Couchsurfing: Travel Tips

I've heard a lot of rumours about couchsurfing. That it was dangerous, creepy, sleazy.... that it was a hook up app, and potentially nasty. I first signed up for the site way back in 2014 before my trip to Tokyo (we ended up staying at a friend's house then). Fast forward 3 years later, I thought - why not I give this a proper try...

I set myself a budget for my Austria trip (400 pounds maximum for 5 days, including everything!). Vienna, being the capital city, I figured I could just book a hostel or air bnb. Innsbruck, a much smaller town 4 hour away, was gonna be a bit tougher (the accommodations there were limited and so expensive! Almost 50-60 pounds a night! Wahhh) So I logged on couchsurfing. The biggest reason for me to do this is basically it - couchsurfing, is FREE.





Here's some simple things to keep in mind that will make your couchsurfing journey easier, from my experience...



1. Make sure your profile is as complete as possible. Verify it if you can. It will make requesting a place so much easier if people know you are a real, decent, human being. Add your friends and contacts in your network too.

2. Look for a place to crash at least 2 weeks (the more advanced, the better) before your trip. This will give ample time for the host to respond and plan their schedule to accommodate you. And if you don't get approved, it will give you time to arrange for other accommodation. Keep in mind: this is NOT a hotel. You are NOT paying. You are a guest. Really. The mindset in couchsurfing (compared to air bnb or hostel) is very different.

3. Read the Host Profile really carefully :) Some hosts are very particular, and you may notice some details about their house on offer - if it's a proper bed or just a mattress, if they have wifi (some don't), if they have a housemate etc. Expect an actual house, and not a hotel equipped with all the best amenities. My host exchanged couchsurfing stories where they stayed in a house that had a lovely family but was full of their pet hairs all over the house, and the bathroom was a little unclean, and it was in the middle of nowhere. But it was an interesting travelling experience.

3. Message multiple hosts - it will increase your chances of actually getting a place. Don't just message one person and think you're set :) I probably requested about 7 people after screening their profile. Even then it's not confirmed, it really is up to luck.

3. Message or Send a couch request by greeting them with their names, then put in all the details you can, and why you want to stay with them. Be as polite as possible. A safe format is greeting them with a name, introducing yourself (name, age, accupation, from where), your purpose for the trip, your trip dates. Then add 'I saw your profile and would love to request to stay with you! I can offer to ... (Add whether you can share information and cultural knowledge with them etc). Finish it with hope to hear from you! Regards, name.

4. Once you've agreed to stay together, get all the details as sorted as possible - map to their houses, contact details via phone if necessary, addresses etc.

5. Bring a gift. It's not required, but it's common courtesy. It'll be better if the gift represents you or the place you're from :) Leave a thank you note if you can. You stayed in someone's house for free! It's the least you could do.

6. Make sure to leave a review!


-

I can't say that my personal couchsurfing experience is representative for everyone's, but here's my own: I stayed with Theresa, an Austrian traveller who's pretty active in the couchsurfing community. She works as a language professor in the local university in Innsbruck, and has had experiences being an au pair in UK. She was such a beautiful, sweet and adventurous soul! Her house was covered in her personal knick knacks and character, all her books, posters on the wall, quirky little trinkets in the bathroom... It was literally me crashing over someone's place, so weirdly different from standard hostel rooms or very clean air bnbs :) 



P/S: Didn't really take a lot of the photos of the house as I didn't want to intrude too much :) 


The thing to keep in mind is that you have to respect the host. In this case, while Theresa gave me freedom to roam around, I felt a bit bad to disturb her if I were go out too late, so I went home around 1030pm. I also went out early in the morning when she did (unfortunately we didn't have a spare key at that moment). In Air bnbs and Hostels, you can come and go anytime you want. Also note that it may not be as comfortable or complete. Theresa had a couchsurfing corner (She's had many guests!) which is basically a mattress and a sleeping bag. Some hosts may offer a big double bed like a hotel - it depends on your luck hehe. Her house also didn't have wifi. But this is where it gets interesting, because we ended up talking a lot at nights after my outings, and sharing our experiences. You really make a friend who can personally vouch for you :) 

Overall, I think the main differences is this:

Couchsurfing
Pros: Get to know a local, FREE! 
Cons: May not be as comfortable or complete, you have to be mindful and respectful to the host's way of life (not as much freedom to come and go). Need some time to be approved, not guaranteed. 

Air BnB
Pros: Super comfortable! Complete amenities. May even make friends if the airbnb has a flat mate
Cons: Might be a tad pricey. But if you go with a big group, it could be cheaper. Actually, some air bnbs can also be cheaper than hostels (depending on the season).  

Hostels:
Pros: Super cheap! Easy to get guides and information from the front desk, and can meet other travellers. 
Cons: May not be as comfortable especially if you have a lot of electronics to charge, or a clean prayer area for Muslims (I once prayed on my dorm bed), and have to be really careful about your belongings :)  


In Europe, people say it's easier to book hostels (some of the hostels are really nice!) But I think if you can and want to go a bit extra comfort, I'd go for an Air BnB :) Couchsurfing is worth a try if you're up for the whole experience! 



2 comments:

  1. 400 pounds for 5 days in Austria? I WANNA KNOW MORE ABOUT THAT!

    Lovely post, by the way. I haven't gathered enough guts to try Couchsurfing yet, but it sounds marvellous. Someday, hopefully. Thanks for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My first Couchsurfing experience was hosting instead of being a guest, couchsurfing is more interesting and we can get to know people from other cultures.

    ReplyDelete

 

Instagram

Tumblr

Twitter