Couchsurfing is a budget traveler’s best friend; it is sleeping on a strangers couch for a period of time while in a different country. It is defiantly a unique form of accommodation, and creates some of the best or worst memories abroad. Through the couchsurfing site, people can create profiles, which resemble Facebook. Here they list who they are, their interests, languages they speak, countries they’ve visited, people can also add friends and be a part of groups. Yet, the most used feature of this site is to search for people who are willing to host travelers in their home.
While this concept might seem a little strange, it can save hundreds on travel expenses. In Europe the average cost of a hotel is around $100 per night, taking a vacation for 2 weeks suddenly has a base cost of $1400. Being able to save all of that money allows for that $1400 to be used in a different way, eating at nicer restaurants, indulging in more expensive sight seeing, maybe even shopping. It sounds like the perfect way to travel; the only downside is you are staying with a complete stranger.
Humans are very interesting in general, now applying this to sharing accommodation with someone you have never met, makes couchsurfing comparable to playing roulette. It is one of the best ways to meet locals, practice a new language, and cuts more costs because usually guests can use the kitchen to cook instead of going out to eat. Each time that I have stayed a strangers house, I always had the opportunity to experience new activities that I would never have imagined myself doing.
When I was backpacking in Europe last year, after staying with my relatives in Germany I went to visit my friend in Madrid, however on a whim she decided to go to a concert in England, leaving me homeless, luckily for me through the couchsurfing site there was a group of people from Portugal renting out an apartment in Madrid and invited me to stay there with them for 3 days. During this time, they cooked for me; they brought me to restaurants and bars that no tourists have discovered.
Being in Europe during this time would have been a dream for anyone interested in the European soccer league. The rival teams of Real Madrid and Barcelona FC were fighting for the championship title. Without even realizing it, I was in Madrid while this game was going on, my couchsurfing hosts from Portugal told me they were taking me to a sports bar to see the game. Little did I realize how big of deal this game really was, practically the entire city was shut down to watch the sports match. Yet, the biggest surprise was seeing how Madrid reacted when Real Madrid won.
I have been to Dublin on St. Patrick’s day, and the party to celebrating the winning team was huge. So many of the streets were shut down, everyone was drinking, a massive concert was held in the city center. I have never seen so many ecstatic people running around a city so full of joy. If I didn’t stay with this group of guys, I would have never been able to experience such an extraordinary event. After leaving Europe I developed an interest in European soccer and now I am especially glad that I had the opportunity to go there and be a part of it.
Outside of asking for places to stay there are also many groups that connect communities of people around the world. I turned to one of these groups for help because I wanted to go back to the Dominican Republic for a little while but hoped to live in another part of the island and work at a hostel. Prior to reaching out this couchsurfing group, I had searched and found no leads, and was getting really discouraged that I wouldn’t be able to return because I didn’t have enough money to rent an apartment. I created a post and within a day I was connected with the manager for a hostel and was employed. Outside of that message so many people messaged me saying that they could help me and knew of places to stay. All around the world there are groups on couchsurfing for different events, and they are a great way to make connections.
After getting situated working for the hostel in the Caribbean, I was sitting around the living room with my coworkers, and we were all talking about our couchsurfing experience’s. This is where I learned that couchsurfing is the ‘tinder’ of the travel world. As something I would never assume, I learned that some people offer accommodation to who they are attracted too. Some of my coworkers had stayed with random people from the site for really long periods of times, sometimes they had dated their hosts, other times became friends, and really anything is possible because of the site. Most people have fantastic experiences, it takes like-minded people who are crazy enough to let strangers into their home and to stay at a random persons homes. Usually stories of couchsurfing are really positive, however some of them are unusual or disastrous events.
There are things that you can do to avoid really bad situations before you stay at someone’s house. First of all it is a good idea to check out their social media, make sure they seem normal, and talk to them for a while, and get a feel for their personality. Because couchsurfing is so interpersonal compared to hotels, finding accommodation is a lot more stressful due to the fact that plans can so easily change. The host last minute can say that they can no longer provide accommodation or their home could look a lot different in person than how it was described online. Many hosts and couchsurfers have reviews on the site, but meeting someone in person is a lot different than meeting online. Be captious, always be prepared for the worst, and have a back up plan of a hotel just incase something happens.
Saying all of this, strange things happen when people couchsurf, while nothing awful has ever happened to me, you can probably imagine some of the colourful and awful situations people have gotten into.
The worst that ever happened to me was in Spain, when I was searching for a place to stay because my friend last minute was traveling to England for a concert. There was a man that saw I was looking for a host, and he decided to offer me a place to stay, which was really nice. However, after talking to him I realized that he had a very unusual job, he was a cameraman. Yet he specialized in shooting for a porn company. Not only was this his career, but he told me that he worked from home. As you can imagine, I declined his offer to sleep at his apartment.
Other people I have talked to have told me stories about the strangest and weirdest people they have come across. One girl I’ve met came across a catfish of the traveling world. In Europe she was expecting to stay with a white women who turned out to be an Indian man. She said he was still a really nice person, yet it was concerning that he was using a fake account to get people to stay at his house. Usually the issues with couchsurfing are similar to typical roommate problems but amplified because both parties are strangers. Problems of cleanliness, social norms, and political and religious views are often areas of potential conflict. As I previously said, people use couchsurfing as a dating app, the only difference is that using the site to find love is like tinder on steroids. My coworker stayed at male hosts’ house for a week and he was really attracted to her but she didn’t have romantic feelings for him at all, which made for a very uncomfortable experience. Even if people don’t have social problems with each other, if you are really neat and your host is a hoarder, this can cause issues. One of the worst stories I’ve been told is of a female who stayed with at a man’s home, he lied about having an extra bed and his house smelled awful. For some reason the girl decided to stay at his place and sleep in the same bed as him, but was less than enthusiastic to wake up to find him watching her sleep.
Couchsurfing is a risk but the connections that can be made through the app can be incredible. It is possible to find a place to stay, save money, experience love, make new friends, and maybe even get a job just by messaging strangers and asking them to host you. Remember to be smart about who you offer your home to and who you decide to stay with, because humans are very interesting creatures.