This is a guest post by Amy from Smiling In A Foreign Land. Amy has just returned from 20 months traveling in Europe where she stayed with 83 CouchSurfing hosts in 24 countries for a total of 322 nights! She is now planning to move to China to teach English for one year and will definitely be returning the favor to visiting CouchSurfers. You can follow Amy’s blog at SmilingInAForeignLand.com, on Facebook as ‘Smiling In A Foreign Land‘ or on Twitter @InAForeignLand.
Most tourists stay in hotels. Many backpackers stay in hostels. I prefer to stay with local people. Through CouchSurfing.org, travelers, regardless of age, wealth or interests, can stay with a host for free. CouchSurfing, or CS, is a website connecting travelers with locals. It offers cultural exchange through hospitality. CouchSurfing is my life when I’m traveling. Even if I’m not staying with a host, I try to attend events organized by local members or meet up with other travelers. CS is my world-wide social club and anyone interested in travel is welcome to join!
I’m not here to tell you that CS is better than staying in a hostel or hotel. CS is definitely not made for everyone and not everyone is a good fit for CS. Some backpackers enjoy hostels for the backpacker community they meet there. I just happen to be one of the people who prefer CS. Here are 8 reasons why CouchSurfing works for me.
1. I get to choose who I stay with
In a hostel, you’re in a dorm room with up to 10 other people. You don’t get to choose them, so it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll click with them or not. While searching for a CS host, I can scan the profiles to find someone I have something in common with. Maybe they’re a musician, an avid reader or they’ve traveled to my hometown or been someone I want to go. Finding a CS host with a common interest makes for a more personable and unique experience.
2. I get to explore residential areas of cities
CS hosts usually don’t live in the center, where most hostels are, so by staying with a host, I get to see a non-touristic part of the city. In Paris, my host lived about 30 minutes by metro from the center, but in a beautiful neighborhood with not a tourist in sight. Another plus: street food is cheaper in tourist-free neighborhoods catering to locals.
3. My hosts can tell me what is worth seeing
Hostels might try to push their walking tour or pub crawl or the ‘must see’ sites, but a CS host will tell you what they think is worth seeing. In Romania, I didn’t bother going to Bran Castle because my host informed me it was very touristic and not actually Dracula’s castle.
4. I get to see unusual and non-touristic sides of daily life
It’s not too often you get a cultural experience while watching television. While I was staying in Pompeii, my hosts pressured me to cut my visit to the site of Pompeii short so I could join them for the Naples-Rome football match on TV. I’m not much into football, but seeing a dozen Naples fan screaming at the TV made for a memorable non-touristic experience.
5. I get to see day-to-day life
Staying with someone for a few days, I inevitably get to go food shopping with them. At home, grocery shopping is nothing special, but while traveling, I love it! With my CS host, I get to learn new foods that I’m afraid to try on my own. I can also get translations of foods and ingredients from my host so I know what I’m buying later on.
6. I get to eat authentic food
Staying with a CS host, I get to see what they eat in normal life. In Greece, that meant walking down the road to buy gyros from the neighborhood fast food restaurant. This might sound disappointing until you realize they are the best gyros in town and were left undiscovered by tourists because of their location on the outskirts of town, their unappealing storefront and their lack of English menus. As a lone tourist, I would have never found this place, but with my CS host, it was a normal part of their daily life.
7. I get to be a normal human being
In a hostel, you’re always on the go with travelers you meet. Since you’re only in the city for a few days, you want to see it all and do it all. With my CS hosts, I recognize when the weekend is and plan my schedule around that. I have my five-day travel week lined up with my host’s five day work week and I take the weekend to spend with my host. Going out and experiencing the nightlife with the rest of the city is better than going out on a Tuesday just because that’s when other hostel guests are hitting the pub.
8. I make a new friend
In hostels, guests come and go, so maybe you connect with someone one day and they leave the next. Most of my CS hosts I still keep in touch with and I know where they are so I can go back to visit them. This is true, of course, in hostels, but I feel the connections I’ve made through CS are a lot stronger than in hostels. A few of my hosts I’ve traveled with after staying with them and I’ve really enjoyed seeing them again.
CouchSurfing is a really amazing organization and community of travelers. Whenever I can, I try to find a host or meeting through CouchSurfing and I really treasure the friends I’ve made through CS.
Have you CouchSurfed before? Do you agree with these 8 reasons? Do you have any other reasons why you think CouchSurfing is great? Please share them in the comments!