Big cities and popular tourist destinations are often overrun with bustling crowds trying to snap a picture of this fountain or that statue; it can get annoying pretty quickly. If you’re anything like me, you’re also tired of ticking off TripAdvisor’s Top Ten wherever you go, and the allure of sharing a dorm room with ten smelly, snoring backpackers is wearing thin.
It might be time to change up your travel tactics.
Enter couchsurfing, which admittedly isn’t a new practice by any means. What is new is that this age-old housing strategy can be facilitated by apps that operate worldwide, connecting travellers everywhere with people willing to lend their futon, airbed, or yoga mat for the night. It’s a great way to meet new people, get local secrets, stay in places that aren’t hostels or hotels, and save a bunch of money.
I’ve couchsurfed in a few places, and have always had a great experience. Understandably, people have hesitations about using services like this; staying with a stranger in their home can definitely send up a red flag to your mum, and could be nerve-wracking if you’re a newbie globetrotter, or you’re by yourself. But embracing a fearless attitude comes in handy here (and with travelling in general); it enables you to have crazy experiences that hesitation tends to get in the way of.It might be time to change up your travel tactics. Click To Tweet
Still, you want to be careful and practice due diligence. It’s important to really scour your prospective host’s profile; you can get a good feel for people from what they’ve written about themselves, and the reviews they’ve gotten from others.
Last year, I was organising to stay in Hamburg, but was thrown by a comment made by a potential host. He said that I was welcome to stay with him, but only if I attended a ‘sexy swingers party’ with him and his girlfriend. I can’t say that I don’t like sexy swingers parties – I’ve never been to one – but it definitely wasn’t what I was looking for at that point in time.
I also got some creepy vibes from the guy’s messages, so I went back and read his profile. Apparently, he only accepted female guests and enjoyed ‘having a flirt,’ which I decided wasn’t quite my gig. I politely declined his invitation to the sexy swingers party, and found a different couch on which to surf.
My most recent couchsurfing experience was in Sweden, and it was nothing short of incredible. My friend and I had literally no plans for our week-long adventure, except for the thought that going north might be cool. I had a scroll through a couchsurfing app, and found a guy in Kiruna, a town in the Swedish Lapplands, who accepted our request. We caught a train up from Stockholm, keen to get out of the city and away from the tourists and maybe meet some actual Swedish people.
At our hostel in Stockholm, we were greeted by a Kiwi working the front desk (the chick who checked us out the following morning was Australian, go figure). Our train ride was about 16 hours, through snow-covered fields and forests, more snow than I’ve seen in my nearly quarter of a century on this rock. Needless to say, we were pumped, hoping to see elk and huskies, frozen lakes and sleds.
We jumped off the train in Kiruna, and have a guess as to what we both heard: an Aussie accent. We’re bloody everywhere, guys.
Our host picked us up after dropping two other couchsurfers off at the airport – one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met – and introduced us to his roomates, a couple of Swedish guys and a girl from Brisbane. Australia.
These guys were phenomenal hosts. They spent heaps of time with us, drove us around, told us where to go and what to see, shared their home with us as if we were roommates that had been there forever. It’s this warm, homely vibe you really can’t get jumping around at hostels, and it’s what made our trip so memorable.
We spent a lot of time hanging out at their place, since the sun was gone by three in the afternoon. We used their Nintendo 64 and played guitar together, had dinner and played cards like a little temporary family. Our host made us a special Reindeer stew – a local specialty – and we cooked up killer nachos. They gave us insights into places to go, and warned us off the stuff that wasn’t worth it. We hiked for hours through the snow, along tracks that led from their backyard, and I walked alone in the middle of a frozen lake; feeling like the only person in the world, relishing the silence.
The relaxed travelling we undertook in Sweden was perfect. We let couchsurfing decide our destinations, and boy did we save a tonne of cash. For anyone still harbouring concerns, I say that if you’ve got your head on straight and you request to stay with people that you think are trustworthy, you’ve got nothing to fear. New friends, new experiences and new places to go are all there for the taking, and totally free!
It’s been my experience that most people just want to help others, and let them in on the little things that they love about their home. The couchsurfing community is kind and generous, and definitely has good advice on how to take in a spot and love it like the locals do.