At the very beginning of 2015, I undertook the trip I had always dreamed of. I boarded a plane in Paris on December 31st and spent New Year’s Eve crossing half the world to land in Bali, on the first day of January. The plan I had in mind was simple: to travel from South-East Asia to Europe, mostly crossing off-the-beaten-track countries on my way, located either in Central Asia, the Middle East, Caucasus or ex-Yugoslavia. The rest, however, was left to the unknown, since I had decided that I would only be hosted by locals, this time around.

Now flash forward to when I came home, at the beginning of the summer, six months later. As I set foot in my own house, I realized how this experience had just completely changed my view on traveling. And it was all thanks to Couchsurfing. Nowadays, a lot of women are still a bit scared to use this system. If you are one of them, here are ten reasons why you should put your apprehensions to the side and just give it a try…

couchsurfing

1) Meeting the locals

The biggest advantage of Couchsurfing is to meet locals. By inviting you for free into their home, they are generally expecting more than just exchanging a few words at your arrival. Talking with your hosts, getting to know them will teach you more about the country you travelled to than any tour you might join. Throughout my trip, I learned about the Cambodian history and society, just by talking with a Khmer dad hosting me in the jungle, with the rest of his family. I understood the trend of braces in Thailand and the impact of the fall of the Russian rouble in Tajikistan, the complicated political system in Bosnia and the consequences of the economic sanctions on Iran. If I hadn’t met my hosts, chances are that my knowledge about their country would have stuck to its initial level: quite superficial. Our conversations opened my eyes and helped me get a better understanding of the place I was in.

Meet locals

2) Open your mind

Staying with people who live a completely different lifestyle also forces you to put into perspective the existence you’ve been accustomed to. It makes you question your own choices and leads you to understand that not a lot of things are either good or bad, ok or not, in this world: it’s just a matter of perspective. On this journey, I stayed with singles, couples, families, old and young hosts, religious (all kinds) and atheists, very poor and wealthy individuals… The diversity in CS members who accepted to host me was crazy. And I would have probably never talked to or met many of them by chance, if it hadn’t been through Couchsurfing. It widened my horizon tremendously, and helped me go beyond meeting like-minded backpackers in yet another hostel. It challenged me daily (in a good way) and took me way outside of my comfort zone, which is, in my opinion, the main goal when you travel.

Open mind

3) Discover more

Though meeting and staying with your hosts will certainly be great, you’ll soon realize that the benefits of Couchsurfing go far beyond that. Adapting to different lifestyles, homes, cultures and traditions will make you both more sociable and flexible in your travels. This experience also will give you a completely different outlook on any country. By spending time with locals during your stay, chances are that you’ll experience more than many foreigners on their journey. I will always remember the weddings I attended in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, or teaching an English class in Uzbekistan, all that thanks to my CS hosts. With them, I also visited more than just typical touristy sights. On that note, one advice: if some CS members can’t host you, offer to meet them for a walk or a coffee in their city. That’s how, for instance, I discovered beautiful hidden spots in Bukhara, Uzbekistan or the best cosmetics store in China Town, Singapore.

Discover more

4) Indulge great local food

If you stay with locals, especially families, chances are that they will offer to cook for you. That’s just a big part of hospitality in many countries. This led me to discover more recipes, spices and flavours during this journey than in my entire life before. Well, I also gained a few kilos (your hosts don’t want you to eat, they want you to indulge as many of their dishes as you can – be prepares!) but it was oh, so worth it! I remember sitting on the living room carpet around a big traditional feast, in Vietnam, Uzbekistan or Iran, with three generations of people: some of my best experiences of all times. We didn’t speak the same language but the deliciousness of the food and the pleasure to be together united us, and that was simply enough. And if they can’t cook for you, your host will certainly be able to advise you on great local restaurants that won’t try to scam you as soon as they know you’re a foreigner.

Indulge great foodIndulge great food (2)

5) Capture everyday life abroad

Capturing everyday life abroad is priceless. If you give Couchsurfing a go, you will be amazed by the diversity of our world and its people. Even in one single country, you can see how there are tons of different lifestyles. Take Vietnam for instance, as I stayed there for about a month. On the four weeks journey which took me from Saigon to Hanoi, I lived with an engineer who slept on the floor of her 9m2 room as well as with a family of ten who lived in a three story house. I experienced life in different neighbourhoods, different foods, different values and it gave me a good idea of what existing in that country, over all, could be like. I knew what people ate for breakfast, what they would buy in the shop, how much they got paid, and how hard they had to work. All these little things you can only guess when you don’t actually see what the locals’ life is like in their own household.

Open your mindCapture everyday life abroad

6) Forget about your misconceptions

Getting to know people who live a different lifestyle than yours will also make you question what is generally known, about their country, as conventional wisdom. Because the world and humans in general are far more complex than we’re taught to think or than what makes the headlines. I never met as many atheists as in Iran and I felt safer than in Tajikistan. Not everybody is Muslim in Turkey and there’s a lot less poverty in Baku than in Tbilisi. Freedom of expression is still a big struggle in Cambodia and the actual conflict tearing the Middle East apart is far more complicated than a simple feud between Sunnis and Shias. By getting to know my hosts and by living with them, I learned a lot about the complexity of their country.

Forget your misconceptions

7) Realize how grateful you should be

Another great thing about Couchsurfing and putting things into perspective is that it makes you realize how grateful you should always be. Meeting people who had never left their own country (or even their village sometimes), in Indonesia or Iran, made me grateful for my travels. Showering with a cold bucket of water for about a month in Asia made me grateful for my comfort back in France. Volunteering in an orphanage in Cambodia made me grateful for my own childhood, my family and friends. Traveling throughout the Balkans made me grateful for not growing up in a war-torn region. We tend to think that the grass is always greener on the other side, without actually giving it a try. Couchsurfing gives you the chance to experience it first hand, and will certainly bring you to the conclusion that you have plenty of things to be grateful for, in the end.

Realize how grateful you should be (2)

8) Save a lot (A LOT!) of travel money

Ok so, you probably wonder why this argument didn’t come first. That’s because even though the system is free, it is certainly not the same as Airbnb. There’s nothing worse than a Couchsurfer who just uses his hosts’ time and place to avoid paying for accommodation. Couchsurfing is about sharing experiences with them and getting something out of it. With that said, it is ALSO a very convenient system when you travel on a budget. My six months journey would have probably cost me twice as much if I hadn’t been hosted for free (almost) every night. Even though it shouldn’t be what makes you subscribe to Couchsurfing in the first place, it is certainly one more reason to try it.

Make new friends

9) Make new friends everywhere

Living with people creates unforgettable bounds. The simple fact that your hosts invite you into their home without even knowing you in person first is already amazing. The proximity of sharing a space will only bring you closer in just a matter of days. I am not saying that you will fall in love (though I was hosted by a few couples who had met through Couchsurfing, along the way) but you will certainly create wonderful friendships. In Malaysia, the parents of the family who hosted me asked me to call them “Ibu” and “Aba” (Mom and Dad) when I arrived. That first sounded crazy to me but it became quite natural very quickly as it was not hard for me to consider them as so. Since I’ve been back, I’ve kept in touch with most of my hosts as I’ll never forget what they did for me, what we shared together and their hospitality.

Make new friends (3)Make new friends (2)

10) Get the memories of a lifetime

And my last reason is this one: Couchsurfing will give you the memories of a lifetime. When I got home in July, I realized that I had just lived in about sixty households, in more than twenty countries, over the past six months. Talk about an intense experience… But each one of the individuals I met through Couchsurfing was unique, and so was my stay with any of them. I remember riding motorbikes with my hosts in Slovenia, Thailand and Vietnam; cooking for them in Indonesia, Singapore or Malaysia; discovering their favourite spots in Montenegro or Croatia and talking for hours with them in Armenia or Georgia. I believe strongly in the fact that you can learn something from every person you meet along the way. Couchsurfing just speeded up this process tremendously, sometimes in the most unexpected ways and that makes me feel incredibly lucky.

Memories lifetime (2)Memories lifetime

I could give you plenty of other reasons to sign up to Couchsurfing, and try to convince you of how amazing it is as a travel resource. But it would never make up for actually experiencing it for yourself. So, just forget about your apprehensions, as fear is just a state of mind and most of the time not justified. Believe me when I say it: the best is yet to come if you try this system. And, in the end, it will make you realize that 99% of the people around the world are genuinely good, despite what is said in the daily news.

Check out our safety tips for Couchsurfing, how to get along with hosts and other surfers, 5 ways to be a perfect house guest and our interview with filmmaker Eva Stotz, who shot a great documentary about Couchsurfing in 2013.

Image credit: First image via The Aussie Nomad; all others by Elisa Fourt.

 

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This post was written by Elisa Fourt.
Elisa Fourt was part of the Travelettes team from 2015 to 2017.  Elisa usually describes herself as a world citizen. She has lived, studied, worked and traveled in more than 60 countries throughout her life and she loves to share her passion for the world with others. When she is not planning her next trip or writing about the last one, Elisa likes to help people in need and get involved in various not-for-profit projects. She currently works for a NGO in the Middle-East. Follow her on Instagram @lisou.me