When most people talk about couchsurfing, they mean sleeping on a friend’s couch for the night. But there’s a group of travelers who do this regularly, and the couches they’re crashing on often belong to complete strangers. The Couchsurfing community is a social platform that connects budget travelers with available couches at their destination of choice. I know it might sound a little scary, but it’s more of an adventure than anything else. Years ago, I spent four months traveling around the States Couchsurfing with plenty of strangers, many of whom I’m still friends with. It was definitely a challenge to get over the fear, but all in all, it was well worth it. I highly recommend folks go the Couchsurfing route, whether they’re 25 or 52. Here’s why.
1. You’ll meet new people. While it’s pretty easy to meet new people in your younger years (thanks to school and work), it can get harder as you get older. When you Couchsurf, you’re staying with strangers and getting to know them. Whereas if you travel solo and stay in a hotel, you might end up not interacting with anyone, with Couchsurfing, you’ll definitely make some new connections — and maybe even friendships!
2. You’ll get out of your comfort zone. When you Couchsurf, you don’t have a whole lot of privacy. Some hosts might have private rooms available, but most will just have a few blankets and a couch for you to crash on. You’ll also be using their kitchens and bathrooms, which can feel a bit intimate at times. Additionally, you won’t be traveling with much baggage since you’re not staying in your own place (and it’s cumbersome to). Unless you’re accustomed to moving around a lot, not sleeping in a bed, and living out of a backpack, it will certainly take you out of your comfort zone, and that can be a good thing. Ditch your old routines, get out of the day-to-day rut, and allow yourself the freedom to do things a little differently (you might even discover you really like it).
3. You may get exposed to other cultures in a more genuine way. Depending on how far you travel (and whose couch you end up on), there’s a good chance you’ll get to learn more about other cultures in a more authentic way. For example, you can travel to Mexico, stay in a hotel, and only venture to the touristy or ex-pat areas where you won’t get much culture aside from maybe grabbing a street taco. But staying in someone’s home, you might learn more about the language (and slang), or about local customs and manners, which you’ll likely miss out on otherwise. You’ll also get to share some of your own culture with your hosts, which they’re sure to appreciate.
4. It will give you a glimpse into how the locals live day-to-day. Additionally, you’ll be able to see how people in a particular community live on a daily basis. What are their homes like? Is their furniture set up like yours? How do they commute? What’s the closest grocery or corner store? When do they eat lunch (and what do they eat, for that matter)? This will also help you if you’re potentially considering a move to the location.
5. You’ll receive insider info you probably won’t find in guidebooks. Want to know where the locals actually eat, drink, and hang out? You might find some recommendations online or in guide books, but there’s no better source than actually asking (or going with) a local. Plus, even when you read about a location, you might not feel comfortable going on your own, so it’s often helpful to have someone as your guide to go along with.
6. It will dramatically cut your traveling costs. Couchsurfing helps make travel accessible and affordable (way more than Airbnb since Couchsurfing is essentially free of charge). It’s not always easy to be able to afford traveling when you’re younger. And sure, you might be able to afford nicer lodgings when you’re older, but that doesn’t mean you should break the bank every time you want to venture out. As a bonus, some hosts even go the extra mile and offer home-cooked meals or a round of beers. Just try to bring your hosts a small gift as well (many surfers pick up something from their last destination and bring it to their hosts as a sign of good faith).
7. You’ll make lifelong memories. It’s been nearly seven years since I did my lengthy Couchsurfing stint, and I’m still very enthusiastic about it. Traveling in this way changed my life and broadened my horizons. I think back on it fondly, and am determined to someday surf again. It’s also a great topic of conversation (because how many people do you actually know who have dared sleep in a stranger’s home?). No matter how young or old you are, it’s something you won’t regret — but will definitely remember for the rest of your life.
Would you try Couchsurfing? Let us know on Twitter @BritandCo!
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