Travel Stories

Why Couch Surfing Sucks

The water tank is raining and sputtering furiously, getting me and everything else in the outdoor courtyard wet. I turn the knob and run inside as I bang on the bathroom door, “Stop whatever you’re doing!” I yell at my sister. I had watched confidently as our couch surfing host had demonstrated how to heat the water for our showers. I thought I had replicated his instructions carefully. Obviously something had gone terribly wrong. “Cold showers it is!” I laugh and tell my sisters.

This is just one more small fiasco in a string of uneasy and awkward moments we’ve had since couch surfing in Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for Couch Surfing. I’ve hosted surfers in my apartment and I’ve been blessed with amazing hosts while surfing. What’s not to like about hanging out with locals and having a free place to stay?TheBarefootBeatWe had a great time staying with our hosts in Mexico City!

It’s not as easy as it sounds. The next girl we stay with accepts our request and asks if we like dogs. She has two and they’re very friendly, she says. Of course we like dogs, who doesn’t? We happily accept her invitation and find ourselves in her apartment a few days later. Only her dogs are insane and everything, I mean everything is covered in dog hair. There are piles of dog hair in the shower, on our clothes, and in our sheets. We are tired and smelly from being on the road and “wet dog” is a fragrance we’d prefer not to add to the “sweaty, sunscreen, bug-spray, stinky feet,” traveler’s perfume we’ve been wearing. Our host is funny, kind, and gracious but we can’t get out of her home fast enough.
TheBarefootBeat
What if this was your host’s apartment? Guanajuato, Mexico

Apart from cleanliness and lack of privacy there are cultural and language barriers to navigate. Expectation complicates matters even further. For example, how much time are you obligated to spend with your host? Should you bring a gift? Is it okay to go to bed early when you’re sleeping in the common space? Is it rude to stay an extra night, or leave early? Some of this information can be garnered from tediously reading through entire profiles and meticulously scanning references. However, as the online dating community can attest, an online profile may not represent reality.

Couch surfing is a lot of work. It takes hours of research and planning ahead. It requires you to overcome language and cultural roadblocks and to present yourself as a worthy guest in spite of feeling exhausted and disgusting from too many days without a shower. It limits your freedom and requires you to have a flexible and accommodating schedule. Sometimes after days, weeks, or months on the road this is asking too much.

Will I continue to couch surf? Absolutely. I wholeheartedly believe in the value of cultural exchange that takes place within this community. I have been humbled time after time by the willingness of complete strangers to take me into their home and treat me like family. But I’m also going to allow myself to take a break from it now and then. Like many aspects of long-term travel, achieving balance is the name of the game. So tonight I’m going to shell out $8 to stay in a quaint hostel where I can meet other travelers and enjoy a free breakfast. I’m going to speak in English instead of struggling in Spanish. I’m going to go out on the town without worrying about my host waiting up for me. Tomorrow I’ll start sending out couch requests again and try to prepare myself for whatever may come. But tonight, tonight I’m going to have fun.
TheBarefootBeat
Leaning out of the balcony from our hostel in Guanajuato, Mexico

What have your experiences been like couch surfing? Leave a comment and share the good, the bad and the ugly! I’d love to hear your stories!

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6 Comments

  • Reply Monica February 4, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Hi, I do not understand why you are couchsurfing if it is so much work. You are saying
    “today I have fun, because I stay in the hostel.” Are you a masochist? Why dont you stay all nights in a hostel instead of torturing yourself with surfing couches?
    It is true, it is limiting and really tedious. I tried it a few times and will never try again. You are on the mercy of basically total strangers and it is so very true that online porfile does not show you wha the reality will be like. If you stay in a hostel you can come and go when you like and still meet people, lots of them actually, because there are plenty of all sorts in a hostel. And you can bugger off to your room or bunk bed if you have had enough. Listen, be honest, you are surfing to save money, isnt that true? The way you say “today I shell out 8 dollars and will have fun..” . Just try to get some more money together, stay all nights in a dorm of a hostel and dont torture yourself with couch surfing. It is much more pleasant to meet people if you do not depend on them.

    • Reply Mariah February 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Monica! I love your comment! Maybe I can explain: I love couch surfing. It’s the cheapest, most adventurous, (in my opinion) best way to travel. That being said, there are some hiccups and downsides along the way. Why do I keep doing it? Am I a masochist? I don’t think so! I do it for the people. I love meeting locals and finding out more about their culture, their city, their way of life. This simply doesn’t happen in a hostel. It’s true that you can meet awesome travelers in hostels, but they’re not locals. They won’t have the same knowledge and know-how of the locals. I hope that explains my traveling choices better!

      Couch surfing CAN be more difficult and a pain at times, but the benefits are 1,000x worth the effort!

  • Reply Shueyb Gandapur December 8, 2013 at 2:47 am

    What a misleading and negative title of this post. When one is getting accommodation for free along with the host’s time and company, I don’t think one can complain about not having worldly comforts. I have couchsurfed with well-off and poor people and I have lived in cheap hostels to luxury hotels. I have lived with hosts who didn’t have a mattress or a sheet for me, but I have met amazing people and not a single experience to regret. One can imagine how much comfort a $8 hostel would provide with the cramped beds and shared bathrooms with wet floors – not sure if that defines a fun place. I think couchsurfing is an amazing concept of building trust and connections among strangers out of humanity, which are great in their own right even if not accompanied with free accommodation. CS doesn’t guarantee to provide any minimum level of worldly comfort and it’s unfair to criticize it for that.

    • Reply Mariah December 8, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Hi Shueyb, thanks for your comment! I agree wholeheartedly with your point. I’ve couch surfed in South America, Europe, the U.S. and Africa. Comfort has never been the aim of staying with my hosts, rather gaining cultural insight and new friends has been the goal. I’ve stayed with amazing people in all sorts of living conditions and I’ve never regretted my decision to couch surf. That being said, I’ve been on the road for over 8 months now, and while couch surfing has its benefits, it also has some disadvantages. It can be awkward and uncomfortable at times, in spite of the willingness of everyone involved to be flexible and keep an open mind. Just the fact that you are staying in a stranger’s home in a foreign country is challenging. So sometimes it’s nice to take a break and to regain a sense of anonymity and privacy in a hostel or hotel. There are fewer expectations and more freedom when you’re staying on your own rather than with a host, and sometimes it’s a needed break. I hope that makes sense, I love the couch surfing community and I’m grateful for my experiences!

  • Reply Colleen Brynn June 30, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I think you nailed this one… I like that you covered both positive and negative sides of couchsurfing. I do think it has a place in the world of travelers. And of course, you have to look after yourself, so if it only takes $8 to do that… WORTH IT! I have couch surfed in Brno, Czech Republic and Keflavik, Iceland. Both were positive experiences, but I think it is nice to have the independence of staying in a hostel/hotel/guest house/ B&B etc… We also found accommodation in Reykjavik through airbnb… have you tried it? I would definitely recommend it!
    PS – did you stay at that place in Guanajuato??
    Colleen Brynn recently posted…Happy In NizhnyMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah June 30, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Thanks for your comment Colleen! Yes, I definitely think couch surfing is an excellent resource, but it’s not perfect. I did stay at that place in Guanajuato, it was nice to take a break for a few nights! I have looked at airbnb before but haven’t used it yet…have you had good results? Safe travels to you! 🙂

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