Frugal travel with Esperanto

By Philip Brewer on 31 July 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 14 comments

Travel presents the classic conundrum: If you have the money you don't have the time, and if you have the time you don't have the money.

You can travel on the cheap if you have friends or relatives that you can stay with. But even if you have some, they probably aren't all over the world, so your options are limited. Suppose, in addition to them, you had another twelve or thirteen hundred friends willing to give you a place to sleep? And suppose they lived in close to 100 different countries? Well, you very nearly do: The Passport Service.

The Passport Service is a book with names and addresses of well over a thousand people (the number varies from year to year) willing to host international guests in their home for free. All you can count on is a place to sleep, but you're reasonably likely to also get a home cooked meal, some tips on places to see and things to do, and very possibly a local guide.

There's a catch, though: the service is provided in Esperanto, and only Esperanto speakers are invited. Fortunately, Esperanto is really easy to learn. Anyone willing to study 30 or 40 minutes a day for a month or two can learn Esperanto well enough to use the Passport Service, even if they've never learned a second language before. It's not a spur-of-the-moment thing, but as I said at the start, this is an idea for people who find themselves in the "time but no money" category.

How it works

Pasporta Servo coverThe key item that you need is the Passport Service (Pasporta Servo in Esperanto) book. In it you'll find names and address with contact information for people willing to host Esperanto speakers for free. You can buy the book for about $25. Alternatively, you can get the book for free if you agree to list your own home in it.

Hosts are allowed to set pretty much any conditions for guests that they want. A lot of hosts say no smokers. Many hosts only have room for one or two guests. Some hosts don't accept guests during certain months of the year. Many only allow guests to stay for one or a few nights. But many others open their homes with few or no restrictions--except that the guests speak Esperanto.

Once you have the book, look through it for people who live in the places you want to visit. Use the contact information to inquire with the details of your planned trip. Some places may be unavailable, but most will be glad to have you. Repeat for as many places as you want to visit. Show up and get free places to sleep.

A free place to sleep is all that's promised, but in fact, you get a lot more. The people who list their homes are people who want to make a connection with foreign travelers. They'll want to spend some time talking with you about your home and your trip. They'll also want to tell you about themselves and the place you're visiting. You might imagine that it would be difficult to have such a conversation in a language you've only been studying for a few weeks, but if you give it a try, you'll be surprised and pleased. Esperanto really is that easy to learn.

Details about pasporta servo

Esperanto organizations in English-speaking countries

Learning Esperanto

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Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm familiar with a fair number of these, but have not seen this one before. Neat find.

Philip Brewer's picture

I've heard mixed stories about some of the other international guesting services. The people in Pasporta Servo have self-selected twice, first by learning Esperanto, and then by listing themselves in the book. You can have some confidence that they really want the sort of contact that having an international visitor brings.

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

I've never heard of Esperanto and wondered what it was. A quick wikipedia search was quite enlightening. Apparently, Esperanto is a language developed in the late 1800s to promote international peace. While no country has adopted it as their official language, there are millions of people who speak it.

Cool beans. Learned something new today. Thanks!

Myscha Theriault's picture

Now that's extra cool . . . good find, Philip!

Philip Brewer's picture

Esperanto was invented with the idea that it would be everyone's second languge. (So, it was never supposed to be the official language of any country, or even anyone's first language--although there are a few people who speak it as a first language, because their parents met through Esperanto and it's the only language they have in common, so they speak it at home.)

To serve its purpose it needed to be easy to learn and politically neutral, and it is those things. In particular, it's easy enough to learn that someone with a little time on their hands can literally learn it well enough in just a month or two to make use of the Pasporta Servo.

Guest's picture

Actually, at the moment I'm just finishing up three months in India, staying with a family I didn't know before meeting them on a website. If you don't want to or don't have time to learn Esperanto (or if you're going somewhere that a language you know is spoken) check out http://www.couchsurfing.com/. It's free to join whether or not you list your home. If you do list, you can always change your mind or your status if you're away for a few weeks, and since it's a website, it's updated instantly. Your hosts may (or may not) ask for some kind of compensation, but it will be a lot cheaper than a hotel.

Guest's picture

I second Alexander's suggestion from above--I've used www.CouchSurfing.com before, both as a host and as a guest, and it's an amazing way to travel on the cheap and make great friends all over the world.

Guest's picture
Guest

I notice you list Esperanto associations in several English-speaking countries, but for some reason have left out Canada. We actually have both English and French-speaking branches here - is that why you excluded us?! ;-)
http://www.esperanto.ca/kea/
http://www.esperanto.qc.ca/en

Philip Brewer's picture

Thanks for fixing my careless oversight!

What actually happened was that I was working off the site statistics that list where the Wise Bread readers are, scanning through the list looking for English speaking countries--but that list didn't include Canada; it just had "north America" as one group.

Guest's picture
Guest

My family has used Pasporta Servo in Germany, Denmark,and the Czech Republic... and we have hosted travelers from Japan, Germany, and Sweden.

In August 1992 we arrived in Ostrava (where we'd never been before) in the Czech Republic to discover that there was no one to greet our bus. Through a misunderstanding our friends were waiting for us at the train station! They didn't have a phone (common in Eastern Europe then), so I didn't have a way to contact them. And I couldn't find anyone around the bus terminal who spoke English, German, French, or Russian (at least no one who would admit to understanding Russian!). My wife and kids and I were tired and hungry. What to do?

Then I remembered the Pasporta Servo guide in my backpack... And found there were 3 "hosts" in Ostrava, including one who lived near the bus station. I phoned her (after figuring out how to use the pay phone with instructions only in Czech!), and she came and got us and fed us and put us up for the night. She also arranged for another Esperanto-speaking friend to collect us at her flat in the morning and act as guide/translator to get us on the right bus to our friends' village just outside Ostrava.

It sure worked for us! (some of the above is lifted from a posting on Rick Steves's website from 4 years ago; it's late and I'm tired and wanted to save some typing! ;-) )

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

What a great idea, especially for a Professional Hobo like myself!

I'll be sure to put Esperanto on my list of things to learn to facilitate easier travel.

Thanks, Philip! 

Guest's picture
Rosita

Hey everyone!

I have some questions on Esperanto, and I´d be greatful if someone could give me some answers.... I´m not sure if this is the correct place to ask these questions but I´ll give it a try :-)
(I am passionate about languages and this one especially, just that I don´t have the time to learn one more- for the moment!)

I was wondering where can one learn esperanto if living in Brussels or in Paris, for instance? Or in other European countries? Is it easy? Are there schools where teachers give grammar lessons? And if you want to learn from books, how can you learn the correct pronounciation for words?

Are there books written in esperanto? And are there some famous classics that have been translated into esperanto?

I´ve heard the Esperantists´ (do you say that?) lobby in Brussels is quite strong, yet extremely selective... and by that I mean that they don´t easily accept "non-esperantists" among them. Is this true? How can one get more first-hand information on the Esperantists without first being kindly introduced to the ones who speak it?

Thanks a lot! And happy Easter for everyone!

Philip Brewer's picture

I would say that the two places to start are lernu.net (where you can learn over the internet) and your own country's national organization (which can put you in touch with any local group in your area and will probably have textbooks and other learning materials for sale).

There is also the international Esperanto organization UEA (Universala Esperanto-Asocio).  Its website has links to the major national organizations organized by language--useful especially for finding the national organization of the country that you're in when it isn't your own country.  (For example, it has this French-language page with Esperanto organizations in Belgium and this one with Esperanto organizations in France.)

To answer your other questions: 

Yes, Esperanto is very easy to learn, compared with other national languages--its grammar is small and perfectly regular (no exceptions to learn) and its vocabulary is also small (but it includes a powerful system of word formation that lets you combine words and endings to say whatever you want to say).

In particular, Esperanto is so easy to learn, it's actually possible to learn it from a book.  The pronunciation is straightforward--each letter has just one sound and is always pronounced.  I learned Esperanto almost entirely from books and pronounce things pretty well (I've been told).

There is a great deal of literature in Esperanto, both translations from other languages and originally written in Esperanto--many thousands of novels, stories, essays, articles, plays, songs, poems, and so on.  Of particular note is the "East-West Series" which since the 1960s has been alternately translating a great work of Eastern literature and Western literature each year, but the range of translations is both broad and deep.  (For example, there are three different translations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)

There has been a push to advance Esperanto as a language for the EU (which could save a fortune on translation costs).  In my own experience, Esperantists are very friendly to people who show any interest in learning Esperanto.  There are some who think that the best way to learn Esperanto is to actually use it (and will therefore jump right in using Esperanto from the very beginning), but they're not doing it to exclude people.)

I'd be very pleased to answer any further questions you've got about Esperanto, either hear or by email.  (You can find my email address on the contact page of my personal website.)  I'm always pleased to hear from people interested in Esperanto.

Guest's picture

Just a quick additional comment to let anyone who comes across this great blog entry that LiveMocha (http://www.livemocha.com) now has free, great, multimedia driven Esperanto lessons.
Just started my first lesson, and am loving it.
A great way to learn Esperanto.