Our Experiences with Couchsurfing

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. ~1 Peter 4:8-9 


What is Couchsurfing? How does it work?


Back when we still owned a house in North Carolina, my mom would welcome international travelers to stay with us. She found these travelers, or they found her, through a world-wide online platform called couchsurfing.com. People with a home or an apartment who are willing to share their space can sign up as a host. Sometimes people offer travelers a literal couch, others a bed, or a pull-out sofa. On this website homeowners set their profile status to “accepting guests.” Travelers can send out requests to these hosts. If accepted, they’ll have accommodation in the home of a local resident for free.


It’s a pragmatic solution to traveling on a budget, yet the couchsurfing experience reaches beyond saving a few (or a few hundred) bucks. On the website, travelers write their answers to prompt questions such as, “What are you looking to gain from couchsurfing?” Answers to this are generally along the lines of, “I want to meet interesting people, to connect with locals and see the place from their perspective, to laugh and share stories and maybe cook traditional foods for each other!” Couchsurfing serves mainly as a connector, a bridge between transient traveler and rooted local. Both have something to share with each other. It’s a mutual good.


The host(s) and guest(s) can work out the duration of the stay, but I’d say typically guests stay only a short time, between 1-5 nights. You don’t want to get sick of each other. 😉 Usually the guests do some small favors in return, such as buy groceries, give a gift from their home country, wash the dishes or cook a meal for their host.


While my mom was busy raising us four children, neither she nor we could go out traveling the world. So, at the time, couchsurfing brought the world to us. We hosted people from all over, even royalty from Japan!


You might be thinking, Sooo… basically couchsurfing is staying in a stranger’s home. How is that safe?


Well. Ahem. This platform was set up to create accountability. Each time you stay with someone, or someone stays with you, you write a review for each other. If you get reviews that say you are messy, rude, and unfriendly, then no one will host you. Sometimes this brilliant home-sharing idea is abused, hence why I only request to stay with women. You do have to use your common sense when reading people’s profiles. A person’s couchsurfing profile most predominately displays their interests and values. Usually you can get a pretty good idea about the person before meeting them.


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It also helps to connect with your friends who are also on the couchsurfing website. I guess having friends makes you a more legit human being. 😛


May I also say that ~~~generally~~~ travelers are a great group of people! 9.5 times out of 10 they are looking to learn and experience new things. Through travel they’ve become resourceful and respectful. ^_^ Some of our neighbors used to freak out when we had “strangers” stay over because they didn’t fully understand this.




To stay budget with accommodation while traveling, we’ve mostly stayed in hostels and camped. The most I’ve paid for accommodation since we left the US was about $33/night for a hostel in Barcelona at the height of summer. We’ve actually only couchsurfed 6 times! Funnily enough, despite hosting a ton of people, we were a bit wary of becoming the guests, to intrude in someone else’s home. We were also winging most of our travels- jumping from place to place without knowing very long beforehand when we were going where. It was easy and quick to check hostelworld.com and find a hostel.


Couchsurfing requires some time and prep. You have to send out messages and wait for replies, then do further correspondence about where to meet up and how to get a key or about their work schedule and how to take transportation to their home, etc etc. It’s also hard to find someone with enough space for three people. We’re fine with splitting up, but that means finding two hosts. However, when we’ve had the chance to do all that, it has been well worth it. Here are our experiences!


Couchsurfing Taiwan

Not pictured, Ivy Wang 🙁


#1. We had just jumped over to Taipei, Taiwan from budget friendly Philippines. Taipei was a beautiful, thriving city with prices to match. The hostels were the nicest I had ever seen, but again, with a price to match. Hostels in Taipei cost $20 per person per night or more, especially more on the weekends. (My entire daily budget was $30.) But we loved Taipei and wanted to spend lots of time there (we stayed for a month in total!) (Tip: I did find a hostel that was only $11/night, but is was more SEA standards.)


For our first ever, legit couchsurfing experience, we had the most incredible experience with the Wang family! I had messaged Zoe Wang, who was about my age and had tried couchsurfing as a guest while in Europe. She loved the idea and wanted to be a host as well. After looking through this travel blog, the Wang’s decided to generously host all three of us.



