I always had reservations about using Couchsurfing in the past. I loved the idea of it: meeting new people, getting a local’s take on the city, having someone to hangout with, and of course having a free place to stay. While all that sounded great, I also worried about all of the bad things that could happen. Showing up in a new city, alone, and sleeping in a strangers home…it seemed inevitable that I would be murdered in such a circumstance. I just didn’t think it would be safe. Even if it was safe, I am an introvert and can be really shy when it comes to being around people I don’t know. I was sure I’d be too uncomfortable to stay with someone I’d never met before–I’d have to talk to them! The horror!
So I never even made an account on the website. Then my friend and I started to plan a roadtrip, and Couchsurfing came up again. I was still just as curious and interested in trying it, even though I had been too afraid to do it alone. But now I would have a friend with me, and that made it all the better. I’d be willing to try it out as long as I had someone there with me in case anything went wrong. So my friend and I signed up for Couchsurfing and started talking with hosts in the cities we would be visiting.
My First Time
My first host was in Portland. My friend and I stayed in a studio apartment with a girl around our age and her boyfriend. She seemed like someone we would get along with so we were both really excited. When we got there and met our hosts, we were pretty happy. They were both really nice, and while we didn’t all go hang out right away, they offered some suggestions for where to go and things to do. We stayed with them for two nights, and one of those nights we all sat and drank wine while watching American Horror Story. We didn’t become best friends or anything, but it was a nice first CS experience–it certainly alleviated any fears I had right away.
We were actually supposed to stay with them for three nights, though. We were out and about in Portland when we got a text from our host saying we wouldn’t be able to stay with them that night–she cited relationship troubles. It happens. So while everything had been great, we were left short notice with no place to stay. But we are resourceful people; you have to be as a traveler. So we weren’t too worried about having to find a new place to stay in just a few hours, and we did.
Continuing on in Portland, we had to find a new place to stay for our last night in the city. One of the many great things about Couchsurfing is that there is a big community created and brought together by the site. There are all kinds of people that may not be able to give you a place to stay, but are more than happy to talk, hang out, give you suggestions for your visit, show you around, or help you out–all in the name of community and connection. People in the Couchsurfing community put on meetups and events in their cities to connect with other local Couchsurfers, as well as anyone who may be traveling through at the time.
My friend and I went to a CS meetup in Portland that night. There were probably around 15 people who came and went that night. We ate, drank, shared stories, and had a lot of fun. We also found a new place to stay for the night! Someone generously offered us her living room as soon as she heard that our previous host changed plans on us all of a sudden. It was no big deal to her–she didn’t hesitate to give us somewhere to sleep. That night taught me a lot about the kindness of strangers and the willingness of travelers (and Couchsurfers) to help each other out. It really is a community. That solidified my love for Couchsurfing, showing me that even with mishaps, there are still people out there that are good and just want to help.
A Different Host Every Night
Moving on to Salt Lake City: my friend and I stayed there for four nights, and I never spent more than one night in the same place. It made things a little more complicated; every day I had to spend time figuring out where I would sleep that night. We had planned to stay with a host who lived in a communal house with 10+ other people, plus others always coming and going. It seemed like it would be fun, but when we arrived in SLC and showed up at the house, I suddenly felt very different. Nobody answered the door, we had no way of getting in, and it was difficult to get a hold of the host, who was busy working during Sundance. We sat out on the front porch for a half an hour, and finally decided to go explore and come back later. My friend and I separated for the evening and I spent the whole time thinking about the situation. I kept getting this feeling, and I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable staying there. So we ended up just shelling out for a hotel room that night.
The next night we had arranged to stay with a woman out in the suburbs. We didn’t have many options on short notice, but we appreciated having somewhere to sleep. It was too far from downtown, though, so we only stayed for one night. The next night we stayed with a guy who had an apartment right in the city. It was a great location and our host was very accommodating. It was the first time I had stayed with a male host, but being with my friend, I felt okay about it. I was going to stay with him my last night in the city, but my friend had other arrangements, which would have left me alone in this guy’s apartment. I did not feel comfortable with that, so for the second time, I ended up paying for a hotel room. Four nights, four different beds/couches, and two nights worth of hotel rooms out of my pocket.
Alone in Moab
I decided to go to Moab last minute. I wanted to take advantage of being so close instead of passing it up and not getting the chance to go for at least a year. I requested to stay with a single woman in her 40’s and she agreed to have me stay for two nights. It was the first time I would be staying with someone through Couchsurfing alone. I felt okay with the situation, especially being that the host was a woman. Her home was beautiful, simple; it was a straw-bale home in a pedestrian only neighborhood, and everything was completely eco-friendly. I slept on a cot in an empty room with no electricity, but it was comfortable and I had everything I needed.
I had a hard time getting a read on my host–she seemed nice but not all that willing to socialize. She was gone most of the time so I spent both nights cooking dinner for myself and hanging out with her cat, while my days were spent in Arches National Park and out in town. Certainly not a bad time in my opinion, but I was a little lonely after spending almost no time by myself in the previous 9 months. Overall, Couchsurfing alone turned out to be completely fine. I would certainly do it again, but I will always be cautious when going somewhere alone.
As you can see, my experience with Couchsurfing is kind of a rollercoaster. There was good, there was great, and there was inconvenient, but luckily there wasn’t anything too bad. Sometimes I just didn’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, and I’ve learned to always trust your instincts. I know that I am not comfortable staying with male hosts alone, maybe not even that comfortable when I’m not alone–I know a lot of female travelers feel that way too. I know that there are mishaps and things don’t always work out perfectly, but that happens when traveling in general, even if you reserve a hotel room or have everything meticulously planned out. But the most important thing I learned from using CS is that there is a whole community of people out there that are kind, giving, accommodating, and always willing to help. THAT is what I love most about Couchsurfing, and that is why I will continue to use it and continue to recommend that people give it a try. Even when little things went wrong, even when I had to switch hosts multiple times, even when I was alone, everyone was always doing their best to help out by offering a place to sleep. Nothing bad has happened thus far, and I think that boils down to one thing: ALWAYS trust your instincts.
I don’t know what exactly readers will take away from this post–whether you will think it’s worth it or not–but I will say that I find my experiences to be mostly positive. I just wanted to give a realistic view of a fairly new Couchsurfer, to show that it’s not all perfect but it is a viable option for budget travel. I also believe that it is generally safer than most people would think; it is definitely safer than I originally thought. As I continue to use it in the future, I will update with more experiences.
Have you ever used Couchsurfing? I want to hear about your experiences, both good and bad.