Rape-Whistle Adventures: The Art of Finding Free Accommodation
It was July, 2008. I had barely choked down my seventh shot of Israeli arak—or perhaps eighth, or ninth, I’m not sure—when I heard Joe’s inebriated screams from across the bar.
“STEEEVVEEE,” he was slurring, “ OH NOOOO!” I turned to find him slouched over a bar stool, his round face slightly cross-eyed and awash with dread. “STTEEVVE!! ISTHEEKLOCK!! THEEKLOCK, NOOOO!”
I somehow stumbled to the bar, the earth violently swaying beneath my feet. I grabbed Joe’s arm for support. “WHASSAT?”
He screamed over the shitty cover band, “IS LIKE THREECLOCK OH SHIT!” To which I responded with a vacant grin before wiping some drool off my face. Joe forcefully grabbed my collar. “THE HOSTEL! THEY LOCK US OUT! THREEOCLOCK, YOU DRUNK IDIOT!”
It was our first night on Ben Yehudda St., Jerusalem’s raucous, booze-soaked ghetto of twinkling signs, Israeli college kids, and rowdy hoards of Zionist Americans on Birth Right. Amidst our drunken revelry, we had neglected to watch the clock, missed our Hostel’s curfew by three whole hours, and—as Joe so articulately informed me—we were now locked out, effectively homeless for the night.
To make matters worse, we had attempted to curtail drunken over-spending by bringing only a humble sum of cash—all of which had been spent on endless shots of arak and drunken falafels.
There comes a time in every backpacking trip when fate reveals herself as a heinous, disagreeable bitch. Like the times when you get locked out of a hostel. Or when your “overnight” bus arrives at 2AM, dropping you off in some rural hinterland of your destination, where every hotel is closed. Or full. Or prohibitively expensive. If there even is a hotel. It’s in times like these that you must be prepared to find alternative means of accommodation…
Below I’ve compiled a list of tried and proven strategies to finding free places to sleep, which I’ve sorted into three categories: 1) Sofa Sequestrations, for which a little planning goes a long way, 2) Hobo Tactics, for those unexpected times when fate leaves you out in the cold, and 3) Rape Whistle Adventures, effective methods not for the faint of heart.
Couchsurfing? Is that like when you go to a stranger’s house and he feeds you dinner and tells you about his city before mercilessly raping you in his dungeon, slicing out your kidney and selling it on the black market?
I mean, no, but some people seem to think so. It’s a shame, really. The truth is that, despite the amount of crime we perceive from the news, the couchsurfing program remains resiliently safe and stands as a beautiful testament to the benevolence of strangers. It’s simply the best option for free accommodation, and if you’re at all skeptical, enlighten yourself by visiting www.couchsurfing.com
2) Stay with family or friends
If you’re afraid of entrusting your safety in the hands of a stranger, try calling up any friends or family members that live in the area, as they’ll be less likely to rape you. You don’t even need to necessarily like them—just smile and nod as Aunt Hilda regales you in hours upon hours of mundane stories about her cats, and voila! You’ve got a free couch (or bed) with your name on it. I usually opt for couchsurfing though, as cat stories are often worse than rape.
3) Lodging from Heaven
If you’re not concerned about the good lord smiting you with fireballs or halitosis, then exploiting organized religion can score you a free crash pad. A slue of monasteries and religious hospices in Europe and Asia offer drab monastic cells to pilgrims and travelers for little or no fee. In exchange, you will be bludgeoned with religious rhetoric and possibly mandated to attend religious sermons (a definite plus in Buddhist or Shinto sites, which are fascinating). Before you go shouting your Halleluiahs!, it’s advisable to ask up front if donations are “suggested,” and if so, just how much. As grand and omnipotent as the lord may be, he’s always puzzlingly short on cash.
4) Sleep in your car
If you’re traveling by car, you needn’t worry about finding cheap accommodation—you’re driving it. Simply park in a rest stop or a dark residential street and swaddle yourself in blankets (a sleeping bag, ideally). If you’re road tripping across the United States, you’re afforded the unspeakable luxury of WalMart parking lots, which happily host weary travelers. As an added benefit, if you need anything in the middle of the night, you’re already parked outside a glowing, 24-hour bastion of climate-controlled restrooms and discounted junk food.
