By now, most people have heard of Couch Surfing. Even though there are over 9 million people across 120,000 cities worldwide involved with www.couchsurfing.org, not everyone knows exactly what couch surfing is. Read Couch Surfing 101 to learn how couchsurfing.org is transforming the way we look at travel.
I have surfed many “couches” and have only had one negative experience. It was on the idyllic Caribbean Island, St. Lucia. My host was French, worked from home, and had two kids. The first difficulty was the location—it was far too remote. There was no way to leave the property without hitch-hiking. I had never hitch-hiked before, and as a solo female traveler was a little wary, but a’las I wanted to explore the island, so I threw my thumb out and discovered a few new beaches across the island.
Outside of this excursion I remained at the house with my host. I tried to interact with her and help cook, but what she was really looking for was a babysitter. I only stayed with her a few nights and she was mad if I wanted to go to the nearby beach without her kids. Basically, couch surfing to her was a way to get a babysitter so she could work from home easier.
The host had a temper on her. I wasn’t allowed to use my phone. I made one phone call over three days, and was immediately yelled at after I hung up, “This is a cultural exchange, you can’t be on the phone!” One call to my partner that was in the US over three days doesn’t seem excessive to me. After that event, I packed up and hitch-hiked to a hostel near the airport. My take home lesson: always have an exit plan.
Shortly after getting married, my wife and I decided to visit Chicago. This couch surfing experience would be my wife’s very first one as a surfer (not a host), and boy did we hit the jackpot! We stayed with five young adults in a huge historic home that was just a few blocks from the train. There was a night nurse and four grad students that filled the house with life and hospitality. It was as if we had our own personal welcoming squad. They asked us about our lives and what we wanted to do in Chicago. Then, two of them generously handed us their metro passes and said, “These will get you around the city unlimited for free, I don’t need them for the next two days.”
They gave us inside tips that saved us time and money! They told us about a museum coupon book that ended up saving us a bunch of money and time because we were able to take the express line at the attractions. We felt like VIPs and saved hours zooming down these express lines because of their advice. When we told them that we really wanted to see the Broadway Show, The Book of Morman but couldn’t afford the $150 tickets. They said, “Try the lottery. Just show up at the theater two hours ahead of time and enter your name for the drawing.” We won two $20 front row tickets! Lastly, our host insisted on giving up her master bedroom (king temprapedic bed and jacuzzi tub) for us stating, “I’ll just sleep in Mike’s room, he works the night shift, so it won’t be a problem.”