Traveling on a budget is often thought to be limiting. It is true that less money might signify shabbier accommodation and unappetizing food, but it doesn’t have to be.
Of course, where money falls short, you become more flexible. And as a 20-something solo traveler, my flexibility often allows me the opportunity to explore and experience things that may be deemed unfit for a 20-something solo traveler, especially for a girl.
Especially coming from my parents.
But since I am a #soulsearchingrebelliousmillennialgenerationx-after90s kid, I do so anyway.
This is where Couchsurfing comes in.
Couchsurfing is a platform that provides members the opportunity to host guests, stay at other’s houses, and meet travelers at various events. It’s free to join the site, but sadly, they are slowly moving towards a paid service with accesses that are now only granted to paying members. Nonetheless, it remains one of my favorites since I’ve met too many life-long friends while living abroad.
In the past couple of years, I’ve slept in teepees, bungalows, apartments, beach houses, and cave rooms, on floors, couches, and unwashed mattresses. I was hosted by lawyers, professors, hippies, bikers and many more. Because of strangers I’ve met, I’ve witnessed hot air balloons in Cappadocia for free, rode a motorcycle up into the Himalayas, slurped fresh oysters by the harbor of Santa Barbara and got free entrance to Disney, amongst a number of other events and places.
Now, I’m not a couchsurf ambassador by any means, but I may perhaps preach it on the daily. So a post on the pros and cons of Couchsurfing is definitely biased coming from me, but I will try to ignore all the good experiences I’ve had while traveling and stay neutral on the topic.
Pro- GOOD EXPERIENCES
Why would you tour a city as a tourist, visiting places often seen on social media and Google, when you can enjoy the local vibes that a local himself can show you? I’ve been shown so many hidden gems that a generic tour bus or a travel advice page doesn’t know.
Con- Too many experiences
Then again, hosts may be so inclined to show you all the hidden gems that you’d be too tired for all the must-sees. The majority are pretty flexible. They won’t drag you to places and demand you to do stuff with them, most even expect you to do the sightseeing by yourself. But I’ve definitely had some extremely nice and eager hosts who didn’t really understand my plea for space.
Pro- Good vibes
A common characteristic I’ve noticed in most couchsurfers is that they are extremely open minded. They are open to ideas, discussions, the exchange of perspectives and stories. They are interested in You. I mean, most host to meet others, share experiences and have some sort of cultural exchange. The best part is that these exchanges often forgo the boring small talks in day-to-day conversations. In addition, CS is in itself a sharing economy-type platform. Most users want to help others for little return. I’ve made so many great friends that I still talk to today.
Con- Bad vibes
It is a given that not everyone will click. You can be the most sociable approachable, optimistic soul and there will still be people criticizing you for talking too much, being naive and acting stupid. While the majority of CSers are open minded and welcoming, I’ve had a few awkward experiences. This one time, my host and I just did not hit it off. We literally stared at each other in silence for three days straight. Sometimes, certain behaviors may be a tick off. While I try to be open about this sort of thing, it is definitely unpleasant to watch someone say, constantly pick their nose while having a conversation with you.
Bad vibes(=?) Safety.
Tho Couchsurfing may not be the safest method of accommodation, there are ways of verification. One’s CS profile should be nicely filled out. But most importantly, they should have a ton of good reviews. Read what others say about this person.
After the confirmation of a stay, make sure that they keep good communication with you. Whether it be fast responses, witty responses or long responses, hosts should always keep you up to date on the planned agenda. (I’ve had hosts who forgot that I’d be visiting). Of course, if the dialogue is inappropriate and makes you uncomfortable, drop it like it’s hooot
Con- Lack of safety measures
Despite profiles and reviews being helpful, they will not guarantee your safety. Profiles can be made up, as can reviews.
A problem with CS is that people rarely post bad reviews since they fear being retaliated with some bizarre story. I mean after all, who can verify the validity of either side?
Traveling alone as a girl may be even more terrifying. Staying with someone you don’t know and lacking the physical ability to defend yourself is definitely worrisome. Take precaution, do research and be mentally prepared for any scenario.
CS is free. For a budget traveler like myself, free is always (mostly) good.
Con- Don’t expect a 5 star hotel!
CS is free. Free may mean sleeping in tents, on dirty beds, on smelly couches and so on. Most of the places I’ve stayed at have been absolutely amazing—big beds, clean sheets, sometimes even a full room, but don’t expect to find yourself to be at a 5-star hotel. I’m not a very picky person. In fact, I’m pretty darn messy myself. So as long as it’s a decent place with a roof over my head, I’m happy
Always trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, geeeeeeeet out. A bad review on your profile means nothing if you were gone. Of course, Couchsurfing is not for everyone and it’s completely understandable to forgo this route altogether. For those that try or have tried, do let me know how your experiences are/were!
But if you’d really want to try out the lifestyle without commitment, read how you can without sleeping on strangers’ beds!
Happy Travels xx
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