Tag Archives: hosts

The Night Of Couchsurfing That Turned Into Two Weeks

14 Nov

“Just to let you know, I collect body parts,” said Kimmii, shortly after greeting us.

My boyfriend and I just finished a long weekend of camping up at the Dorrigo National Park and hadn’t had a real shower in days. We swam in rivers, took sponge baths and wore hats but something had to give. When we drove down the windy mountain road back to Coffs Harbour we had two choices: check into an out-of-budget caravan park and have a shower or send out a last-minute couchsurfing request and hope that someone would invite us in.

I sent out two couchsurfing requests explaining that all we really needed was a shower and that we had a van to sleep in. After waiting for half an hour, our impatience got the best of us and we decided to have an ice-cold shower in the public bathrooms of the local surf club. As we got back into the van, our teeth chattering and our hair soaked, I had a message. Two empty nesters with a couple of spare rooms offered to let us stay and insisted that we sleep inside.

When we pulled up to the house Kimmii came to greet us at the front door while Paulie prepared the pizza dough for our dinner inside. Kimmi was in her mid-40s, a half-Aboriginal bipolar woman whose manic episodes led her to $3,000 shopping sprees on ModCloth for her 20-something daughter. She was short and overweight, outspoken, jovial and completely comfortable in her own skin. Paulie was a balding ex-surfer whose music and book collection filled me with envy. He was a talented cook but rarely ate his own creations, preferring a simple meat and potatoes meal instead.

Within minutes the wine was flowing and we were already telling deeply personal stories and laughing our asses off. Kimmii had this incredible story-telling ability and a wit about her that left Matt and I in stitches (even when she was only explaining what she did for a living!). We told her she should do stand-up and Paulie shouted from the kitchen, “Oh no, don’t encourage her!”

As we dug into the homemade pizzas Kimmii told us we were her first couchsurfers and that she signed up because her daughter would be backpacking across South America in a few months and she wanted to give back in the hopes that someone would do the same for her. She told us that after their four children had moved out they’d had several guests come and go. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for up to 9 months. When Kimmii invited us to stay as long as we wanted I thought it was such a tempting and generous offer but never expected that we’d actually take her up on it.

In a warm, wine-induced haze we said goodnight and crawled into our respective beds. Matt and I wanted to pinch ourselves when we felt the thread-count of the sheets and prefect firmness of the mattress.

A woman after my own heart!

“I really like them,” said a half-asleep Matt.

“Me too. I love it here,” I said in a daze.

“Someone stayed here for nine months!” said Matt.

“I know, but we’re not going to take advantage of their generosity. We’ll keep looking for jobs in the morning.”

And we did, but the day turned into two and then three. Then Kimmii left for a business trip and encouraged us to stay with Paulie while she was gone. He had a serious lung condition that often left him gasping for air and she felt more comfortable knowing someone was there with him. We happily stayed, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and scrubbing the tubs to contribute.

Paulie made us amazing food every night: Moroccan, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese. Well-fed and well-rested, we continued the job search with new enthusiasm. I attended an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification course and Matt contacted all his old rigging buddies for information on current projects.

At night, Kimmii and Matt talked politics while Paulie and I talked music and watched concert DVDs. I copied all his CDs to my hard drive and he’d pull out biographies of my favorite bands and tell me obscure facts about the members. We became a family and we got used to our routine.

When Matt received a high-paying rigging job offer, the news was bittersweet. We packed up our van the last night and Paulie made pizza for us to take on the road. Kimmii and I watched a documentary about Obama and Mitt Romney before she went to bed and Paulie and I talked about Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison one last time. We hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch and when we locked up the door behind us in the middle of the night, Matt and I turned to each other and said, “I’m really going to miss them,” almost in unison.

Not every couchsurfing experience is like this but now my Australian family feels larger. We still keep in touch and if we ever make it back to NSW, we know where we’ll stay.

Kimmii also loved collecting sea shells.                                                                                                    I left this one in the guest room so they’d have something to remember us by.

Weighing Your Options: Hostels, Hotels and Couchsurfing

6 Mar

The sign in the bathroom at the Little Bird Hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

When traveling, where you rest your weary head each night ultimately depends on your budget, how much time you plan to spend in your room and if you’re traveling alone or in a group. I’ll breakdown the pros and cons of staying in hostels and hotels versus couchsurfing to give you a better idea of which option best suits you.

Hostels

Pros: 

Community – Hostels are the perfect option for the solo traveler because the common areas and dorm rooms offer plenty of opportunities to meet fellow travelers and find someone to explore the town with or to share a meal. In hostels, you’re hardly alone and since I’ve been traveling the constant influx of travelers from all over the world has been a godsend. Everyday new people come and go and it’s a great way to hear the insider track on destinations you want to go to or didn’t realize you’d want to go to. I’ve found wonderful travel buddies and new lifelong friends through hostels and I’ve also changed my trips around because of the recommendations of others. Hostels are the perfect place to meet your fellow travelers.

