When I hear Couchsurfing stories, they’re typically presented in a way that assumes the listener is a social butterfly of one kind or another. They spread the typical travel gospel of shedding your comfort zone so that a beautiful, fluttery extrovert can soar out of the cocoon. You will, nay, you must become a People Person.
Now, that’s great for the People People, but I’m the kind of gal who takes her adventure in small doses, thank you very much. That’s why I was surprised when Couchsurfing worked for me.
For the uninitiated, Couchsurfing is a website where travelers looking for a place to sleep and a personal connection meet hosts with a spare couch and and stories to share. There are hosts all over the world, and it’s completely free. It’s a classic among backpackers and young nomads, and you can find anyone from budget-minded podcasters to our own Damon and Jo singing its praises.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who has no interest in approaching strangers at bars, striking up a conversation with your waiter, or really any kind of surprise social interaction, the idea is daunting. You’re agreeing to sleep over with someone you met on the internet. Sprinkle in the fears of a solo female traveler, and you’ve got yourself a nightmare scenario.
It is possible, though, to not only survive Couchsurfing as an introverted lady, but to even go so far as to enjoy it. Here’s how.
Find the Quiet People
You’ll have to understand that Couchsurfing is not black market Airbnb. You don’t show up, do a secret knock, sleep there for free, and sneak out before sunrise. Interaction is involved. Deep breaths, everyone.
Some hosts do expect you to spend the whole day with them, letting them show you around the city, or to go out and party until 5 AM. If you like that, perfect! Live your dreams. If you don’t like that, you are not a “bad” couchsurfer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you do not have to be an extrovert to do travel right.
There are plenty of hosts who just want some time together in the evening, expecting you to go out and do your own thing otherwise. My first Couchsurfing experience was with a young American studying abroad in Budapest. She gave me some tips, left me alone all day, and invited me to casual drinks with her friends later on. No pressure. I was more at ease with her, and thus more prepared to make a connection, than I’ve ever been in a hostel, where I tend to hide out in my bunk.
Just make sure your own profile is completely filled out so that the hosts get a good idea of who you are in return. Remember, it’s just as weird for them to be letting a stranger into their home as it is for you to sleep there. If they seem cool to you, and you seem cool to them, then full steam ahead, friends.
Security Over Savings
I do not always Couchsurf. Sometimes, I pry open my wallet for an Airbnb. There could be dozens of available couches in a given city, but if anything about the profile doesn’t seem right, it’s a no. I may even request a certain host, start sending messages back and forth, and then cancel the request. Be polite, certainly, but don’t worry so much about hurting people’s feelings that you feel obligated to say yes.
You’re not just looking for a place where you won’t be murdered in your sleep (extremely unlikely anyway), but also a place where you can relax. If you don’t feel comfortable, it won’t be a fulfilling trip, especially if you’re alone. So if you get there, and you want to leave, then leave.
This may seem extreme, but if you can’t quite afford to pay for a night or two at a hostel or Airbnb, I wouldn’t recommend Couchsurfing. Take some time, save up a little more, and then go. You want to have the certainty that you’re in control of the situation, not beholden to the host.
Most likely, you won’t need that emergency fund. I never did, but it allowed me the security to enjoy myself. Then, when I got back home, I took myself out to dinner with the leftover cash–a congratulations to myself for a trip well traveled. Cheers.
Deal-Breakers and Deal-Makers
For your reference, here is what I look for in solo trip hosts: at least 3 positive reviews from surfers (preferably more), detailed profiles, clear photos of the living situation, single women or women in couples, and similar interests.
Here are my deal-breakers: shared beds, single men, negative reviews, party houses, and nudists. Nudists and single men, I know y’all might be the best hosts ever–hearts of gold and all that–but I’m just not quite there.
Of course, take whatever you want from my search criteria and ignore the rest. Some would say I’m too picky, and others would pull their hair out knowing I’m even Couchsurfing at all. (Looking at you, Mom and Dad.)
I hope this offered some hope and comfort to penny-pinching introverts feeling stressed about leaving home. Travel in a way that feels accessible to you–if you even feel like travelling at all. You know, I just think a nice walk around the block sounds nice. The sun’s out in Bretagne.
What are your Couchsurfing criteria? Tell me about it in the comments, buds!
Happy travels y’all!