[dropcap] I [/dropcap] have travelled now for a few years, and yet couchsurfing went against every intuition I have ever had, and everything my parents told me not to do (eg. sleeping in some random persons house I met online).
However, in a moment of desperation, stranded with only expensive accommodation in Miami, I turned to the couchsurfing community and finally put my faith in the internet.
Firstly, I’ll talk about the benefits. Despite having no references, and being extremely last minute, Jeremy, my first ever host, told me I could get a cab to his workplace and we could sort things out from there. Upon arrival, he instantly trusted me and gave me keys to his house and car, telling me I could get an uber back to his and wait, nap in his car, or – wait for it – have free tickets to watch the Miami Marlins play New York Mets with some of the best seats in the house! Turns out he worked as the baseball team’s equipment assistant so was able to bag me some free tickets. He even invited me to watch them train the next day.
Speaking of unexpected adventures, in San Antonio, my host’s neighbour popped over with VIP jazz festival tickets in a downtown park. I hopped onto the back of his motorbike and was given a great lengthy tour around the city, which happened to coincide with an electronic light story of the Alamo projected on the cathedral. That’s the great thing about it all, you just never know where a couchsurfing night will take you. Every day is a brand new adventure.
Furthermore, it’s a great chance to try out and learn new things. From balloon animals, to nudism, there is a variety of hosts that offer some really crazy things! (Yes, one man’s profile suggested mutual masturbation because, “no homo, I just like the guest connection”). Don’t worry though, I never had these people sneak up on me, I just avoided them if it was listed in their description. But hey, if you’re into that, give it a go.
On the down side, it can be rather sexist. Men do have a harder time finding a place to stay, since many women don’t feel comfortable hosting them alone, but also many men would rather their company. This can lead to some odd situations. A man I met in NOLA stayed with an old, rich man in Miami and ended up giving him nipple massages in return for accommodation. This man even offered him a job as his ‘personal assistant’ in return for getting a green card to live in the States – weird. Of course, you also hear the horror stories.
That’s the great thing about it all, you just never know where a couchsurfing night will take you
One man had a webcam pointed at the sofa where I slept, and didn’t tell me. I figured it was more for Airbnb guests that stay when he isn’t there, it still made me feel awfully uncomfortable, and among other odd things he did (like demand I get his drinks all night), I ended up leaving early and switching hosts.
Overall though, I would urge you to take a leap of faith. It was the best thing I could have done. I met some great people, had a great laugh and got to do things I would have never been able to without it! Oh, and don’t forget, it’s free! A cost-effective way of seeing the world. Just exercise caution when choosing who to request to stay with, always tell a friend where you’re going and have a reasonable exit strategy for a worst-case scenario.