Would you be willing to stay with strangers? And is there a hidden cost?
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I never thought I’d use Couchsurfing.com.
Nut when everything was booked in Rome, I had to do what I had to do.
If you’re considering setting up a Couchsurfing profile to travel free, here’s what you need to know.
Be warned: some situations may be a little uncomfortable. They could have probably been avoided had I not been so young, so reckless and so naive.
Hopefully, you learn from my mistakes and have the experience of your life!
The Chinese Bikers
The thought of using Couchsurfing never crossed my mind until I met two brave Chinese women who visited us as guest speakers during my time as an event coordinator on the Programming and Diversity Board while in community college.
As part of our training, we received these two guest speakers who traveled throughout Latin America on bicycles — all the way up to my little town of Bellingham, Washington.
Even crazier: they exclusively stayed with Couchsurfing hosts.
At the time, I thought staying with strangers was naive and dangerous. You never know who you are going to stay with, right? Nobody wants to end up sliced into pieces, stuffed in a suitcase when traveling!
But, I reframed my Couchsurfing interpretation: if you can survive living in a room full of bunks (sometimes up to 12 beds in one room, with one bathroom as I did in Miami…yikes!) with complete strangers in hostels, then surely you can survive a stay with Couchsurfing hosts.
The seed was planted in my mind, but I never pursued it until my money was running low while my travel addiction was running high.
Couchsurfing.com is a great place to meet like-minded travelers who understand the journey and the desire to explore the world. Many of those who start out surfing turn to hosting (like me! I plan on hosting travelers in the future — if I ever stay still). Couchsurfing’s profile creation is simple — there’s even an app.
Setting up your Couchsurfing profile is easy. All you have to do is:
- Add a quick little blurb
- Upload some photos (I suggest adding 3 or more. You are essentially creating a “portfolio” of yourself — by adding multiple photos, you are communicating trust to potential hosts).
While I was studying in Belgium and had a two-week spring break, I bought some dirt-cheap tickets to Romania, Rome, Ibiza, and finally, Barcelona. I simply created a “public trip” by selecting the dates of my travels and locations, and the offers came flooding in.
I got about five offers per destination (tons in Barcelona and upwards of 20 invitations in London) — the ability to choose between hosts is fantastic.
Keep in mind: Couchsurfing is best for short stays. If you’re planning on doing more fast travel rather than slow travel, Couchsurfing is for you. Couchsurfing is especially advantageous if you are planning on visiting more expensive cities and destinations.
Prior to my Italian spring break, I was set on staying in hostels. In fact, they were all under $15 per night except one place: Rome! Since it was a last-minute trip, almost everything was booked. There were only two or three options available, all around $40.
I just wasn’t willing to splurge on that — at the time, that was a lot of money (and, admittedly, I’m very cheap. Or am I just great at saving money?). So, I decided to set up a Couchsurfing profile. All from the ease of my iPod. Yes, I created the account to avoid spending those $40, but the warmth and hospitality I later received (despite the creepy situations I talk about later) kept me attached.
My experience was unforgettable in Rome as a Couchsurfing virgin at the time. I landed in the Eternal City and sniffed out a WiFi connection (which, at this time, was rare to find in Rome) from the station to inform the host I arrived.
Everything was set! It was a little inconvenient because the host wasn’t available until after 6 pm, so I walked around and explored the city on my own — backpack in hand — until he was free. But honestly, this was no biggie. This is the fact of Couchsurfing: you’re the guest, so you play by the host’s rules and schedule. Be prepared for minor inconveniences.
We met in one of Rome’s upscale neighborhoods, where he rented apartments on Airbnb. He gave me a tour of the place and then from there we cruised off to explore Roma!
A major advantage of Couchsurfing: your host is local. They know the ins and outs of the city. They’re usually able to immerse you in their true culture and enlighten you of cool spots that you may miss without their local expertise.
We weaved through cobblestone streets in his little Fiat (which almost gave me a heart attack) and bounced from the Trevi Fountain, to the Pantheon, to the Colosseum, and finally finished up with an aperitivo (which is a pre-dinner drink typically served with buffet style snacks. In other words, the best thing in the world)!
From there, returned to his house where I stayed on the comfy couch. A lot more comfortable than the majority of the hostel beds I have stayed in.
Since the host worked in the daytime, I had plenty of time to explore the city alone, which was nice.
To find out about my uncomfortable Couchsurfing experiences, read the following story:
- Skills Needed: None. Well…maybe a bit of open-mindedness and flexibility.
- Hours Per Week: None.
- Requirements and Restrictions: Required to set up an account on Couchsurfing.com (note that Couchsurfing is no longer free and requires a fee of 1.99 EUR monthly or 13.99 EUR annually)
- Location: Worldwide.
Couchsurfing is a great way to travel free (although you may encounter awkward experiences). To avoid uncomfortable experiences, be sure to vet your hosts. Keep an open mind, set up an interesting profile, and enjoy the journey!
For more in-depth information on how to travel for next to nothing, consider ordering my book.
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