Aug 18, 2015 16:36 & Aug 19, 2015 9:58 (update)
Couchsurfing (CS) is a unique way to travel if you are travelling solo or with another person – if you or both of you are comfortable with staying at a stranger(s)’ home. If you are with another person, then finding a place to stay (= surfing) is more difficult because I find that many hosts can host only one person at a time as space at their homes is very limited. Most times you will need to arrange your own trips. Some hosts have strict rules where you must be home by certain time. You will need to go to the meeting place to meet the host that the host has provided or go straight to his/her home. If the host is very open and not busy, he/she can come to airport and pick you up and have meal with you before going to his/her home. Then he/she will show you around. In exchange of a place to stay for free, the guest(s) is usually required to help the host with chore.
In order to find a place to stay with the host, the traveller needs to be very careful. CS website shows its hosts’ profiles with references written by other guests or travellers who have met the host. People with many positive references show that they are reliable and trustable hosts. It is highly recommended that the travellers choose these hosts to stay over at their places. In fact, in order to obtain better quality surfing and gain acceptance from hosts to stay at their home, it would be nice if you have some references as well. Therefore, it is recommended that you attend some events or meet other travellers before travelling, to write references for others and others will write back to you, although they will not always write back to you. You will need to ask them to write one for you. For you to meet people and for them to have a better knowledge of you, you will need to write a good profile on your CS profile page. If you have nothing there, then others do not know who you are, especially when the hosts ask why you choose them over others.
General CSing host stay duration: 1-3 days. Rarely 7 days (My first CS host Rob did have someone stay for 7 days – the traveller loved it so much that she has extended length of stay).
You can always contact multiple hosts at one time and stay at one place for few days and move on to another host’s place. Just remember: message as many as hosts are possible and don’t stay at one place for too long! Hosts each have time duration and specific time which guests can stay. Some are nicer over another, but generally most are busy with their lives and cannot host someone for a long time. It is uncommon that hosts cancel last minute and you need to find a new location to stay. If such event occurs, they either have emergency or last minute something. If they did not treat you well over e-mail or ill conversation or any other behaviours that you find inappropriate, be sure to write them negative reference!
This is my first CS experience staying at a stranger’s home (with someone):
Dec 2012 – Hilo, Hawaii
My first CS experience was rather an interesting one because I went with someone whom I have never met and have travelled for 8 days – 4 days in Maui and 4 days in Hilo – Maui was hostel (I will talk about it more in detail under Hostel thread) and Hilo was CS. This was already extreme for me because I did not travel much and this was my first time ever to travel on my own without family.
The person (LJ) whom I went to Hawaii was a university student who was studying in the same program as me – we both studied Environmental Science. I simply found her post in Environmental Science message board on Facebook. She really wanted to go to Hawaii at that time and her friends did not want to go so she was looking for someone to travel with. Eventually, she gave me the cheapest airline name to fly to Hawaii and I have decided to go. I was actually surprised by how cheap it was to travel to Hawaii. I was in Vancouver at that time. Flying from Vancouver to Hawaii is international, so the direct flight was somewhat expensive (~&600 Cdn) especially since it was during Christmas. The flight suggestion she gave me was to take bus to Seattle and fly from there. It was about $270 only! The flight was Alaska Airlines. The flight had layover in San Jose, California though, but it was only about 2 hours, so nothing big deal. During the layover at San Jose, I met two fellow travellers who were both travelling to Kona, which is on the same island but north of where I was travelling to. I befriended one of them. She was a university student from Finland. She was also using Couchsurfing for travelling so we exchanged our contacts on Couchsurfing and Facebook. We promised to meet each other if I was going to Kona. Unfortunately, I never made it to Kona due to lack of time.
LJ went there 5 days earlier than me because her last final exam was early and mine was very late. I arrived in Maui first and we went to pick up her luggage from another CSer’s home where she has stayed previously before I got there. We made an incredible last-minute decision. We bought flight tickets the first day I got to Maui. It was December 21, 2012 the day when we booked the flight. There was the End of the World party on the island of Oahu (Maui) which she was interested in, but I was more interested in travelling. We took a ~45min flight to Kahului airport (Hilo) in the southern portion of the Big Island of Hawaii. This flight ticket was very expensive – $200! Oh well, I was only there for 8 days. I rarely travelled so whatever, as I have thought. I did not regret the choice. It was so much fun staying at CSer’s home for the first time and he was the nicest CSer according to LJ.
I had a decently large luggage for my trip and she had a backpack. At that time, I did not have a backpack. I did not know that my luggage did not fit into the shuttle buses at the small Kahului airport and there were no taxes waiting outside the airport! I was shocked. We ended up walking toward the destination where we had to take the bus to Rob’s home. We were amazed by the tropical trees along the way and we took time examining the plants. We thought the destination was close to the airport and thought the walk was only about 30 minutes. A car eventually stopped in front of us and the driver offered us a ride. We agreed and the driver got us to our destination. We later learned that the walk was actually about 2 hours. I thought we were lucky to be picked up by the driver, but LJ insisted that the Hawaii residents were nice and it was quite easy to hitchhike. The driver offered to show us around the next day but LJ rejected due to the unfamiliarity of the stranger and informed me that it can be dangerous. She just said we already had plans and had someone to show us around.
Once we reached our CSer’s home, we were greeted and showed us his home. At the time of our stay, his home was renovated by his friend. We settled in and he later took us to Thai restaurant and explored the main street of Hilo. Hilo was a small city. The main street had a marine museum and some tourist shops. It seemed that Hilo was not so much a tourist destination. Kona, another city in the northern part of the island, was more popular with tourists. We spent time wandering through the city in a stormy rainy day going to a local food market. We bought 6 huge papayas for only $1! They were very delicious too.
During our stay at Rob’s, we cooked Chinese and Japanese food and shared on the last day. We made too much and had lots of leftovers. A new CSer from Germany arrived on our last day and she also shared some of our food. Since we had some time before we went to the airport, Rob took us and the German to a nearby touristy waterfall. We then drove to Volcano National Park to look at wonderful crater and sandy landscape that looked like Mars.
Overall, I indeed must say this is a rare CS experience. I have recently been observing through other CSers’ experiences and hosts and it seemed that many CSers have to buy their own food and do their own business while the hosts are busy. This is the case of Japan though. I am sure CSers from other places are like that too.