When we posted our year long travel budget, we were delighted to beat our target of travelling on £15/$25 each per day. However, despite seeking out the best deal on a cheap hostel wherever we went, it was clear where more money could have been saved - our accommodation costs comprised 36% of our overall spend.
We decided to speak with seasoned long-term travellers who find accommodation in a different way to us in order to save money or have a unique travel experience. This week we caught up with Will - the chap behind The Broke Backpacker - to find out more about couchsurfing.
How many years have you been doing it? Which countries have you surfed in?
I’ve been on the road for over seven years and I first started Couchsurfing when I was 19.
Tell us about your first couchsurfing experience.
My first ever Couchsurfing experience was actually with a Bedouin chap in the middle of the Sahara desert; I had truly no idea what to expect but it was an amazing adventure; at the time I remember still being totally shocked that this community existed and people were willing to help me out and show me around, all for free! As soon as I returned home from that trip, I began hosting - which is another adventure in itself!
Is rejection common? Do you have any tips for creating an attractive profile?
I think it really depends on where your surfing; recently, in Central America, I found it very difficult to find a host even though I have over a hundred references. In Asia, I’ve always found it pretty easy to find a host and sometimes would even have people reach out to me to find out if I need somewhere to stay! In very popular cities, such as London, couchsurfing is pretty much impossible if you're a solo male backpacker; both male and female hosts would prefer female surfers.
What's your approach to finding a host? As a solo male backpacker, are there certain things you look for or avoid to ensure a good fit.
I normally try and surf with either other lads or with a couple; I don’t particularly like surfing with solo female hosts as it can be really messy; a lot of people see Couchsurfing as some kind of dating site but I try and steer well clear of this.
Do you have a lot of contact with hosts prior to agreeing to a stay and/or your arrival?
I usually drop a couple of messages to confirm that I am coming, where possible I try to add my host on Facebook so I can check them out and ensure they are not a nut-job!
From our position as complete newbies to couchsurfing, the big turn-off factors are lack of privacy and/or security concerns for our valuables. What's the reality?
I have surfed around 150 times and only had a couple of bad experiences; once some money went missing and on a couple of occasions people really just will NOT leave you alone and it can become a bit much. Saying that, CS is not a hotel service, you need to be prepared to have pretty much no privacy.
Whenever I am surfing, I tend to just keep valuables out of site but in general you will get a feel for someone pretty quickly. By reading a hosts references you can usually work out if they are a ‘step back’ or a ‘full on’ kind of person. I’ve had hosts give me total free-reign, literally just hand me a key, and I have also had hosts insist on being with me every second of the day whilst I am staying with them. The average tends to be a healthy mix of the two; hosts who will happily go out for drinks with you but don't feel they need to be with you all day.
Are surfers expected to hang-out and socialise with a host? Is it common for meals to be cooked and paid for together?
Whenever I surf, I myself buy ingredients and then cook for my host - it’s kind of the ‘done’ thing. You should be willing to socialise with the host, expect that they will want to spend time with you. In reality, they may not but you must be willing to hang out with them if that’s what they want - they have after all just welcomed you into their home.
Have you had any awful experiences with the people hosting you?
I did have one very uncomfortable night with a host in Israel, ‘wandering hands’ is what we nicknamed him. In the end, I got up, packed my shit and left.
Avoiding accommodation charges on the road is clearly a big draw for surfers. What else attracts you to it and keeps you coming back?
I personally try not to use CS just to save money as often I’ll end up spending more cooking my host dinner or buying them beers than I would on a bed in a hostel (although it really depends on the country). I use CS because I like to land on my feet with a social life and to meet cool and interesting people who can help me find out more about the country I am exploring.
Lastly, what's your top tip to a traveller who is thinking of doing couchsurfing for the first time?
Go with an open mind and turn up with a small gift - a magnet from your country, a couple of beers, something like that - to break the ice.
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Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conquerer of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain seeker. Will blogs over at www.thebrokebackpacker.com about his adventures around the world. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter or, if you're really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.