an adventure into a project. I have a defined set of goals when I’m working and prefer not to apply my micromanagement approach to travel. I want the entheogenic, nebulous, and spiritual experience everyone secretly craves. I reject the former method because:
1. Haste Makes Waste - If our number one priority is to make it to as many countries as possible, then how the hell can we experience what each one has to offer at that pace (unless, of course, you’re completely loaded and choose to spend the money on traversing the globe, which if that’s the case, I salute you and am really jealous[care to make a donation])? Cultural exchange is not taking a running pass at a foreign culture. It requires you to talk to the people, visit their homes, and hear their stories. All that will be missed if we strip travel down to capital-hopping.
2. No Roots - There’s something special about living abroad for a while as opposed to jaunting around. You become a regular at some of the hangouts. You make lifelong friends. You start understanding the language. You’re putting down roots and making another spot on this earth a home. A place a thousand miles away that you can go back to and still know the streets like the back of your hand. Blowing through random towns as untamed as the wind is certainly a romantic ideal. But a tumbleweed has no roots. How will you be nurtured by the experience?
3. Quality vs. Quantity - I’m the type of person that when I get involved with something new, I completely embrace it, hit the ground running, and learn everything I possibly can about it. I want to speak the language, to know the history, the political climate, social cues and norms, demographics, and whatever else. I just have never understood how a Eurotrip could give one such a substantive experience for each country they visit. Don’t get me started on the ones who drink every night until they can only remember the daylight hours of their trips. Moderation, guys!
I admit that a lot of this is really just my opinion on the philosophy of travel. Who am I really to say how anyone should enjoy their experience? There’s no right or wrong way to wander. Everyone has a different personality with complimentary wants and needs. Take it with a grain of salt.
Building a new life somewhere is interesting to me. It’s challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. When I went to Sweden, I knew one other girl in the entire state that was going. We hung out maybe a couple of times. So I started completely from scratch, building relationships mostly through each new cultural experience I encountered.
From all the time I put into Lund, I emerged with several lifelong friends that I would have never met were I just going to Stockholm or Lappland for a few days. Although chance encounters still happen all the time. Just watch Leaves of Grass.
NOTE: Oh yeah, and you basically have to ask for your passport to get stamped now anyway. I got one from the Danes when I arrived, but once you’re in Europe, you’re golden. Even flying into Iceland I didn’t get one. Read about the Schengen Area for more info.
I guess everyone knew this moment would come. I know of very few minimalist bloggers that don’t own a pair of these strange looking, blissfully comfortable attention-grabbers. This week I’ll give you the rundown on these titans of minimalist footwear, the Vibram FiveFingers.
I purchased the KSO (Keep Stuff Out) model at my local REI. Of course my very first impression was similar to most everyone’s: wow, these look weird. Do I want to be seen in public with these? After you break them in and your feet are encapsulated in clouds and your feet are one entity with the ground, you won’t care.
Due to the strange nature of these kicks, you will definitely want to go to your local outdoor outfitter to have them fitted. There’s a special type of sizing process, and your feet must be measured accurately down to 1/8”. Don’t risk getting the wrong size from the net!
Weight: 11.4 oz
Materials: Vibram TC-1 performance rubber, antimicrobial microfiber with 2mm insole, polyamide fabric, Hypalon straps
Like Nature Intended
The main goal of the FiveFingers is to allow you to enjoy a more natural way of running. They allow you to run as your ancestors did, and as some tribes continue to run, today.
It’s all in the strike. Conventional running shoes control your range of motion so that you run with a heel-to-toe strike. Remove all the fluff, and the FiveFingers allow you to run with a natural toe or mid-foot strike, with protection from all the bad stuff on the ground.
There’s enough of a barrier to keep your feet safe, while at the same time, you can feel everything on the ground. You can be “one with nature,” if you’re into that kinda thing. It all boils down to a lighter, liberating, and more natural running experience.
Making the change to a minimalist running shoe like the FiveFingers from the standard support of the average shoe should not be taken lightly. Keep in mind that you’ve grown up running a certain way with the aid of all the amenities the 21st century running shoe can provide. That’s suddenly been stripped away to give you a more natural experience.
Without the extra cushioning, the foot muscles work harder, and the transition from the heel-to-toe motion to the more natural mid-foot strike will put a heavy strain on your calves. To put it simply, you will be sore. I endured about three weeks of crazy soreness when I was breaking them in.
