Fun fact: When I was younger, I was avoiding foreigners, mostly because I was ashamed of my English level. I understood it well but when I said something, I mostly sounded like I had a minor mouth stroke. It is funny that now I am in an English speaking relationship. 🙂
I think that my big decision of going to Tallinn, Estonia for an Erasmus Exchange was a life-changing moment for me. I went there alone, without my family and friends. Without my Meta, who was next to me since forever. But more than flying with a plane for the first time and leaving my nest in Novo mesto, I was afraid of going to the land of the foreign language. I was pretty sure that I won’t find so many Slovenian speakers up there. But when you have no choice and you are in the situation of speak now or for 6 months hold your peace, you find to courage to overcome your fears.
Getting to know the world with Couchsurfing
This fantastic experience changed my life. I got a completely different perspective on life and traveling. From then on: I became a traveler.
With an increased amount of travels, you need to find ways to be able to afford everything. Travelling can be expensive but if you are smart about it, you can find your way even if you are sometimes struggling to make ends meet, which happened quite often in my case. I found a Couchsurfing community a long time ago. It somehow fitted nicely to my traveling style – hang around with locals and get the most authentic experience from the places you visit and of course getting free accommodation. Accommodation is one of the biggest expenses when traveling, especially now when you have all these Ryanairs and Wizzairs that can bring you a place for a couple of euros.
How does it work?
I decided to write about this community, because of all the great experiences I had. I am not sure how it is nowadays, because my traveling style changed and I am not using it anymore, but back then it was a bomb.
For all that you never heard about it, Couchsurfing is a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities who share their life, their world, their journey. Couchsurfing connects travelers with a global network of people willing to share in profound and meaningful ways, making travel a truly social experience (that’s what they said on their site).
It works like that: you create a profile on the platform, write how awesome you are and why somebody should host you and that’s it. When the time comes and you pick the country you want to travel to, you search hosts in that city and write them if they can host you. Again, explaining how awesome you are, of course. I know many would doubt, but is it safe? What is something that goes wrong? What if they cancel at the last moment? What if the host kills me?
What if the host kills me?
I really doubt that the host will kill you, but I can’t be fully responsible, so I will say: there is never any guarantee in life, is it? In Slovenia we like to say, the only certain things are death and taxes.
There is a couple of steps that you can take to reduce the risk that something might happen. The majority of hosts already have reviews from previous guests, this can help you a lot to see if the person is nice and reliable. I also always choose a host with similar interests, because, you need to be aware, that some hosts will expect to hang out with you when you are there. They will want to hear your stories and they will want to share theirs. That’s in a way the beauty of this, you get a chance to experience the city like a local. So it is good to make sure that the person that you reach out to, somehow fits your personality. You don’t want to make it awkward. Then when you choose the host you write to them and see what happens. Don’t expect an answer from just everybody, some will just ignore you. But you can send an unlimited message to your potential hosts, so you have a good possibility that you get a response. It will also be much easier when you already have some nice references on your profile, so people will be more comfortable to let you in their homes.
Once you find your host, you just arrange your details and you are all set. Let the fun begins. Of course, it’s not only taking from the community, but it’s also about giving. If you have an opportunity, you should host some travelers as well. Usually, they don’t need much, even a matrace in the room is ok. Just make sure that you explain well what you can offer and what not. If you don’t have time on certain days, let them know before: Hey, you can sleep on my matrace but I don’t have time to hang with you much, etc. Like always, it’s all about communication.
I was using Couchsurfing a lot, especially right after the Erasmus time. There I met Helen, a crazy Finnish chick that immediately grew to my heart. After Tallinn, we, of course, wanted to see each other and travel together. And Couchsurfing was our preferred choice. We were meeting in different places every year, like Spain, Turkey, Georgia, Italy, etc. And can’t emphasize this more: It was ALWAYS an amazing experience, we met so many great people that showed us great hospitality and many hidden gems in the cities that we visited.
Offer your couch
It depends on the person you are, if you are open and willing to let people in your life, you will enjoy Couchsurfing a lot. Besides being a guest, I also often hosted people in the apartments where I was living. If you don’t live alone, it is sometimes hard because your flatmate has to agree to bring strangers to your home. I think the weirdest time was when I was living in Ljubljana and I had a room in a shared apartment. So I just put a matrace in the room that was almost the size of the room, so all the floor was blocked and I hosted couchsurfers there. Of course, I slept in the same room on the bed. This was weird but when I think back now, it’s a great memory. Well, eventually my flatmate was not so happy with strangers in the home, so I stopped hosting there. Of course, you always need to respect people that you live with, if not, move out on your own.
I was hosting when I was living in Romania. I shared an apartment with a couple of people, but sometimes we found a place for couchsurfers as well. Now when I think back, it was really like some community living there. Again, if you are a person like I was back then, then this is a great experience. With some of the people I hosted there, we are still in touch.
Don’t do it if you don’t like people
I mentioned a couple of times, that you need to be a person who likes to hang-out with people and, sometimes even adjust your travels a bit and spend time with your hosts as well. It is against the rules of this community, for hosts to charge you for accommodation. If they ask, then you can easily report them. Couchsurfing is about sharing experiences, meeting locals and travelers in your area. I know that they also organize a lot of meetups, where you can meet with people that are currently in your city. It is a nice idea, especially if you have a feeling that you would like to meet some new people.
Finding your way
I don’t remember when I was hosting/surfing last time. As said before, my travel style changed during the years and is something that doesn’t fit my life at this point. It is a special way of traveling and we can’t deny that. I am happy that I was a part of it for some time and I am grateful for all the amazing memories that I got. Now I’m traveling mostly with my Leo and this is the time when I want more privacy and create great memories together. If you want this, then Couchsurfing may not be the best choice. It is really all about finding the best option for yourself.
When traveling now, we mostly use Airbnb. It’s not for free like Couchsurfing lol, but you can find some amazing apartments in the places you travel to. We also rent out apartments in Vienna for short-term rental and our current focus is to expand the business and use this to create our home bases around the world. But I will touch this topic more in detail in my next posts.
To sum up my thoughts: Couchsurfing? I highly recommend! 🙂