I have some very fond memories from abroad fuelled by Couchsurfing. The late night stroll through Paris via so many landmarks, even if was less a tour and more of a jumble; playing with Oreo, our Toronto hosts’ adorable little dog who considered our sofabed strictly her ptach; hopping on the back of a scooter with a stranger for a jaunt around some local spots in Hue.
Related: Our first Couchsurfing experience abroad
Here, though, are the three Couchsurfing experiences that most stand out one way or another.
Our first surfing experience
Our first experience as surfers (not hosts) was with a European expat in Bangkok. Getting there was a total headache; I put our taxi driver on the phone with her (I think he thought she was a hotelier) but that didn’t seem to help.
She kept telling me I had to convince him to stop at a 7/11 or similar, as everyone in the area knew her apartment complex, but outsiders don’t. (If you haven’t been to Bangkok, 7/11s are literally everywhere.) I honestly don’t know how we made it, because our driver was not keen on that idea, but eventually we stumbled upon the right place thanks largely to dumb luck.
Then he refused to accept my 1000 baht note, so he drove me back to a 7/11 so I could buy something to break the note and pay him. Later, I realised I no longer had my change and concluded I must have dropped it in the backseat. Talk about throwing money away.
The other problem was the fact that our host was sick. She’d just come down with a cold and thus had turned her air conditioning off. In Bangkok, that isn’t just uncomfortable – it’s unbearable. We were drenched in sweat within minutes and the second night T opted to sleep outside on the balcony.
Good story now, but kind of a hassle at the time.
Related: Unexpected benefits of couchsurfing (as a host)
Our first Couchsurfing meetup
Lot of cities with an active Couchsurfing community have a regular weekly meetup. Local members host, usually at a bar, and visitors turn up.
Hanoi is one of these cities, and it turned out that the regular meetup was on during first night in town. We turned up expecting to meet a ton of other backpackers; instead we walked into a den of eager Vietnamese youth all clamouring to practise English with foreigners. It was a blast, just not quite what we were prepared for!
The next day I went exploring in Hanoi with some of our new buddies and one French couchsurfer (one of the few non-locals who turned up later that evening). They took us on a walking tour around the sights and are my Facebook friends today.
That time our host’s son gave up his room for us
Iceland is famously expensive (worse than Switzerland, IMO, which wasn’t actually quite as bad as I’d anticipated). And because we knew so little about the country, I was extra keen to find a host for our stay in Reykjavik.
It almost didn’t happen. Our host stopped answering my messages, so I booked a lodge room in town. Then suddenly he replied, confirming we were all on, and I cancelled that reservation. We turned up that evening and found a surprisingly youthful middle-aged couple who were kind of like kindred spirits (Iceland reminded us a LOT of New Zealand), and their young son, who brought to mind the kid in Meet the Robinsons. He solemnly shook our hands, then retreated to his computer. He’d been waiting excitedly for us to turn up – even gelled up his hair for the occasion, his mother told me slyly, mouth upturned in amusement.
We shared a Bailey’s, watched Sons of Anarchy, chatted about all sorts of things and then went to bed. The next day, I got a peek into the computer room and realised that wasn’t a bedroom – there was no bed in there. Our bedroom wasn’t a spare; it was their son’s room. I’m still stunned by that – I would never have done that willingly when I was young.
Planning a trip? Search for deals on Cheapflights.
Has your perception of couch surfing changed at all since you started? How often do you host guests? I’ve never tried it, but the idea sounds fun.
You can read about our Couchsurfing history here: https://nzmuse.com/2013/02/thoughts-on-couchsurfing/ We hosted a couple times through previous flatmates and hosted pretty continuously over the summer before we left for our own trip. But I’ve decided we won’t be hosting anytime in the foreseeable future – can’t accommodate people at our new place, and feel like there are now too many freeloaders – https://nzmuse.com/2014/02/keep-travel-life/ I wouldn’t say my perceptions have really changed, except just to reinforce that people by and large are generally good and can be ridiculously generous.
