Adventures in Couchsurfing

For those unfamiliar with Couchsurfing it is a global network of travellers which are either prepared to offer a place to sleep or looking for some accommodation. It provides thousands of people with a cheap place for the night and often some great tips within the destination too.

Couchsurfing in Yurts in Corte Corsica on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Mariani Yurt near Corte in Corsica, France

There are some considerations to be taken into account before setting off intending to Couchsurf as a budget option.

Those seeking a place to lay their head for a night obviously need to adjust their expectations.  Accommodation ranges from anything from a place on the floor, a comfortable bed, a hammock outside or as I have experienced a yurt in the grounds of a Baron’s chateau.

Cheap accommodation is not the only benefit however, there is the opportunity to meet great people with similar interests that can often become friends for life.

Members of the couchsurfing community that live in a particular city are a great sources of information that makes perfect sense to ‘tap’ into. Even if they are unable to offer a bed, it is always worth contacting and hopefully meeting them. Advice about places to visit, nightlife, public transport availability and reliability will be readily available. They can also possibly connect you with other couchsurfers. Nobody knows their city better than a local.

When travelling solo it can also provide some welcome company during the trip, a companion for a coffee or even a night out on the town. It can often be the start of a great long-term friendship, with many travellers that meet via the couchsurfing route keeping in touch regularly for many years to come.

Kasbah in Ouarzazate, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Patio in Morocco

I have been fortunate to have enjoyed a number of great experiences and met even more amazing people whilst travelling and several of these have been the result of couchsurfing. Many of these new-found friends left an indelible mark upon me and still keep in touch now.

I have even stayed with a genuine Baron in Corsica, his Chateau  is near Corte, an eccentric with scores of eco-friendly ideas for his land. A proud Frenchman but an even prouder Corsican. There was a constant flow of scouting groups in and out, they were not charged for their stay but completed several cleaning up tasks around the site during their visit.

Couchsurfing hosts usually do not allow their guests to stay for more than one or two days but altogether I remained there for ten days. Initially sleeping in a yurt on my own which was extremely cool but as the weather was so great moving outdoors to a hammock, still all to myself however (unfortunately).

There were also three family groups there, friends of the Baron but they all really made me feel a part of the party. We enjoyed some late night drinking until the early hours, resolving the problems of the World. They insisted on me joining them for all meals, keeping me well fed and inviting me to trips down to the town and swimming in the local river. Like any good couchsurfer though I did make dinner for them all one evening, this is good etiquette within the community.

It was a hardship to leave, they even reminded me about my birthday when I had forgotten it. However there are now another three new places for me to stay when travelling within France.

Not all couchsurfing experiences are so much of an adventure as this,  include a Chateau or as exciting as sleeping in a yurt. So far however there have not been any ‘bad’ trips, whether it has been just sharing a coffee and a chat, getting a guided tour around the city or a decent and cheap night’s sleep they have all added to the trip.

I have slept on floors, hung my hammock in the garden, slept in an attic with a view of glorious scenery, been the guest of a Baron and slightly less high born hosts but their hospitality was never any less gracious. It is unimportant where or with whom we stay the only important thing worth remembering is that these hosts have given up a little piece of their homes to you.

There is a bond of understanding and kinship which travellers share and by providing a place for others to sleep when they are able to do so is a great expression of this comradeship.

French villa in the Aveyron region of the Midi-Pyrenees on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Don’t expect too much!

I mentioned the etiquette involved earlier, it is good practice to return the favour and ‘pay back’ your host for their hospitality. This can merely mean, buying a good bottle of wine to share, do some chores around the house or offer dinner one evening before departing.

These can often provide the lasting memories and are always greatly appreciated by the host. Cooking dinner for three families became interesting; gröstle seemed easy but on the camp stove provided for the task proved a little more difficult than anticipated.

On more than one occasion sharing a bottle of wine has turned into a full on party with a number of the friends of the host turning up with the right ‘attitude’ for a good time.

This also brings up the obvious question of possible couchsurfing romance; what happens in couchsurfing stays in couchsurfing! I am considering however writing a thesis on the aphrodisiac qualities of a bottle of wine. Personally a great many adventures and misadventures are the result of a little wine or alternative refreshment.

