During my first incarnation in Inverness, I signed up to Global Freeloaders, a free accommodation network for travellers. It’s a simple idea – you search for the place you are aiming to stay in, find a list of local people, read up on the descriptions of themselves and their accommodation, and drop them a line to see if you can stay with them.

Such things must sound a bit scary to some people, either as hosts or guests. And while you can never totally legislate against axe-murderers, the idea really seems to work. Such sites always tend to attract a certain type of person – internationalist, easy-going, friendly, trusting, and up for new experiences. And with the ability in these sorts of sites to leave honest testimonials of people you meet through them, they’re very self-regulating.

Over the course of a couple of years or so, I hosted loads of people in my flat, from all over the world (although Aussies, hobos that they are, featured strongly). It was a great way to meet people from different countries, and proudly show off Inverness to them. For them, it was a chance to see more of the “real” Scotland and its people than the typical (and expensive) tourist trail might normally allow.

I hosted an eclectic bunch of people over time, all of whom were polite and respectful guests, and most of whom had amazing stories to tell. Many had travelled the world themselves and lived incredible lives. I recall one guy, a seventy-something who’d lost his family and self-made millions to alcoholism and now lived in a wooden shack in the middle of nowhere in darkest rural USA: the last person I could have imagined getting on with, but he was fascinating and easy-going company. I am still in touch with many freeloaders, including some I stayed with in turn when on my own travels.

However, partly through moving to Glasgow and partly through the site being less than easy to use and the traffic to Inverness seemingly drying up, I decided to leave it.

The other day, though, I signed up to another example of an accommodation exchange network site, Couchsurfing, on the recommendation of a number of friends (including another ex-Global Freeloader). It’s a much better site – more interactive, more information about people, and a generally livelier and more reassuring feel to it. Plus now I am back in my old flat, I have the space/freedom to take in who I like.

I got my first request just this evening. Perhaps an indication of many more to come?

If nothing else, it will be an incentive to get the flat tidied.

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