You save money and meet locals - but is couchsurfing right for everyone? Guest author and world traveler Claudia weighs in.
I heard some great stories, and was ready to find out what it was all about. I was ready for some bad experiences too, and those were not missed. Indeed, I have had my share of good and bad experiences, where the bad was so bad that I have even wondered if couchsurfing was for me at all!
A bit of a bumpy start...
So many replied to my requests not only offering a couch, but sleazily adding in a glass of wine, a romantic dinner, and even a massage. I ignored their offers and reported them to couchsurfing. (Note from Vanessa: Smart girl! Don't just ignore the sleazy things you see online - report them to the appropriate authorities.)
Two perfect hosts... and new friends.
My good experience in Rome did not end there, though. The same night I arrived in Rome, I got caught in a huge thunderstorm. That's when Luca, another guy who had offered to host me, came to rescue me from the rain. I had a lovely chat with him, and we've been friends since, so much so that any time I go to Rome I make it a point to meet him.
Could couchsurfing be the perfect fit?
I would say a good 99% of them were from men who, again, thought of using couchsurfing as a dating site. I screened all the offers, and eventually accepted Francisco's one to stay at his place in Santiago. He seemed like a really nice person, we had chatted a few times and he had some really good reviews on couchsurfing.
It all goes downhill
I eventually made it to his place, and that's when he told me he did not wake up. I thought it was weird, but decided not to mind. It did not take me long to realize his place was a total disaster. Dirty dishes, garbage everywhere - it just looked like it had not been cleaned in months, and would have been a great fit for one of those reality TV shows such as "How Clean is Your Home?"
Francisco never gave any indication of where I would sleep. I was exhausted after the bus ride, but I took a shower in the filthy bathroom and went out. I got back home to find a fully blown party in the tiny apartment. I felt really at odds with the others, as it looked like the party would eventually lead to a night of sex. And I wasn't there for that! I came up with a lame excuse and decided to pick up my backpack and look for a hostel, in the middle of the night.
Then there was Julia, a single mother living in Montevideo, and I eventually decided to stay at her place, despite my initial reluctancy. Julia was the perfect host, so much so that I did not feel like a guest but more like an old friend. We had some interesting conversations that helped me understand the culture and way of life of Uruguay. We walked around with Helena, her adorable 3 year old daughter; I helped them planning their trip to Europe this coming summer (when I also hope to see her again); I showed a bit of my culture and cooking skills by preparing a lovely dinner, and I shared my bed with their cat Feli. Just like at home!
Is couchsurfing right for you?
With time, I have learned that it is important to set some really strict boundaries and present oneself in a clear way, leaving no possibility for misunderstanding, and I have learned how to use the system to find the perfect hosts. It takes a bit of experience to learn how to screen the various couchsurfing offers and read between the lines of each profile to find who can become a good host and a great friend. All in all, I think that used in the right way, couchsurfing is a great way to travel on a budget, to meet the locals and to live like a local.
Meet our guest writer!
TurnipseedTravel's top couchsurfing tips.
1.) Try couchsurfing for the first time in a city that you are already familiar with, just like Claudia did in Rome. Don't take on too much at once - it's hard to adjust to a new city, language, currency, AND a new system of accommodations all at once! Alternatively, spend night 1 in a familiar setting, like a chain hotel, while you get over jet lag and get oriented to the city, and then start couchsurfing on night 2.
2.) Chose a property that is on a public transportation route. Otherwise, the cost of commuting will negate the savings of your free bed. Plus, if you have to leave in the middle of the night, like Claudia once did, you'll have a way to get out.
3.) One of Claudia's best tips is to do your homework and be a clear communicator. Have comprehensive contact information for your host and don't rely on a casual arrangement to be picked up at the station.
4.) Sometimes things don't work out. Always have a back up plan, even if it's just enough space on your credit card so you can book yourself into hotel for the night while you come up with a new plan.
5.) Know that couchsurfing isn't an 'all or nothing' commitment. There's nothing wrong with couchsurfing for just a few nights and then using your savings for a travel splurge, like a deluxe hotel. It's all about finding the right balance between savings, comfort, and experiences.
Have you ever couchsurfed? What advice do you have for others?
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