There has been plenty of excitement on the road whilst surfing the couches of the Planet and this is reason enough for me to continue. I look forward to many more adventures in couchsurfing in future.

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  1. Phil

    I think you do a good job summarizing and introducing the possibilities of couchsurfing. And very awesome you got to stay with a baron!! I would say it’s a bit misleading to call it “cheap” or “budget” accomodation as it is supposed to be free. Obviously, you can lend a hand cooking or running errands, but it’s not compulsory that you give something back during your stay. I’m glad you emphasized what I think is the most important aspect, the friendship and community side of things, and I think there is an important element of reciprocity to CS, which you mention: making a connection with someone and offering to host yourself. Like you, I owe some of my most cherished travel memories to CS and I’ve met some of my best friends through it. Right now, I’m actually starting a small roadside restaurant in Cote d’Ivoire with my former CS hosts in Abidjan!

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      Iain

      Thanks Phil had a great time so far with CS and it is awesome that you are setting up in business with some previous hosts. As for the budget it really refers to the fact that it is a viable option for people travelling on a budget as using CS whenever possible will keep the costs down. I know it is not compulsory to ‘give back’ but I personally believe it would be pretty rude not to do so in someway, but maybe that is just me? The earlier post which has a link covers some aspects of the reciprocity of CS.

  2. Greg Goodman

    I am absolutely obsessed with Couchsurfing and have been on both sides of the surfing. Some of my favorite experiences traveling have come while staying with a complete stranger, like when my wife and I got all dressed up in traditional Balinesian ceremonial robes to go to a religious ceremony. We also have loved opening our doors for friends from around the world to join us in our San Francisco apartment. My favorite were the two French musicians that we had an impromptu jam/yoga session with.

    Couchsurfing also led us to the most absurd place we have ever stayed: the hellhole known as the Overstay in Bangkok during Thai new year.

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      Iain

      Hey Greg sounds like you have plenty of adventures of your own for a great post on CS I look forward to reading it sometime. Its also gratifying that you have reciprocated and provided a place for others when you returned. it shows that the ‘system’ works and some travellers do indeed ‘give back’ to the community. Thanks for sharing.

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      Iain

      Very true Merav we now have ‘Tripping’ and Wooffng and similar, homestays in various parts of the World they are just other ways in which we look to immerse ourselves in the community.

  3. Erik

    One of my goals on my New Zealand trip next year is to couchsurf once. I’d love to be a host, but let’s be serious, who comes to Detroit? (it’s really not as bad as people say).

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      Iain

      Good luck with the CSing in NZ next year Erik pretty sure it will be relatively easy there, plenty of options and a very friendly people. Also sure Detroit is not that bad and somebody has to be first to offer a place to stay!

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      Iain

      I should imagine CS in Ireland would be pretty great they are all so friendly, should be pretty cool in California too Annie

  4. Nomadic Samuel

    As much as I’ve travelled, I’ve yet to try couch surfing although I’ve heard glowing reviews from other backpackers. I know for certain when I visit Europe for the first time that I’ll be using it often, if not exclusively.

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      Iain

      It is a great way to travel Samuel especially when going solo too as it can provide a little company when you really need some. Not sure if it will be really possible to do excusively that will take a lot of co-ordination as sometimes it can be difficult to get in contact with CouchSurfers in a particular place.

      1. Ana

        I don’t know how to view travel without CS anymore. It’s like having friends and a support network everywhere I go. But Iain is right, lodging exclusively with CSers becomes a hassle, I tried it.

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          Iain

          Thanks Ana great to hear how you find CS would love to hear the issues you had through attempting to travel excusively with CS sometime

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      Iain

      I love Couchsurfing Rachel, people can really make it special, so many opportunities for adventure and the great people that make it an adventure.

  5. Megan

    Iain I really liked this post and share your opinion on CS. I think there is waaaayy to much focus on it being used to score a free place to crash. Whenever I’m asked about CS I always highlight the pay it forward nature of it. I’d much rather spend $30 on food for a dinner or a bottle of wine to enjoy with a host than a hostel room filled with other travellers…most of who are probably also Australian!

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      Iain

      I like the way you think, money spent on good food and especially good wine is far better than on a scabby dorm with snoring room mates, Ozzies or otherwise.

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