Four Simple Ways Couchsurfing Has Changed the Way I Travel

If you read Rob’s post last week on making friends while traveling, then you probably knew this was coming. We had a friendly little anti-Couchsurfer vs. pro-Couchsurfer debate in the comment section, and as a result, this post was born.

I am really lucky that like Rob, I have made an extensive network of international friends after all these years of traveling. It really is a beautiful thing to feel at home and welcome in so many different places. Some of these friends I have met randomly, others through friends of friends, but it is Couchsurfing that has been responsible for some of the best friendships I have formed while traveling. Not only have I made more friends this way, but I’d say it is also responsible for pushing my boundaries as a solo female traveler. It has completely changed the way I travel and yes, literally changed my life. Here is how:

1. I feel safer

Rolling up to an unknown city can be scary, especially at odd hours and to seedy train and bus stations that are sometimes nowhere close to the center. Just about every host I’ve had has made it a point to meet me wherever I get dropped off and the ones who weren’t able to always go above and beyond to make sure I get to their place. It’s not even just when I arrive to a new city with a host lined up that I feel safer (except the Chisinau incident), it’s the entire time I am there. I know if I get lost or anything goes wrong, I can just give my hosts a call and they can help me out. The feeling that I am not entirely alone because I have a contact there, whether I am staying at their place or have planned to meet up with them for a drink, is the most comforting feeling as a solo female traveler.

2. I make friends…with “real” locals

The best part of Couchsurfing for me has indeed been making friends, great friends, in most of the places I have traveled to since I started doing this back in 2009. Before that I would meet a few locals (probably “plastic”) here and there, but a majority of my interactions were with other travelers staying at the same hostel or hanging out at the same touristy bar we were all recommended. Unless you are lingering around somewhere for weeks or even months, then I think this is pretty typical. If you only have a couple nights in a city and you want to spend it with someone who lives there and really knows the place, I think Couchsurfing is your best option.

Whether or not you actually connect with these people is not always a sure thing, but that comes down to the profile research you do beforehand and the kinds of hosts you end up contacting. Most importantly, it comes down to YOU. If it takes you a while to open up or you wouldn’t be cool ending up on moldy couch even though it didn’t look like a moldy couch in the photo, then yes, Couchsurfing may be your biggest nightmare. Life is full of surprises, traveling full of even more.

3. I do cooler things

Have you ever seen tours advertised to go hang out in a movie studio in Kiev? Have lunch at the largest Hare Krishna center in Ukraine? Have a Bosnian teach you how to make burek in Sarajevo while hearing stories of what it was like to grow up in a war? Watch a Latvian rock band rehearse in a tiny village in the countryside and then party with them after? In every city you can find a “pub crawl”, but can you find a “club crawl” organized exclusively for you and by one of the city’s biggest DJs?

I never noticed such tours but was lucky enough to have experienced all these things because my Couchsurfing hosts were awesome. Staying in someone’s home as opposed to just meeting them out makes you bond a lot faster and exposes you to opportunities such as say going to work or school with them one day or being invited over to their parents’ house for a good home cooked meal. These kinds of experiences are the reason I travel and are ones I have only encountered when Couchsurfing.

4. I get opportunities

What does that mean? Here are two solid examples:

First is from 2009 when I was in Warsaw. I stayed with a couple who happened to live with a guy who was a teacher at one of the city’s largest English schools. We got to chatting and I mentioned that I had been looking for a job (more specifically, a visa) to be able to stay in Europe and work. He said he would talk to the human resource department at the school and a day later I had an interview set up. Interview went well and I got offered a position to teach there plus they said they would help me sort out a visa. Unfortunately in the end I wasn’t able to accept it, but the point is I could be living in Poland right now.

Second example is from just a little over a year ago. I needed to find an internship and quick somewhere in Europe so I contacted all the people I met through Couchsurfing in Ukraine with a mass email asking if they had any ideas because I really wanted to do one there. One of my friends immediately responded that she knew a lot of people working for a really popular magazine there and within a week I had plans in place for a summer internship plus a place to live.

All of this is to say that I really couldn’t imagine how my travels and life would be if I hadn’t given Couchsurfing a try. I definitely wouldn’t have seen as much on my travels, have as strong of a social network throughout Europe, or have moved to Ukraine.

Couchsurfing is definitely not for everyone, but what is? We all have our own travel styles and goals for traveling – this just happens to fit mine 100%. I hope to write a lot more on this topic, I could write a book (and I will – any publishers reading this??). In fact, I will soon be starting a new series of my Couchsurfing stories on The Blonde Gypsy because they are too cool to keep to myself. If you are interested in reading more, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter.

 

29 Comments

  1. Rob

    June 7, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Maybe I’ve been all wrong about couchsurfing? I still hold my opinions but there is no arguing that you’ve had incredibly positive experiences and that countless other people probably have as well and will continue to do so.

    I’ll save my opinions for another day, I have a post coming up soon, probably next week! :]

    • Larissa

      June 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

      You’re not wrong, you should just give it a try when you can to see firsthand instead of speculate. That is a direct challenge, Roberto.

      • Rob

        June 7, 2012 at 8:20 am

        I’ll try again, one day.

        How many messages do you send per stay and how far out do you start looking?

        • Larissa

          June 7, 2012 at 9:11 am

          I’m really selective and only send messages to people who I think I would get along well with. I’d say anywhere from 5-10 but even less if there isn’t a big community in a particular city. I’m not a planner so most of them have only been a couple days or a week or two before. Some hosts prefer that anyway..