Take it easy. If you try to burn through the transition you could seriously hurt yourself! Slow conditioning and rediscovering your form are the keys to barefoot bliss. I promise they will feel great once you’re used to them.
I’ve been rocking these things for about a year now, and so far the only problem I’ve had is a small hole above my right big toe. Damn you Vibram, and your shoddily crafted shoes! Ok, I tripped. I wasn’t paying attention and my classic finesse took effect.
Aside from the hole, the only thing you have to worry about is the antimicrobial coating on the foot bed wearing down eventually. Then they will smell as bad as you initially assumed they would. Vibram claims that the barrier is permanent, but finding yourself nose-deep in mine would say otherwise.
As a courtesy to my roommate in Sweden I normally left them out on the patio. Skåne’s unmerciful weather didn’t seem to put a dent in them. These things were made with water sports in mind, after all.
The Bottom Line
These shoes are great. Since I’ve had them, I feel like my posture has improved, and I have more balance and greater agility when I’m wearing them. Of course, I had to endure three weeks of intense soreness, but it was nothing that extra stretching, ice, and massages couldn’t solve. In the end, the FiveFingers are worth the price and the pain of the transition.
NOTE: Currently, I am not affiliated with any of the companies who’s products I review and do not receive incentives for reviews. Whenever I find a product that makes travel easier and lighter, or if it’s terrible and I don’t wish it on anyone else, I review it.
For a moment, I was terrified. For a moment, I was worried that it couldn’t get better than this. I felt like I had climbed so high that I might stall out. Sweden has been the pinnacle of my life experience so far, and I was pretty frightened that it would all be downhill from here.
What a life high it is to actually be afraid that you’ll never be happier than you are in a particular moment. We live for these moments of self-actualization, when we suddenly find ourselves at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s one of those moments where we think, “what could possibly be next?” I spent hours racking my brain.
I guess it was natural to dread going home to a life of incredible blandness and mediocrity after experiencing so much and befriending so many amazing people. It would be similar to coming down from a sensory overload. I thought that the reverse culture shock would destroy me emotionally.
After returning to the US, I hit a brief slump in which I found myself feeling like a foreigner in my own country. Through that time, I found that these four tips are what eventually brought me back up. Fortunately, I am the blazer of my own path, and I don’t have to go downhill from here if I choose not to. Now I’m back on track, and trekking uphill!
1. Get One Step Ahead of Yourself - One way to avoid careening downhill into a rut is to begin setting something up for yourself before you finish whatever currently has your focus. It sounds very romantic to operate without a plan, but unless you have a constant stream of income, you risk spinning out into a slump. For a traveler, a state of motionlessness gives into a feeling of stagnancy that is quite unpleasant. Having some type of game plan helps us to avoid this.
2. Live Vicariously Through Others - Positive energy is most certainly required to keep one buoyant in life. A great way to fuel your desire and motivation to travel is to read about others who are doing it. I’ll read anything I can get my hands on. Books, blogs, articles; you name it. If that doesn’t satiate my appetite for adventure, then it’s time for popcorn and the annual viewing of Into the Wild. That never fails to stir up the wanderlust within me.
3. Keep Moving, Even at Home - Sometimes, we have to go home. I love my family and friends, and want to spend time with them, not to mention I’m still finishing my bachelor’s. The reverse culture shock can be a real monster if you let it be. It can turn you into a curmudgeon (that’s a word I don’t get to use often) with a lot of spiteful things to say about your country and the people in it. The only way to pull yourself out of the it-sucks-to-be-home ditch is to occupy yourself. Go running, hiking, write something, play music, anything. Anything to keep from developing bad habits that do not confront the problem and in fact make it worse.
4. Don’t Let People Pull You Down - The strange thing about living an unconventional, mobile lifestyle is that it ruffles quite a few feathers. Some people don’t travel, don’t understand the joy it brings you, and assume that you have some underlying issue that is preventing you from settling down. It’s almost as if the American Dream isn’t as fulfilling as they thought it would be, and your not even attempting it scares the hell out of them. Like maybe they’re the ones that made a mistake. They’ll try to pull you down and keep you there with them. These are the type of people you promptly cut out of your life.
Positive momentum is within reach with the use of these four tips. It took a hell of a lot of trial and error to discover some of them, as well as plenty of emotional highs and lows. If coming home from Sweden taught me anything, it’s that I never want to feel that way again. Hopefully I won’t have to if I continue to implement these, and neither will you.
