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18 Creative Places to Sleep

When the only hotel in town doubles as a brothel and wild camping options are unappealing, what’s a tired cyclist to do?  Ask for help.  At least that’s what we do.  It’s not mooching, rather what Willie Weir refers to as Initiating Kindness.

Here are a few places we’ve found a peaceful (and free!) night’s sleep.

Churches

Wander in to almost any small-town church and you’ll find someone to help you out with a safe place to sleep for the night.  We camp outside churches, we sometimes roll out our sleeping bags right inside the sanctuary and we’re often invited home to stay with the pastor and his family.  We’ve stayed at many churches all through Africa, Mexico, Eastern Europe, Central and South America and even the USA.

Schools

Again, schools are one of the first places we stop if we’re stuck in a small town.  Often we can roll the bikes right into a classroom and set up camp.  This is much better than squeezing into a cramped hotel room next door to a rowdy bar.  Even if all staff has gone home for the day, we often find the night watchman has no problem with letting us stay as long as we hit the road early the next day.

Mosques

We have only been turned down once at a mosque.  We all know Muslims take their hospitality very seriously, so you can count on the imam to find you an empty room where you can spend the night.  It would be unusual for a Muslim to let you camp outside as this is viewed as sub-standard hospitality.  You’ll surely be invited for dinner and your host may even insist you stick around for a few days.

Restaurants

We’ve found many lovely camping spots out back behind a roadside restaurant.

Immigration Posts

In less developed countries, remote border posts are often a good camping option.  The officials are generally bored out of their minds and only too happy to have guests for the evening.  Facilities vary.  On the Paraguay-Bolivia border we had hot showers, excellent cooking facilities and an internet connection.  On the Cameroon-Nigeria border, the officer in charge begged for a contribution to the ‘generator fund’.

Police Outposts

I know they get a bad rap, but all in all police aren’t too bad around the world.  Even in corrupt Venezuela, the police welcomed us with ice-cold soft drinks and their assurance that we’d be safe for the night.

Gas Stations

An excellent option in Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.  Lots of grassy areas for camping, free showers and WiFi access.

Fire Stations

The TransAmerica route across the USA is famous for all the fire stations who open up their doors to passing cyclists.  Firemen in Mexico, Central and South America are also known to be hospitable towards cyclists.

Random People who appear kind, helpful or intelligent.

If you’re really desperate, try asking any small town shopkeeper or random person on the street.  Just explain that you’re a cyclist from XYZ country and that you’re looking for a safe place to sleep.

You’ll be amazed at how many people end up helping.  You might end up with anything from an empty storeroom where you can rest for the night to the keys to a comfortable guesthouse just for you.  Take a chance.

Contact your Embassy

Obviously this is not a last-minute option.  If you need to spend time in a capital city and can’t find a host through Couchsurfing or Warm Showers, you can always hit up your fellow countrymen for hospitality.  The French Embassy found hosts for us in Panama and Tanzania.  We simply sent an email explaining our situation and, lo and behold, some kind expats stepped in to help us out.

Health Centers

We’ve slept at rural health centers in Bolivia, Egypt, Cameroon and Mozambique.  In remote areas, the doctor in charge is usually thrilled to chat with a foreigner.

Bike Shops

We’ve actually never tried this, but many cyclists enquire at the local bike shop if somebody’s got a backyard where they might camp.   Apparently, this method works well.

Hotels

Yeah, duh, you’re thinking.  No, I don’t mean check into a hotel and pay for a room that’s beyond your budget.  Just ask if you can camp out back.  Works surprisingly well and often you’re able to use shower facilities.  If you get extremely lucky, a kind hotel owner might just offer you a room for the night.

City Parks

City parks serve as camping spots for cyclists in many small towns throughout America.  It’s probably best to ask permission at the general store or police station if there is one.  Camping in the park is also common in Argentina.

Farms

My favorite camping spots are at farms.  It’s quiet, you often have access to a shower and frequently you’re invited in to share a meal with the family.  Farmers get lonely and are usually more than happy to have a little company for the evening.

Casa de Ciclistas

Casa de Ciclistas is a hospitality network throughout Latin America of cheap/free lodging for cyclists on tour.  The most famous Casa de Ciclistas is  in Trujillo, Peru.

Couchsurfing

More free, no-strings-attached hospitality.  More than 2.5 million members worldwide and still growing.  We’ve used couchsurfing more than 100 times.  Great way to meet locals, enjoy the comforts of a soft bed, home-cooked meals and fast internet connections.  The ultimate way to keep your touring budget under control.

Warmshowers

The obvious choice for cyclists.  Fellow cyclists around the world offering free hospitality to cyclists on tour.

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Ever tried any of these places?  Got other ideas for finding a safe place to sleep?  Please share.
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6 Responses to 18 Creative Places to Sleep

  1. Tom Allen
    Tom Allen March 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Great post! The ‘Random Person’ is my default option – countless fantastic experiences have come from this.

    Looking through your list was interesting – I haven’t slept in a fire station or health centre, but all of the others have featured in my travels at some point.

    I’m trying to think if I can add anything. Turkish tea shops were a safe bet for being picked up by a local. Sailing clubs and marinas have come up trumps a few times – sailors can often empathise with the cycle tourist. And hanging around universities is a good way to find your open-minded ‘Random Person’.

  2. World Biking
    Amaya March 27, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Universities, good one Tom. That reminds me of a time in Mozambique when we asked to camp on the grounds of a teacher’s training college.

    Ended up with our own little bungalow for the night.

  3. David
    David May 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi,
    I stopped in Karaganda, in the middle of the dessert in kazhajastan, in a bicycle shop.
    The worked was aout, and I had to wait next day to repair my bike.
    they said: we have one room for you!

    I didn’t know, the room was in 5 stars hotel hehheheh

    so lucky!

  4. Ellen
    Ellen June 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Great post. I wonder how many of these places are safe for a solo female traveller though?

    • World Biking
      World Biking June 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      I’m surprised at the number of solo female cyclists who tell me they camp at schools, police stations, temples etc. I’ve heard of very few cases of women being hassled when asking for hospitality.

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