Dear Woman on the Road,

By the time you get this I should be on the last leg of a month-long backpacking trip to Panama. And while there's no such thing as a free lunch - there may well be such a thing as a free couch! That's right. There are several new (and not so new) organizations dedicated to matching travelers to couches, and at times even beds, for free. I for one will be trying this out in Panama, making new friends and saving money to boot.

The couchsurfing process is simple: go to one of the sites, search, check references, email, and book. And that's usually it! On some sites, you'll need to reciprocate by providing a spare couch or bed of your own for the occasional backpacker who might alight in your neighborhood. Obviously the more people there are who offer rooms, the better the system works.

I've signed up with several groups, although no one has taken me up on my offer yet. That's the problem with living in France - so many other people do that travelers are spoilt for choice. Still, I don't despair - one of these days my very own Couchsurfer or Guest will saunter up the road with her backpack, and halfway around the world, I'll eventually do the same.

This monthly ezine, Women on the Road News, keeps you informed of what's new on and in the big broad world of women's solo backpacking. I send it out on the first Tuesday of each month.

Women on the Road News: Contents for Issue #3

  1. 8 Rules of Couchsurfing Etiquette
  2. New on the Website
    • Travel Personal Hygiene Tips
    • Teaching English Abroad
    • Travel Advice on Money
  3. Travel Book Review
  4. Campaign of the month
  5. Next month's topic

8 Rules of Couchsurfing Etiquette

Why stay in a hotel when you can benefit from couchsurfing? And benefit you can. It's not just about money, although that helps. Mostly it's about the experience. By staying in someone's home, you'll get a glimpse into local culture that you can't get from a bland hotel cubicle. You may try new foods or drinks, and your hosts will be happy to share information about their favorite haunts or attractions. So much better than a guidebook, don't you think?

There's nothing to it, but if you decide to take the plunge, there are a few rules that might help smooth your first - and future - couchsurfing adventures.

1. Play it safe.
That's right. These schemes are quite safe but that's because most have a rating system. Use it to find families or other women 'couch hostesses'.

2. Bring a small gift.
If you're staying more than one night, bring a little something. Even a postcard of your city, a fridge magnet or some homegrown candy will do the trick.

3. Keep it clean.
Remember, you're in someone's house. Treat theirs like you would like them to treat yours.

4. Offer to cook a meal.
Hospitality is about exchange. Someone is sharing their culture with you. You could share a bit back - what better than your grandmother's favorite recipe? If you can't cook, offer to do a small chore - as though you were part of the family.

5. Know what you're getting into.
The best way to avoid problems is to know the rules. Make sure your hosts have the same attitude to alcohol, drugs and tobacco as you do.

6. Don't stand them up.
You'll have to coordinate your first meeting - where, when, how. Be on time. Make sure you have a phone number you can call if you're delayed.

7. Be open-minded.
Travel is about learning to live with diversity. If you're averse to certain lifestyles, read the profiles carefully. Once you're a guest, act like one, and adapt to the household.

8. Apply the Golden Rule.
Do unto others - and this follows clearly from Rule 7. If you're a guest, behave like you'd like others to. If you're a hostess - the same.

You'll find out more about free couch surfing and other hospitality exchange schemes on the Women on the Road website.

What's New: Women on the Road Website

Travel Personal Hygiene Tips

Maintaining proper personal hygiene is key to staying safe in the tropics, where heat helps bacteria multiply and medical care may be more than a stone's throw away. Don't let a yeast infection or getting your period make travel any more difficult than it should be.

Teaching English Abroad

With more than a billion people wanting to learn English at any given time, it's no wonder this is market is wide open for native English-language speakers. It's not as easy as it used to be, but with a bit of planning, teaching English abroad is a great way to earn while you travel.

Travel Advice on Money

Planning the trip of a lifetime doesn't happen overnight, and a bit of travel advice on money might help you figure out how much that trip is going to cost and what you can expect to pay in different parts of the world.

Book Review

A Woman's Passion for Travel: True Stories of World Wanderlust (2004)
Published by Travelers' Tales
Edited by Marybeth Bond and Pamela Michael

If you're sitting around wondering when your next trip will be, this book could be dangerous! It's filled with short shorts, a style I don't usually like but in this case I'll make more than an exception. The writers are the absolute cream of the crop, like Anne Lamott (author of that writers' bible, Bird by Bird) and Frances Mayes (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame). Their stories have something for everyone, from rekindling an old love on a South Pacific island to tracking mountain gorillas in Africa. If one story doesn't get you, the next one will. One of them may even make you pack your backpack.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Campaign of the Month

Imagine this. You're sitting in your airplane seat high above the Sahara Desert, blissfully reading a guidebook, wondering what your photo safari or camel race across the sand will be like, when.... bzzzzzz!

"Hello darling!"
"Where are you?"
"I'm not sure, exactly! Above... let me see... Excuse me (he leans over me to look out the window). Over the desert, somewhere, I think!"
"Oh, that's lovely! You must have such a perfect view!"
"Oh, yes, I do, and the flight is nice and smooth. And quiet."
You get the picture.
Such scintillating conversation. I care so much. Who are these people??

Several airlines are moving ahead with plans to introduce cell phone service on their flights, in Australia, the Middle East and the UK. And that's just the beginning. Yet even business flyers don't want the service. Most of them - 61% - are against cells in the sky, according to a global survey by Carlson Wagonlit, the international travel company.

Welcome to this month's campaign. If you feel we're bombarded by enough noise and that inflight is our last resort for escape from daily life, think again. Soon you may be just a phone call away, wherever you're flying.

We might still be able to stop it. Airlines want money, but they also want customers. If enough people oppose the use of cell phones inflight, they may rethink it.

The UK-based newspaper, the Guardian, has launched an online petition to ban cellphones in the sky. If enough of us sign up, the airlines may rethink this!

It's worth a try, isn't it?

Next Month

The Perfect Packing Process: what to take and what to leave behind. My first full backpack weighed nearly 30 kilos (66 lb) - I couldn't lift it. A year later, it weighed just 11 kg. Over time, I learned how to weed out the unnecessary, and keep only the essential. Find out how I did it, what I took, and what I eventually left behind.

Editor's EndNote...

Please keep your comments coming. This newsletter should add to your travel enjoyment by giving you tips and ideas on how to travel better, further, more cheaply and more enjoyably. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, let me know and I'll do my best. Either Reply to this email, or contact me here.

Happy travels, Leyla