For those of you who have no clue what the Appalachian Trail is, it is, to state the obvious, a trail. But more specifically, it is a trail that runs through the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maine, 2,175 miles long. That’s quite a walk. And it’s a walk that I still fully intend to take someday before I die. In the trail lingo, it’s called a thru-hike. The entire trail in one go.
It’s a hell of a leap, and that week was one of many training hikes to prepare for it. My mom was convinced that it would make me change my mind about my thru-hike, and I think she was really hoping for that. Sorry mom, but I want to hike those 2,175 miles even more than before. It was an amazing trip. I’ve told the entire 7 day story so many times that I’m not sure I can type it all out without boring you or hitting myself in the head with a hammer. I think I’ll just list my top 5 favorite things that make me want to do the whole trail.
1. The Scenery - This is probably the most obvious of reasons. Who could get tired of panoramic views of rolling vistas, of waking up and watching the sunrise from a meadow, and beholding distant thunderstorms lashing out over the mountains? Then there’s the corridors of laurel along the trail, the trees sloping down on either side as you walk along the ridgeline, and sweet, life-giving water in the forms of small streams or large forks that are broken by impressive falls. The trail is beautiful.
2. The Excursions - If you break down the hike in its simplest form, it is an act of getting from Point A to Point B. And if you keep that mechanical mentality, you are sure to fail. The “trail experience” is made up of tiny excursions along the massive undertaking of a thru-hike. You can find anything from 50-foot waterfalls to swim under to plane crashes on mountainsides to explore. Then there are trips into town. Taking on the Gallon Challenge (a gallon of ice cream in a certain period of time, it varies). There’s even a nearby train into New York City.
3. A Greater Appreciation - When you spend a week walking through increasingly dry wilderness, responsible for finding and treating your own water, you learn to have a greater appreciation for the little things in life. I angrily think back to me throwing half-full bottles of water away simply because they were too old or too hot as I graciously refill my water supply from a sink in a bathroom of questionable sanitation. I glance up at my food bag hanging from a high branch of a tree that is covered in claw marks from a black bear, thanking God that it’s still there this morning. Resupply is 2 days away. Yeah, you learn to appreciate the little things.
4. Minimalist Living - Believe it or not, living with all of your possessions that add up to only 40 lbs on your back is very liberating. In this country, we’re taught to see how much we can get. On the trail, you learn to see how much you can live without. I’ve always loved the saying “you only truly own what you can carry at a dead run.” That’s quite true on the trail, and there was even a time that I had to live that saying. The less stuff you have, the less worry that comes with it. It can even be quite fun, sifting through your stuff in a hostel, figuring out what you can do without and mail back home.
5. The Friendships - I am willing to admit that I am generally not a sociable person. I do not like large crowds. I prefer a small, tight-knit circle of friends compared to such a wide circle that the lines between friend, buddy, acquaintance, and complete stranger are blurred. But the friendships you make on the trail, even within a short week, are nothing short of magical. You share a common goal, and that common goal instantly creates a bond. Everyone wants to see everyone else succeed, so everyone looks out for each other, and pushes each other, when it’s needed. The people I have met on the trail have been levelheaded, down-to-earth good people. It is a different world.
Well, I hope I have inspired someone to pick up and go. If you want to know further details about my trip, my contact info is on this site. If you want to know more about the trail in general, I recommend going here.
If one spends time living in Sweden, they will soon begin to notice a certain energy of calmness, serenity or even complacency. They will try to explain it to their friends back home, but perhaps they can’t put the feeling into words. That’s because there is no English translation for lagom.
As with most enigmatic words with enigmatic meanings, there is an ancient Viking legend detailing how the word lagom first entered the Swedish vocabulary.
Let’s journey back in time together to a moment between the years of 500 and 800 AD to, let’s say, the southern Swedish coast. A mist hangs in the air as twilight begins to eat away the last of the light. An encampment of Viking warriors sit around an inviting fire, weary from a long trip across the Baltic, ready for some mead and a hearty meal.
Ingvar asks Erik how much mead should be given to the team (lag). Erik tells Ingvar to pass the bowl around (om) so that everyone gets his fair share. Thus, a new word is coined that later becomes part of the Swedish national identity. Of course, there are more academic explanations of how the word came about, but let’s not get held up in its supposed origins.
In English, the word can have any number of close synonyms, such as “just right,” “moderation,” or “adequate.” It is the best choice of action between the two extremes on the table in any given situation. I like to think of the word as being Swedish for zen.
