May 13th, 2020
If your savings were only enough to cover food and flights, would you still go? Travel is expensive, but because of its life-enriching qualities it’s something we often pursue regardless of the cost. But crashing on a strangers’ couch for free comes at a price of its own…
I spent one year in the USA where I worked as an au pair in Seattle. During that time I had the opportunity to travel within the country, but with a $200 weekly stipend it was far from glamorous.
My first experience with Couchsurfing was when I did a California Coast road trip with two friends. They were also au pairs, or ‘au poors‘ as we liked to call ourselves. We wouldn’t have been able to pay for ten nights’ accommodation, so we agreed to use Couchsurfing on some days to stretch our budget a little.
Along the way we got to spend two days paddle boarding on New Port Harbor where we basically had a three bedroom house to ourselves. We made friends with real life tree huggers in Santa Cruz, who keeps an emergency stash of cannabis behind a family portrait (it was still in place when we left).We had a home cooked Brazilian feast after getting the worst sunburn on the white beaches of Monterey. That was all great, but then we also spent a night sharing one mattress in a DJ’s man-cave in San Diego, where I saw people take hard drugs right in front of me for the first time in my life. Yikes!
Couchsurfing is like blind dates: sometimes it exceeds your expectations and other times you want to run for the hills. But the nice thing about a blind date is that it’s (usually) in public, which makes it easier to get out should things go south. We were lucky as nothing bad happened to us during the entire trip.
To thank our hosts, we cooked them the best instant pasta we could afford. None of them expected anything other than that, so our small thankful gesture went a long way – from San Francisco to San Diego!
Would I recommend Couchsurfing? It depends. The important thing is to know yourself, have good judgement and be alert at all times – qualities most travelers can identify with. Would I do it again? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that I take the experience for granted.
Here are some tips for those who would consider it:
- What don’t you want? Look for obvious signs of things you won’t be comfortable with and avoid that. For example would you stay with a single person, a male or female, a family… if it doesn’t suit your preferences, don’t even bother sending a request.
- What do you want? Be clear about the purpose of your travels and what kind of person you are. Are you okay with an actual couch or do you want a bed? Is privacy important to you? Are you happy to spend some time with who you’ll be staying or will you mostly be out and about doing your own thing?
- First impressions: Be alert when you arrive and ask as many questions as you need to feel like you can trust this person and feel comfortable in their house before you go to sleep.
- Location: Let your friends know where you are – sharing your live location is not a bad idea.
- Communication: Remember that you’re also a stranger in this situation, so make sure your host has an idea of what your plans are so that they know when to expect you at the house, how long you’ll be staying etc. so they also feel like they can trust you. Invite them along if they seem interested in your plans, that way you have someone to show you around as well!
- Show gratitude: Some people literally expect nothing, but you’ll feel better if you say thank you in some way. Ask what they like to drink and bring it with you, or offer to budge in for dinner.
- Don’t judge: Although this concept seems suspicious in many ways, most people do it purely for the sake of cultural exchange.
Couchsurfing isn’t completely free, as there are many things you need to take into consideration and sometimes you even need to make sacrifices, but I believe that if you can be smart about it, it’s a risk that’s worth taking.
Travel challenges us to get to know ourselves better and it’s experiences like this that teaches us the most. We owe it to ourselves to be a little flexible sometimes.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Couchsurfing! Let me know if you’ve done it before and how you liked it 🙂
Thanks for reading! Connect with me on Instagram @forevernadsabroad and let’s share experiences.