By now the secret is out. The evolution of budget travel has gone from $5 for a crappy dorm bed to a free private room. With the explosion of sites like CouchSurfing.org a new generation of penny pinching backpackers are able to travel further for cheaper. As a CS Ambassador, i’m always finding myself caught up in the philosophical (and moral) discussion of CouchSurfing being more than merely a free place to stay. It is instead an opportunity to share cultural experiences with locals (or quite often ex-pats) giving you an inside scoop. While you aren’t paying for the room/bed/couch/floor space, a token gesture of a cooked meal or bottle of wine is always a welcome thank-you from the surfer. But regardless of your intentions, CS is a valuable tool every traveller should be packing.
A glance at the top 10 CouchSurfing cities shows an obvious trend. Not surprisingly, the world’s most popular, and expensive, major cities top the list of most surfed/hosting places.
|1. Paris, France||6. Vienna, Austria|
|2. London, England||7. Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|3. Berlin, Germany||8. Melbourne, Australia|
|4. Istanbul, Turkey||9. New York, USA|
|5. Montreal, Canada||10. Barcelona, Spain|
But I’ve never really been one to follow trends. And although I shy away from such cool terms as “off-the-beaten-track”, it is one of the easiest ways to describe my travelling choices. So I have comprised my own list of my personal favourite places I, myself, have CouchSurfed.
This is a bit of an emotional choice for me. This is where I joined CouchSurfing several years ago. We had an amazing little community there. We’d meet every week, with slightly different hosts and a variety of surfers, and pig out at a fancy-pants Chinese restaurant costing next to nothing. Good times!
This bizarre, ultra-modernesque, purpose-built new capital is a little to the right of the middle of nowhere. Yet somehow, prices for accommodation are still sky-high. I surfed with a whole local family whose Bubushka (grandmother) wouldn’t stop feeding me until I put on 4kg per meal.
What is often defined as the worst capital, in a string of horrible Central American capitals, was not exactly where I planned to spend my birthday. It’s just the way it worked out. Mot certainly, without the local connection, I would have spent the night fighting off bedbugs at some budget hostel as car horns and exhaust fumes filled the air. Instead general shenanigans ensued. Whoop!
Many of the Gulf state cities seemed to have been designed for drivers. They tend to sprawl over uninspiring landscapes of post-apocalyptic proportions. It was beyond invaluable to have a host who insisted on driving me to all the sites.
Although the global financial meltdown has made Iceland more affordable for travellers, it is far from being a budget travellers paradise. But more valuable than the 30 Euro I saved a night was the awesome company of my hosts as some of the most competitive games nights roared into the eternally darkened winter sky.
Quite often it’s the host that makes the experience. Such was the case when I stayed on Gozo. The super cool old house with either plants growing on the wall, or walls made of plants, coupled with the knowledge of local historian.
Often skipped by the few tourists who come to Iraq, there was something beyond surreal when my host took me bowling at a shiny new alley in the city Sadaam used as his Kurdish base of operations.
While you may not know it, the hospitality of the Yemeni people is legendary. If you combine that with a CouchSurfer you end up with some sort of mythological God of giving.
What could go wrong with travelling in a post-soviet war torn nation, which isn’t recognized as a nation with a burly Latvian biker pouring local moonshine down your throat?
Sometimes even the best of us gets a little nervous. Kabul is just the sort of place that puts me a little on edge. Having a connection, an island in a sea of chaos, transcends the pettiness of saving a few dollars on a hotel. Absolutely priceless.
All image credits on this post go to the Author
You can read more of more travels, CouchSurfing related or not, at Joe’s Trippin’.
About the Author: Joe is a legitimate modern day nomad hailing from Canada. Having been on the road since he was 18, his travel map shows over 100 countries. He currently travels the world working in Education. For more information about Joe, or to read his full bio click here.
I can second Reykjavik as a great place to couchsurf.
Bear in mind anyway that the top 10 cities are indicative of members, not necessarily available couches!
I would like to see a bit more commentary about giving back to the host – being a good guest, cleaning up after yourself, helping out in the home etc.
Surfers have a duty to be the best they can be as guests or risk loosing hosts from CS for good. If you couchsurf, take some time to reflect on the effort that goes into hosting – higher bills in the home, risk of damage, extra laundry etc etc
Hosts on CS seem to be increasing a lot more slowly than people looking for couches, and that’s a sad sign. Joe: you briefly mentioned that CS is more than a free place to stay, but really didn’t explain the point enough.
Hi Will, thanks for your comment! I totally agree, guests need to be gracious. It’s one thing for a friend to be a bad guest, but a bad couch surfer really soils the whole CS experience and ruins it for others down the line.
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