Lagom’s physical manifestation can be seen in many facets of everyday life. The interior design, the portions of the food, and the fashions and mannerisms of the people are just a few examples of this cultural phenomenon.
The most internationally recognizable example would definitely be IKEA. The company is famous for its functional, minimalist, and utilitarian designs, which are direct products of the lagom way of thinking.
One can tell when they’re in a Swede’s flat, not just because it’s furnished with IKEA, but because everything is arranged in a practical and rational manner. There is a lot of space, which is filled with natural light that is allowed in by the massive windows. It’s rare to see unnecessary junk lying around.
Of course, there are less visible representations of lagom. Swedes are known for being polite and avoiding unnecessary conflict. These attributes compliment their enjoyment of privacy and personal space, as well as their respect of others’.
I have yet to see anyone get overly pissed when a bus/train is late, if there is a large queue, or if food is taking too long to be prepared. Everyone accepts the things they cannot change with calmness, instead of boisterous complaining or yelling.
In both physical manifestation and mental practice, lagom is something we should consider while wandering, or just carrying on with our everyday lives. It reduces the clutter, opens wide spaces, and prevents headaches caused by unnecessary anger directed at the things we cannot change. Sounds good to me.
Lagom är bäst!
As I’ve already written about desirable minimalist tendencies when it comes to shelter, transport, and food, this week I’m talking about threads. Basic necessities are a good starting point, no? This is something that I’m still working on myself, and it is usually one of the more difficult things to tackle when adopting a minimalist lifestyle.
Rather than give advice in an area where I haven’t yet reached my own goal, I’ll just talk about what I’m doing and what I intend to do.
Right now, I’m striving to:
1) Get rid of all clothes except the ones I truly like and wear frequently.
The wardrobe can be a tricky thing to declutter. It’s easy to get attached to certain articles of clothing, even if they no longer fit or have simply gone out of fashion. Sometimes I find myself confusing sentimental value with liking the particular article and subconsciously use it as justification to keep it. I’ve adopted a practice of taking the article in my hand and asking myself, “will I wear this in the next week?” If “no,” it goes into the Goodwill/Salvation Army bag (Erikshjälpen in Sweden) without any prolonged thought. Once I don’t see it anymore, I don’t care.
2) Avoid clothing with any type of blatantly visible label.
Why should I help these people advertise for free? Maybe some clothing companies should start some type of affiliate program for the consumers paying them to give them free “label exposure.” In Sweden, I’ve noticed that very few people wear clothing with an exposed label. This is because it is an incredibly egalitarian society and it’s rude to suggest you’re better than anyone else (as it should be in any culture, really!) by openly comparing what you have with what others do not. This can be attributed to the concept of “lagom,” which I will be writing about soon.
3) Quality over quantity.
As I get rid of a lot of my clothing, I’m adopting a policy of only buying top-notch threads and digs that I know are going to last forever. Traveling through different situations, climates, and environments really puts stress on your clothes. Unless you wish to replace everything every 6 months to a year, this is where frugality has no place. In the end I will have a small wardrobe that is interchangeable enough, and appropriate for all occasions from hiking to hitting the town. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews, as well as checking out how other minimalist bloggers made this transition.
Of course I’ll post updates about this particular goal and new information that I think would be helpful to other wanderers. Until then, I have to get by with what I have because Sweden is a little expensive. I did make a little splurge that you’ll read about below…
The Swedish Exclusive
Swedes are incredibly fashionable, almost to the point of obsession. This is literally one of the first things I noticed as soon as I stepped off the train. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; they are an incredibly attractive population.
One thing I’ve noticed in several aspects, not just clothing, is the lack of variety in choices. You have IKEA for furniture, H&M for clothing, and Volvo/Saab for cars. While some may think this is a bad thing, I think it puts a key focus on the thing that matters most: personality.
For practicality’s sake, I also have to talk about the weather. Sweden is not the constant frozen wasteland that everyone makes it out to be. The weather is actually quite temperate due to the North Atlantic Drift and prevailing winds which make it warmer than other northern countries.
In southern Sweden, the average is 26 F during the winter and 64 F during the summer. In other words, better than what I’m used to in North Carolina. Norrland (northern Sweden) is a lot colder and is the source of the icy stereotype. Your average winter gear will work for southern Sweden, but bring ski gear or winter hiking gear for Norrland (those are the only reasons you’ll be up there anyway). No need to bring Everest-esque expedition gear.