5) Free camping
Camping alongside an isolated road in the woods might sound like a set-up for a bad horror movie, but it’s mostly safe and entirely free. The Federal Government of the United States owns over 191 million acres of National Forests (that’s bigger than Texas), where you can camp free of charge. All you need to do is get to the nearest National Forest, pitch a tent away from the main road, and hope that some hermetic sociopath doesn’t appear in the night to stab out your stomach and fashion it into a hat.
6) Schedule overnight transportation
If you’re trying to cover long distances, you might decide to take a long overnight bus, saving you money on a hotel room, while allowing you an extra day for sightseeing. It sounds like a perfect plan… until it’s three in the morning and you realize that you’re trapped in a steel box with thirty chronic snorers who smell like moldy onions and pig farts. Don’t despair. The remedy to this problem comes in both liquid and pill form, and you can find out more by reading about Tramadol.
7) Sleep in bus stations, train stations, or airports
There are dozens of things I find more enjoyable than trying to sleep in a crowded bus or train station. For example: nailing my thumbs to the sides of my head.
It’s an option that requires minimal effort, sure, but unlike sleeping on the bus, you can’t retreat into the lamprey arms of drugs. If you do so, you will appear to thieves as a comatose buffet of valuables. Vigilance is recommended and damage control is mandatory. Sleep with your bag in a death-grip, with nothing easily accessible. Padlocks and paracord are useful for securing your bag, possibly to your person, possibly to some other immovable object. Try to bunk down in a well-lit and populated area, where other people will hear your delirious cries for help.
8) Sleeping Au Natural
This might well be the shadiest option and should be treated as a last resort. The strategy is simple, however: find an isolated patch of earth removed from public view (a beach, the woods, the shrubbery garden of an office complex, an abandoned garage), and curl up on the ground. Now hold on to your trusty rape whistle and will yourself to sleep, never considering how at any moment you could be eaten by a bear or mugged by drug-addled meth heads (not that a mugger should expect much from someone sleeping in a bush or abandoned building). As long as you’re well hidden, you and your wallet will live to tell the tale. I’ve done it loads of times.
9) Get Drunk and Make Friends
Joe was gone when I awoke the next morning. I was alone on a strange couch in a dusty, unfamiliar room. My head pounded. The harsh midday sun glared through an open window, beyond which a sea of concrete rooftops jostled towards the partition barrier separating Jerusalem from the slums of Palestine’s West Bank. As I squinted hard in the light, I made a strange observation. It appeared that somehow, during my black-out escapades, I had seemingly ‘hopped the fence,’ as I now found myself on the wrong side of the barrier. I was very much in the West Bank…
To this day, I don’t fully know how it happened, but I’ve since pieced together a rough idea. I had unwittingly stumbled upon an exciting method of freeloading: Getting drunk and making new friends. In this case, a Palestinian guy named Moe, who graciously offered his living room to Joe and I. Joe was reticent to follow a drunk stranger into the West Bank at four in the morning. I, however, was too drunk to form thoughts and happily obliged.
In the proceeding years, I’ve developed this sloppy, inebriated tactic into a smooth-running art form. To begin, you should warm up with a few cocktails to eliminate any shyness. When your inhibitions seem like a distant memory, butt into someone else’s conversation. Tact is key. If you succeed in engaging them, remember to smile and give lots of compliments. Buy them a round of something strong. The drunker they are, the more likely they’ll offer you a couch. It’s science. Alcohol brings out the Mother Theresa in everyone. When the conversation turns to your Tourist status, casually state that you don’t have a place to stay yet. Rarely will anyone offer you a couch at this point, so be patient. You’ve merely planted the seeds. Allow them time to grow. Try to encourage a stronger bond of friendship by inviting them to join you on a pub-crawl, or simply join them at their table. Spend time with them and the rest will simply fall into place.
The next thing you know, you might awaken on a couch in Palestine, alarmed, confused and with a splitting headache. Don’t panic; this is a distinguished sign of success.
For more useful tips and tricks on the stressful, aggravating pastime of travel, click on the “Backpackology 101” tab at the top of the page, or just look elsewhere, because clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about.
For more shoestring sage-wisdom, hit up “The Penny-Pincher’s Deplorable Guide to Partying Big While Spending Little,” or “Steve McDonald’s Guide to Getting in Cars with Strangers“
Or check out the “Top Ten Free Vacations”