Price – Dorm room prices can range anywhere from $1-10 a night. Again, if you’re traveling alone dorm rooms are a great way to go because you pay for your bed, not the room.

Staff – The staff at hostels usually have insider knowledge of the town you’re staying in and can answer your questions with better, more current information than any guidebook can give you. Also, depending on the hostel, the staff will help you book buses, arrange visas and can recommend good restaurants and things to do. Sometimes they’ll even tell you how much a taxi should cost so you don’t get ripped off or they’ll arrange group outings so you can see the town with the people who know it well.

Cons:

Privacy – There is none, unless you opt for a private room which is typically double or triple the price of a dorm. Get used to changing in the bathroom and hearing when your bunkmates go to use it. Also, though I haven’t had this experience myself yet, many of my friends have woken up to the sounds of people having sex in their dorm. Sometimes to save money couples will stay in dorms but then after a few drinks they can’t contain themselves and hope everyone is asleep. Or, as I mentioned before, since you’re constantly meeting people sparks do fly and people get caught up in the moment. Don’t be that person. Take it outside, or in the bathroom.

Community – It was Jean-Paul Sarte who said, “hell is other people” and after sharing a dorm with enough oblivious or just plain inconsiderate people, I’d have to agree with him. In dorms you get the snorers, the drunks that stumble in at four in the morning, bumping into things the whole way, and sometimes you’ll come across a bad seed who will go through your things if you aren’t careful. (If there’s a locker, use it!)

Another issue is that everyone is on a different schedule. Some people want to start their days early, some want to stay out late. You’re all in the same room and when the earlybird is annoyed by the people who wake him/her up in the middle of the night because they’re just getting home, those same people will be annoyed when the earlybird is getting ready for the day and they’ve only had 3 hours of sleep.

Hotels

Pros: 

Privacy – In hotels you can shut the door and enter your own private world. You can sleep naked, go the bathroom with the door open, and waltz around at any hour of the night without worrying about waking up strangers. It’s complete freedom, but it comes at a price.

Cons:

Price – You pay for what you get. If you want a nice bed with a nice view it’s going to cost you, but if you all you want is a place lay your head then find something that fits those standards. If you’re only traveling for a few days or weeks and you’ve got the money, hotels are a great way to treat yourself and feel like you’re really on vacation.

If you’re traveling as a couple or with friends and can split the cost of the room, hotels might end up being more cost-effective and pleasant. When I backpacked with a friend through Europe there were several times when we found that the price of a hotel room for one night was cheaper than paying for two separate beds in a dorm. Look around.

It’s also nice to break up a few weeks of staying in hostels by splurging on a hotel for a night or two. You’ll be revived and ready to go back to shared dorms. You might even start to miss the chaos.

Couchsurfing: 

Pros:

Cultural exchange – With couchsurfing you save the money you would have spent on accommodation and often get a more genuine cultural experience because you’ll be staying with someone who actually lives in the place you’re visiting. Sometimes hosts will let you use their washer machines, cook you meals and even drive you where you need to go. That all adds up to major savings not to mention the fact that you could be making a new friend in the process. Hosts also know where the best restaurants, shops and hidden gems are. They’re a wealth of information and are usually eager to share it with you.

Cons:

Bad hosts – Sometimes you just don’t click with your host and other times you can’t seem to find anyone to host you at all. In places like Europe it’s relatively easy to find a couch but in Asia and America it can be difficult. Couchsurfing takes preparation but you can get lucky if you post in the ’emergency couch’ thread.

Intrusion – The other tricky aspect of couchsurfing is that your host has a life and you can feel like you’re intruding on their routine. They may have work from 9-5 but you want to stay out until 4, or after a few days you could start to feel some tension like they wished they hadn’t accepted your couchsurfing request.

In hostels and hotels you’ll never get that feeling. You paid for your bed/room and you have every right to be there and come and go as you please. Sometimes that’s worth shelling out the extra cash.

Community – While with couchsurfing you have a more honest experience with the country and the people you visit since you get to see the area through the eyes of someone who lives there, you miss out on connecting with the traveling community that is also seeing it for the first time. If your host doesn’t have much time to show you around you could end up going alone but in a hostel you have a lot better chances of finding someone who is excited to see them with you.

Everyone has different reasons for traveling and different ideals for what makes a good trip. Decide if your budget, cultural experience or need to unwind is most important to you. Or, you can do what I do and mix up your trip by choosing to experience all three!

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