Dry Denim Experiment
I’m a jean-person. I love my denim. Recently I have decided to let this love be more hardcore. I have purchased my first pair of dry (or raw) denim jeans. What’s so special about them?
The average pair of jeans have already been washed, faded, and distressed at the factory. Raw denim has not. These jeans are distressed by the everyday activities of the wearer, making for a more personal experience, with creases, tears, and distress created by your adventures.
Some hardcore dry denim enthusiasts wait six months to a year before the first wash of the well lived-in jeans! As I am just now dabbling in this fashion phenomena, I am taking a shortcut.
I’m now the proud owner of a pair of Diesel Turbodenim dry denim jeans. Apparently there is a new “revolutionary” enzyme treatment applied to these jeans that enable the wearer to see major results in ‘just 78 days.’
What is the relevance of me talking about buying an expensive-ass pair of jeans? Raw denim is super durable compared to the average pair of jeans, and falls within my goals of owning only a few quality articles of clothing. I also like the romanticized idea of having a map of my past adventures transcribed into a physical, tangible thing.
I’m going to post an update every week to show the progress of the jeans. Here they are right off the rack. If you’re lucky, there may be a few pics of me in them later.
Well, I’m currently sitting outside a cafe in Lund enjoying the wonderfully mild Swedish summer. I told a friend last week that I was completely numb to the fact that I was leaving the country for five months because there have been so many preparations to finally get to my seat at this cafe. It’s finally hitting me and I’m ready for the adventure ahead, and I’m even more ready to write about it and pass on the things I have learned from experience to future wanderers.
When it comes to living somewhere long-term, the first obstacle that can really be nerve-wracking is finding a place to live. One has to worry about cost, location, roommates, utilities…it quickly becomes a daunting task in which one mistake has the potential to drain a significant amount of your funds.
As a study abroad student, I had the easy option of university housing to take advantage of. However, I was put on the waiting list almost as soon as I was accepted to Lund University. I decided that having prepackaged, expensive housing handed to me was no fun anyway, and it would be a better cultural experience to find housing elsewhere on my own. Below I’ll describe the different options I weighed and list some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
1. Couch Surfing - Couch Surfing is an online network of travelers seeking and hosting accommodation free of charge. Engagements can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. When you become a member, you are able to designate on your profile if you are currently able to host guests or not. This is probably not a permanent solution for living somewhere else for a long period of time. However, it is possible to go from couch to couch, or go couchsurfing, in the same area.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, great selection of locations, make international friends.
Disadvantages: Not a permanent solution for extended stay, lack of personal space.
2. Global Freeloaders - The website Global Freeloaders offers a great service that is super convenient while simultaneously showing us just how far globalization has progressed. Basically it is Couch Surfing on steroids. The concept is the same with the exception that you must leave yourself open for incoming travelers in order to be a member and take advantage of the network. It is also possible to find entire bedrooms for free instead of couches. Think of it as a foreign exchange program without having to go to school or paying a dime.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, make international friends, a lot of space.
Disadvantages: You have to list your residence as a possibility for incoming travelers in order to join.
3. Hosteling - When it comes to Europe, hosteling is definitely a past time for travelers. It’s a good way to find accommodation on the fly, and you are usually in the thick of it, very close to the city center. Unfortunately it is not a sustainable way to live as it gets expensive very quickly. Some establishments will not let you stay over a certain amount of days either.
Advantages: Close to the action, exchange info with other travelers.
Disadvantages: Expensive, short-term, bedbugs.
4. Classifieds - For any given location, there is usually at least one classifieds website where you can post an ad notifying the community that you are looking for housing. Usually you will be paying rent and utilities if you choose this option, but the accommodations will be of a higher quality than those above. Of course, this option has a high potential for scammers, so don’t be naive and read everything.
Advantages: Lot’s of space, plenty of options, a good base-camp for your stuff if you want to travel lightly to surrounding areas.
Disadvantages: Potential scams, down payments to hold the room before you get there, more expensive.
I ended up posting an ad on a classifieds website in Lund asking for a “couch” or a “walk-in closet.” The housing crisis here is bad so I wasn’t going to be picky. A Swede responded to me and offered her living room, with all amenities included, to me for only 3000 kr, which is way cheaper than university housing. I have a comfortable bed, and the room is bigger than my bedroom in my apartment in the States!
This just goes to show you that you should definitely weigh as many options as possible when looking for long-term accommodation. Don’t be picky and throw your expectations out the window. If you’re a real traveler, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway!