When I first heard about couch surfing I was fascinated and sceptical at the same time. Couch surfing is the act of signing up on what is a private hospitality exchange site called couchsurfing.com where travelers can find free accomodation on a stranger's couch or spare room while traveling.
Your first thought might - but shouldn't be - it's free accomodation and convenient. Though it is much more than that.
What's the hype?
Well, budget travelers can save loads of money and live with locals, which enables them to be up close and see how they're actually living.
It's meeting new international friends, connecting with and learning from locals, experiencing a foreign place in a different perspective. You just simply cannot compare being on holiday spending your time exploring on your own with a map with directly being involved with locals.
Thanks to the wonderful site, couchsurfing.com, it is easy to see who seems like an experienced host, who seems reliable due to references. You can choose from many locals, female or male, or both if they're roommates. You can read about their home, send them a message for more information, settle agreements.
Couch surfing hosts in theory, are experienced travelers, interesting and very open minded and understanding people. They're sociable and out to help you out. Hosts may take you out to local hangouts, provide you with restaurant recommendations, etc. In my opinion that is so much better than any travel guide.
Now couch surfing is not for everyone, and with everything else in life, there are less great things about it.
Not everything will be to your liking so you have to be open minded and understanding yourself.
You might experience some culture shock, so just be prepared.
If you like to spend time alone, sleep alone, would rather have a single room in a hotel, do your own thing and have your own space, couch surfing might not be for you.
Under the host's roof, you will have to follow their rules and be respectful of their conditions. You might not be able to come and leave as you please as they probably won't give you keys and have work and appointments on their own.
It CAN get weird and you will have to listen to your gut. If you're feeling uncomfortable, uneasy or scared, get out. It's better to not go out and stay with someone on your own. Do travel in pairs, that would be the best deal, really. Do not get yourself into a situation you cannot get out of, screw politeness if your gut screams at you.
It may get harder to score a host if it's peak season for general tourism in your destination but friendly hosts will provide you a place to stay, even if you send a request 72 hours prior to your arrival.
It might get harder for you to find a host if you're new to it and lack references. It's just something typical as judging a book by its cover. But no worries, there are enough hosts out there who would gladly take you in for a night or two or a week.
The thing about the hosts is, they want to do you good, help you out, on the other hand they also do it for themselves, to meet new people, share travel stories and experiences. They're sharing their house or apartment with you, letting you "invade" their most personal space. They have trust for you, it's not the question whether they would steal something from you in your sleep, I mean they could fear the same thing the other way around.
How my first time looked like
Lu Ann and I started looking for hosts almost two months prior to our arrival in London and we completed our profile to look good to the hosts, then sent out couch requests. Half of the hosts we reached out to didn't react at all, the other half declined because we had picked the Easter holidays when most people wanted to go away or spend the days with their family or simply had other plans.
We posted a thread in the forum, desperate and scared that we wouldn't find a host in time. We worried for nothing - enough people contacted us after seeing our thread and we were able to choose from multiple options.
We had two different hosts because our first host could only host us for the first two days. He gave us his bed as we slept on a mattress on the ground. He was very flexible and helped us tremendously by giving us advice on how to get somewhere. Sometimes locals just know better than travel guides.
Our second host was older and talkative, really friendly and experienced in that kind of field. He had many travel stories to tell and let us sleep in his living room on mattresses on the ground. At first he actually offered to sleep next to him in his bed (wait, what?) because another couch surfer was already fast asleep and we didn't want to startle her. We were so put off, we had no idea what to do. Maybe it's a normal thing to do as a couch surfer but how would we know, it was our first time!
We did end up sleeping in the living room that night because we spoke up and told him we felt uncomfortable and, like, really uneasy about that offer. Luckily he acted accordingly and there was no similar problem after that.
What put us off as well was his greeting at the beginning when we first met at the bus station where he picked us up – he shook our hand and then kissed us on the cheek. We did NOT see that coming. But maybe he'd adapted it from former travel experiences, who knows. From that, we learned that it's okay to speak up if you're not okay with something. Or leave.
Luckily the hosts have been extremely understanding. Especially because we were not very experienced.
Do you have any more questions? What did your first couch surfing experience look like? What do you think about couch surfing? Do tell me in the comments!
Until then stay safe,