Couch Surfing - It's Not What You Think
The first time I heard about couch surfing, I had images in my mind of crusty, unwashed backpackers sleeping on couches that had hundreds of previous crusty backpackers on them. I imagined houses filled with people on couches and the floor, like a cultish commune. Not that I have any idea what a cultish commune would actually look like. Yep, I was totally stereotyping couch surfers and I turned my nose up at the idea.
That was until we got chatting to our niece's dad and he mentioned that he does it all the time. Now he was a respectable looking man, with a respectable family who I'm pretty sure could afford 5-star accommodation if he wanted it. So then, why? We had to find out and there was only one way to do it.
Don't knock it till you try it
We decided that we should experience couch surfing at least once in our lives and ended up arranging a couple of couch surfs as we made our way from Colorado to the Yukon. There are loads of couch surfing apps and websites around the world but we went through Couchsurfing.com.
Truth be told, it kinda felt like online dating. You look through profiles, see if the host has interests similar to yours or if they are someone that you think you would get along with. Then you send them a message, cross your fingers and wait for a reply.
Here's what surprised us about couch surfing
You don't have to sleep on a couch
Phew. I mean, there's nothing wrong with crashing on a couch, but I'm used to my creature comforts and I prefer a bed. And a little privacy. This is probably what convinced us most to give couch surfing a try. Once we saw that there were private rooms available, we felt much more comfortable. In fact, on our very first couch surfing experience, we had an entire apartment to ourselves! We couldn't believe it.
It felt a bit like dating, without the complications
Once you've confirmed that you'll be staying with a couch surfing host, you work out the details of where and how you're going to meet. For our first couch surf, we met our host at his house. We sat down, had some drinks and had a great chat. With our second couch surf, we met at a local micro brewery. We got there early, grabbed a beer and waited. It was funny because we kept looking around wondering if any of the people at the bar were our hosts and every time someone walked in we turned around in anticipation! Just like a blind date.
Then there's that awkward bit when you first meet and you make small talk. But before long, you're laughing and chatting as if you've known each other for ages. I say it's like dating without the complications because you don't have to wonder what if, what's next, and whether there is a mutual attraction. You already know you'll be sleeping over and that when it's time, you'll be parting ways.
You live like a local
Nothing beats experiencing a place like a local. Doing touristy things are great as well, but it's also nice to see what a town is really all about, especially if it's a small one. We couch surfed in the towns of Cody, Wyoming and Missoula, Montana. Looking at the map before our road trip, we probably wouldn't have chosen those destinations as a place to stop had it not been for couch surfing. We're so glad we did.
We felt humbled by the kindness of strangers
After chatting for a while with our first couch surf host, we learnt that he had tenants and didn't charge them any rent. He was a busy man, but opened up his apartment to couch surfers. He loved hiking and knew Yellowstone well. We wished that we had more time there so that we could go hiking with him and see the amazing things that he described that tourists never find. He excused himself early that night but invited us over for breakfast in the morning on his deck. We chatted, ate pancakes and drank coffee before he sent us on our way with some bags of trail mix for the journey.
Our second couch surf was with a couple and it was during the week. Both had been at work that day but made time to welcome us into their home and hang out with us. We had a great time and realised that we had so much in common! We drank lots of wine, had a bbq and went out for breakfast the next morning.
We were a little stunned at first. These strangers had welcomed us into their homes and their lives, allowed us to stay with them with no expectation in return. Why? We soon realised that it is because it is an amazing experience for both the host and the couch surfer. One of the many benefits of travelling is that it opens your mind. You learn stuff. You meet people. You experience things that you wouldn't have experienced before. The end result is that it enriches you and the effect of that is never ending. Couch surfing is exactly that for a host. But instead of doing the travelling, the travellers come to you.
Those strangers became our friends
We left each 'couch' with massive smiles on our faces and a warm and fuzzy feeling. We hadn't expected to feel this way and we hadn't expected people who were strangers a day ago to become our friends. I think it's pretty hard not to become friends with someone who has just welcomed you into their home with open arms and so much generosity. They have to be a special type of person to do that. We talked about making plans to catch up again and I hope we do!
Stay tuned for my upcoming post on tips and couch surfing etiquette. Have you couch surfed before or hosted a couch surfer? Would you? Tell me below, I'd love to hear from you! (Make sure you click on 'subscribe via e-mail' to be notified when we write back).
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