Couchsurfing – don’t knock it till you try it
I was a bit nervous. Firstly, would I even like sleeping on a couch? Will they steal my stuff in the middle of the night? What if my host is super weird? Am I supposed to bring my own bedding?
You may or may not have heard about Couchsurfing. If you haven’t, this is the introduction they give on the website www.couchsurfing.org “Couchsurfing began in 2004 as a small passion project by founders Casey Fenton, Daniel Hoffer, Sebastian Le Tuan and Leonardo Bassani da Silveira. An email to a group of students in Iceland gave birth to the idea that people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers (or, as we like to call them, friends you haven’t met yet).”
In other words people offer their couch to strangers for free and in return they get to meet cool people from around the world. Seems easy enough, but there are mixed reviews and opinions bantered around about it between travellers and on the internet. This always made me a bit hesitant to try it in the past. Plus, why sleep on a couch when I could afford to sleep on a bed?
This time though, there were a few factors that finally nudged me into trying it out. Foremost was money; my USA roadtrip was all planned last minute and I couldn’t just extravagantly throw my money around on hotels now that I’m an unemployed bum. The other happened to be circumstance – I’ve now got a getaway car if things seem a bit dodgy! All things considered, the lure of free accommodation and perhaps a local guide, or at the very least a drinking buddy, sealed the deal for me.
I was only going to be in the city of Roanoke for one night, so it was perfect for a trial run. There were more hosts there than I expected to be, and managed to tee up with one that seemed pretty decent. At this stage I got super excited – if this works out I could save so much money on accommodation! I could travel forever! It will be so much fun!
My GPS led me to this persons house, which seemed to be in the not-the-best part of town. It wasn’t the ‘ghetto’, but some of the houses looked a little run down. Something I hadn’t thought of – next time enquire about or research the neighbourhood first. I was relieved to find my hosts house was actually one of the better ones, but admit I was a bit nervous about leaving my car on the street.
I was welcomed in and before long was sitting on the porch with a beer in hand exchanging travel stories and having a laugh at some of the more interesting characters passing on the street. My host knew I was a couchsurfing ‘virgin’ and was patient with seeming ignorance for the whole procedure. My host – as lovely as he was – did expect me to pay for a meal or some beers in exchange for his hospitality. I’m ashamed to admit, organising a gratuity of some kind for the free use of a couch wasn’t something that had even entered my mind. But it makes sense if for nothing else than simple courtesy. Of course, I had no idea if buying them a meal was the norm or just his price for using his couch. I guess time and experience will tell.
In this case, I really didn’t mind as I was treated to fantastic hospitality. We explored downtown Roanoke together and I met another friend of his and had a great night out. The next day after breakfast he took me for a hike to see the city’s landmark, the Star of Roanoke, where there were great views of the city.
Although you don’t get the best night’s sleep on a couch, I did have a great time and didn’t feel lonely in a new city. This host’s couch was better than most, in that it was a flatbed couch that didn’t have seperate cushions on the bottom for your butt to sink into during the night. Another thing to take note when surfing for a place – the quality of the couch.
All in all, the experience wasn’t as bad as I imagined it could be. I don’t think all hosts would always have the time for such attention, so some couchsurfers may be left to their own devices. Even so, don’t forget (as I did) about some sort of gratuity for the host, which may need to be factored into your budget. I’m not sure if all hosts would expect this, but couchsurfers should be prepared for it. Although I wouldn’t couchsurf every night, I will definitley look into doing it a few more nights of my roadtrip. If for nothing else then to make some new friends!