  2. Jeremy @ Our Trip To

    June 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Commend you for having the B@lls to travel like this – I agree that it would be a pretty interesting way to travel and really ingrain yourself in that environment. Not for me, but as you said it is not for everyone. Thanks for posting.

    • Larissa

      June 8, 2012 at 12:04 am

      Thanks for that Jeremy. Sometimes I can’t believe that I am traveling like this, it has definitely changed me a lot as a person as well – in a good way. Thanks for commenting.

      P.S. Cute kids!

  3. Ruggles

    June 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Larissa! I got a couch with your name on it in Ajax!! 😉

    • Larissa

      June 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      Where is Ajax? I’m there!

      • Rob

        June 8, 2012 at 4:44 am

        First google it, has to be a jewel encrusted couch with caviar stocked cupboards to start considering. I kid, I jest, sorta.

        • Ruggles

          June 9, 2012 at 9:28 am

          Because of that comment you have now been downgraded from the couch to the balcony when you come!

          • Rob

            June 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

            Noted.

  4. Carlo+Geneva

    June 8, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Wish we used Couchsurfing more extensively during our last outing. Talked to some great folks who have given some great advice and great travel tips.

    • Larissa

      June 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Did you use it at all? I’d be interested to hear how it went in South America. I’ve only done it in Europe.

  5. Matthew Karsten

    June 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    YES YES YES! I completely agree Larissa. You have experiences you’d never have on your own, or even staying in hostels.

    So far, everyone I’ve met through Couchsurfing has been super cool. I know it’s hard for people to take the plunge initially, but once you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner! 🙂

    • Larissa

      June 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Exactly, wish I had been traveling like this the entire time! Great to hear another positive review from a dude and *expert vagabond* 🙂

  6. Erica @Impulsesave

    June 18, 2012 at 7:20 am

    I’m so glad to see someone write positively about this! I spent a year abroad and never ended up doing it because everyone gave me a face like I was crazy when I suggested it. I think it could definitely be great if you use it wisely. thanks for the tips and the encouragement! 🙂

    • Larissa

      June 18, 2012 at 10:37 am

      My pleasure although sad to hear you didn’t give it a try. Guess now you have something to look forward to the next time you’re traveling! Most of my friends (minus the ones I met through Couchsurfing) still think I am crazy but you know what? Who cares 🙂

  7. Latoya

    July 7, 2012 at 7:02 am

    I am a big believer in Couchsurfing too! Its a great way to make new friends in new places and I still keep in touch with most of those I meet. Great info you’ve shared.

    • Larissa

      July 8, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks! Happy to read more positive feedback on Couchsurfing. Cool that you are still in touch with most of them. I am as well and that has proven to be the most rewarding aspect of all – how these meet ups/couch surfs have developed into really great friendships.

  8. Linda

    July 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I have taken it on to go travel within 2 or 3 years, hopefully for a year or two. Need to save some money first.I have a lot of travel experience all over Europe but never couchsurfed. I absolutely want to consider this for my extended stay seeing that its the best way to see a city and save some cash in the process. Being a single female traveler I was a little nervous but you’ve laid my concerns to rest! When its finally time for me to leave the US I’ll absolutely use your advice and couchsurf!

    • Larissa

      July 13, 2012 at 6:01 am

      Very happy to hear that! Why not give it a try while still in the US? The more references you have when requesting to surf, the better. Plus you will learn how it works and with 2-3 years when you are ready to go, you will already be a total pro 🙂

  9. Lyndsay/ Discount Travel Blogger

    July 30, 2012 at 12:56 am

    I haven’t done it yet, but I hosted for a friend last year. When I travel again (which was supposed to be soon) I’ll try to couchsurf more. It’s a beautiful experience on both sides though, the surfer and the host. true to your words, the bond is way better than just meeting them up for a coffee or a trip.

    • Larissa

      July 30, 2012 at 1:34 am

      Totally agree! I haven’t hosted yet but would love to do that sometime.

  10. mina

    December 13, 2012 at 6:58 am

    we wanted to use couch surfing when we set off on our travels but never did. i keep meaning to try it (and open up my home to a couch surfer) but just end up forgetting about it when planning.

    one day!

    • Larissa

      December 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Yeah, Couchsurfing is great even if you are only using it to meet up with people for a drink or walk around the city – you guys have plenty of time to give it a try 🙂

  11. Chrys

    January 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I’ve been a host and a surfer, and both experiences were memorable! I’m heading to Europe this year and I’ll definitely try to Couchsurf as much as possible while I’m there. My suggestion to surfers would be to give a little token of appreciation to your host. A cooked meal or a small gift from home (e.g a postcard) demonstrates your appreciation. I still have a postcard of Krakow on my wall given to me by my Polish Couchsurfers 4 years ago.

    • Larissa

      January 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      That’s great advice and I once tried cooking for a host. I made peanut butter and banana sandwiches that sadly didn’t go over too well so I stopped. Now I just bring a small gift for them (usually a bottle of something delicious) or at least take them out for dinner and/or drinks. Have a great time in Europe!

  12. kim

    March 20, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I also love CS and the things it brought me! See comment at stop having a boring life. I also help cooking, doing the dishes or bring a gift to a host 🙂

    • Larissa

      March 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Yes! Saw the other comment and couldn’t agree more with everything that you said. It’s a gamble for sure but I’ve hit incredible jackpots just about every time I’ve tried which is why I am such a strong proponent for it.

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