Great stories! You’re braver than me. I don’t think I’d be courageous or compromising enough to couch surf. My gosh I can’t imagine being in Thailand without AC – phew!
Loved the stories, even the not so good first experience one. I’ve always wanted to participate in couchsurfing but I’m always at work or school and would feel bad for never being able to show someone around or giving them much attention. Thanks for sharing!
I’ve been tempted to rent our coach out through airbnb! But I’m too chicken! I’m glad to see you’ve had pretty positive experiences though.
Interesting stories. I’ve stated at many hostels in Europe, and Montreal, bug haven’t gone the couch surfing route. I don’t know if I could do it, which is silly because I’ve slept in rooms with up to twelve strangers.
Our first CS (surfing) experience was a huge bust—although a host in Matsumoto Japan had agreed to our request weeks before, as the day approached and my messages trying to set up plans to meet/get an address continued to go unanswered, we realized we needed to make different plans. I wound up having to book a not very nice room the morning of our arrival and, unlike your time in Iceland, we had to follow through with it and stay there.
The only other disappointment we’ve had on the CS front was when we tried to attend a meet-up, ironically in Hanoi! Maybe we got the address wrong (though we confirmed it even while standing right outside!), but no one showed, despite many people RSVP’ing. It wasn’t half as fun to do communal grilling just the two of us, but it was still delicious!
Sounds like you’ve had some great experiences 🙂 That’s so sweet that he gave his bed up for you!
Anyone who has doubts about Couchsurfing/is afraid to give it a go, DON’T BE! Even the slightly oo-er experiences (ie. the first one on this list) are funny in hindsight and always make for interesting stories. I have had nothing but fantastic experiences with couchsurfers, not only is it a great way to meet locals, but it gives you the chance to see the place you’re visiting from a local’s perspective. Bear in mind it doesn’t always have to involve staying with someone; you can just arrange to meet for a drink or meal if you feel uneasy about staying in a stranger’s house. Anyway, I reckon everyone should couchsurf. Cheers for the post!
I have only hosted, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but my roommates and then my spouse weren’t keen on the idea. I find it disappointing, because I think it’s pretty awesome and really enjoyed all of the people that I met when I hosted them.
Those are some interested stories you’ve got… the Hanoi one is kind of neat! Those kids are pretty proactive at learning the English!
So, I haven’t use couchsurfing yet, but I really want to. A lot of people have said it’s not as big in SEA (which is where I’m headed first)–maybe I’m wrong though? I’d love to know if it would be a good option there. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler 🙂
In regard for accommodation? Not so much, because people are more likely to live at home with their families and have less space (though I hear Malaysia is actually surprisingly good for finding hosts and possibly Taiwan?) But in regard to finding people willing to show you around, definitely! People are so keen to meet foreigners and often that’s because they want to practise their English.
That is incredibly kind of your host’s son to give up his room for you!
For those who are not sure how they feel about trying Couchsurfing, our “How it Works” pages may help make a more informed decision: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/how-it-works
Also, have a look at our Safety tips: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/safety
Sounds like some interesting experiences! I have not tried couchsurfing myself but so many people have great things to say about it, I’ll definitely have to try it out sometime!
I really enjoyed reading these stories! I’m afraid I’m not as adventurous as you, as I think crashing on a close friend’s couch is as much surfing as I’ll ever do. Of course, being in another country, I might be more amenable to the idea, especially with how expensive some lodging can be!
Excellent post, have never tried couchsurfing but will definitely consider it!
I haven’t couch surfed but it seems like a great way to get free lodging and meet new people. Maybe I’ll try it next time! Seems like you had mostly good experiences 🙂
Great stories! I’ve never tried couch surfing, but it sounds like it could be a lot of fun :).
I am so fascinated by the whole couch surfing thing. I cant do it as I have a baby, but I’d love to offer it when my house is done. So its really great to read your thoughts on it. Cheers for linking up with is to #SundayTraveler!