Couchsurfing Review: My Adventure
The car seemed to be approaching the intersection a bit too quickly, and for what it’s worth, the light was red anyway.
Even though it was dark out, I saw the police car across the intersection and knew that because were so close to Ferighy Airport in Budapest, Hungary, that they would be watching closely for suspicious activity.
And for what it’s worth, a small, gray sedan full of people, driven through a red light by a Hungarian dude with long, Counting Crows dreads, looked like suspicious activity.
It was about ten pm at night and my brother and I had just met our Couchsurfing.org contact at the Budapest airport. We did not know what to expect because we had no way to know who we were meeting.
The police officer stared at me and I huddled in the backseat, trying to look relaxed and normal. He never asked for my ID and just wrote the driver a ticket. It was expensive.
What a great way to be welcomed to a country, courtesy of Couchsurfing!
If I had came to Hungary on my own accord without reaching out to the Couchsurfing community, I’d likely be in a taxi on my way to a sterile hotel.
Instead, I was on my way to a great experience.
What is Couchsurfing.org?
In this article we will explore the Couchsurfing phenomenon, and I will answer some common questions about the site and the experience, like is Couchsurfing safe, is Couchsurfing fun, and will Couchsurfing save me money?. I will also share my personal experience.
For those not familiar, Couchsurfing is an online community that allows local chapters of hosts to welcome travelers to their town, usually also providing a free bed or couch to crash on. It is the ultimate example of online life meeting offline life, and it seems to work wonderfully.
Though Couchsurfing is meant to only provide free places to stay, the girl we were meeting had instead contacted us about renting rooms in an apartment. She was the first to respond to my post seeking lodging. It came out to 20 Euros per night (10 each), and she would pick up and drop us at the airport. Plus we would each have our own bedrooms.
For our first time using CS, it seemed right to pay, because it was easier than trying to find someone to let us crash on their couch. For first-time users, there can be a sense of fear of the unknown. You also don’t want to feel like a freeloader, though part of Couchsurfing is that you are willing to also host (or at least welcome) people to your own town.
And I must admit, as I sat in the back of that car with flashing police lights behind me, I wondered what have I gotten myself into?
Is Couchsurfing Fun?
In addition to finding the apartment in Hungary via Couchsurfing, we connected with the local Budapest welcome chapter and made plans to meet them for their weekly welcome dinner. It was held at a great restaurant about a ten minute walk from our apartment.
When we arrived, we were the first ones there, but it was encouraging that we were directed by staff to a large table for 30. Slowly some locals and expats streamed in, and a few hours later we were surrounded by young and cool locals and engaging in some fun and interesting conversations.
The drinks were flowing, and eventually we were accompanying an expat Londoner of Maylay descent to the ruin pub, Szimpla. There we met some local Hungarian girls and moved to the rooftop pub, Corvinus, and partied until the sun came up.
The next night we bumped into our female host at our building, and ended up chatting with her in the courtyard for a few hours over beers and wine. A three piece rock band came to check out the building, as they would be performing a free concert in the courtyard the following week. We ended up hanging out with them, playing “unplugged” cover versions of popular songs, singing and having a good time.
This is not an experience I would have had without Couchsurfing.
After Budapest we flew to Malta for a few days of sun and sea. On our last day there, we connected with a guy about our age through CS. He was half Maltese and half Australian, and was a sports agent. He picked us up from our hostel about 7 pm, drove us around the small island showing us the sites, then took us to a Couchsurfing beach barbecue.
At the BBQ we met people from dozens of countries, ate great food, and slept on the beach. Again, this is something that would not have been possible without the Couchsurfing community.
Will Couchsurfing Save Me Money?
What we got for the money in Budapest was outstanding, much better than a hostel or an awkward room in an old person’s house. My brother and I each had our own furnished bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom with tub, and pots and pans with which to cook. We also had access to the building’s courtyard, which provided us with an unforgettable evening.
Your mileage, of course, will vary.
Because Couchsurfing is meant to be free, it will certainly save you money. Even though we hooked up with someone who expected payment, it was still cheaper than a hostel, and much cheaper than a hotel.
Pros and Cons
- Save money
- Meet local people proud to show you their country
- Have a travel experience you won’t find in a guidebook
- Might end up with a weird host
- Might be constrained by hosts’ schedule
Would I Recommend Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing allowed us to have an unforgettable trip and feel a bit less like a tourist, and more like an insider.
Make sure you start your interaction with the online community a few months before your trip. This will increase your chances of connecting with a host that you are comfortable with, and one that has a room available.
As any situation, just use common sense and make sure people know where you will be going. With a little bit of research and effort, you can use Couchsurfing.org to help make your holiday enjoyable and affordable.
About the author: John is the founder of MarriedWithDebt.com, a personal finance and lifestyle design blog geared towards helping younger, married couples get out of debt and build the life they want...together.
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