We met Ivy Wang, Zoe’s younger sister, outside of the metro station. Both Zoe and Ivy had perfect English and were even learning the British accent for fun. We met their parents, who drove us up to their beautiful home in New Taipei City, which was further from the hustle of Taipei and closer to the mountains. They were all beyond welcoming and thoughtful. Zoe’s mom, Leeching, didn’t speak too much English (and we spoke no Mandarin), but was the sweetest to Grace! They danced together as Zoe played the guitar and we all sang in their kitchen. While Zoe and Ivy were in school, Leeching took us on beautiful hikes through the mountains and near streams. Since Leeching grew up in the mountains, she had a vast knowledge of edible plants and nature in general, which she shared with us via google translate. 🙂




For five days, the Wang family went far beyond sharing their home: they made us family and did their utmost to share with us: including Leeching’s masterful cooking. 😀 Paul Wang, Zoe’s dad, was an architect involved in various types of projects, including being the curator of the famous Taipei Palace Museum. He was also an expert calligraphist. After almost three months in Taiwan, we had become totally fascinated with the traditional Chinese characters, their formation and evolution. Back in the day, the character for baby actually looked like a small drawing of a baby.


Zoe’s impressive and beautiful writing


Paul taught a calligraphy class on Saturdays in his home and welcomed us to join. I was terrible at it, but it was fun to learn the techniques and see the skill that goes into the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy. We had many laughs together– we’ll be forever grateful for meeting the Wang’s and all they did for us!


They’re a wonderful group of people with such big hearts. ^_^ They were the ideal family for our first ever couchsurfing experience.



#2. For our final nights in Taiwan, before flying out to New Zealand, we “didn’t” stay with our host, Rachel. She was an ESL teacher from the US and currently moving flats in Taipei. So for nine nights, she gave us the key to her new apartment and let us have the whole place to ourselves! There was one king sized bed, which my mom and Grace shared, and I used my air-mattress on the floor. We did meet up with her one night to play board games at her friend’s house. (Obviously) she was super nice and it was great to talk with another American, a rare find. We helped kick start the cactus garden she wanted on the porch in her new apartment. 🙂


Originally we had searched high and low for an apartment to rent for a month in Taipei, with no luck. This was definitely God’s hand though, because instead of hanging out in an apartment, which can be a bit isolating, we ended up spending two weeks on Taiwan’s gorgeous east coast, and two weeks couchsurfing with amazing people in Taipei. 😀 When one door closes, another opens– literally!


Couchsurfing Philippines


Making pancakes together in Metro Manila!


This could probably be considered our first couchsurfing experience, but it actually all happened outside of the couchsurfing platform.


I’m part of a massive facebook group called Girls LOVE Travel, with roughly half a million traveling girls in there. A large part of my facebook feed is solely posts from this group. XD I was scanning through one random thread about the Philippines that popped up on my feed. In the comments section, I read this by a girl named Ari: “I’m an international teacher in BGC Manila! If any GLTers stop by, they can stay with me.” Or something along those lines. Then a girl named Mandy commented beneath her: “I’m also an international teacher in Manila and live in the same building as Ari. GLTers can stay with me too!” I saved the thread and kept it in mind. Only super shortly after that, we found great flights to the Philippines and decided to go! I contacted both girls and both accepted very graciously.


Pretty London the cat liked to play with my hairbands.


We ended up all staying with Mandy because it turned out she was a born-again Christian too! It was wonderful to find some fellowship. 🙂 Ari and Mandy lived in a posh, beautiful apartment complex in a “bubble” area of Manila that was very international and safe. We stayed something like five days.


Months later, we ended up going back to Manila for six weeks when Mandy and Ari left Manila during their summer break. My mom and Grace stayed in Mandy’s apartment looking after Pippa the cat. And (thank you Ari!) I stayed in Ari’s apartment as a companion/playmate/cat-sitter for London the blue-eyed Burmese cat. We used those weeks in Manila to take our TEFL class and become certified English teachers! This summer, Mandy came out to Cluj, Romania where we were renting an apartment and “couchsurfed” with us! She’s basically family now. Both women, Ari and Mandy, were a huge blessing to meet.


Mandy and I in Breb, Romania where we adventured together!


Couchsurfing New Zealand




This was a funky one. Did you know that more than 25% of people in Auckland are not New Zealanders? Turns out a decent number of them are Saudis too. We even ended up surfing on some Saudi’s couches (okay, so, not literally- we used our own air-mattresses as they were in the process of moving into their house and buying furniture.) A newly married Saudi Arabian couple answered and accepted our request to stay with them for several nights in Auckland, New Zealand. I’m sure you’ve heard how expensive New Zealand is, so this was a big help to us. This couple had managed to escape Saudi and chose to reject Islam and live secular lives in NZ. We learned a lot about what it was like to live and grow up in Saudi Arabia as a woman. I wrote the story our host told us here. I think we stayed with them about five nights while acclimating to the time change.


Couchsurfing Austria


Oh boy, we were headed to Austria! This was both exciting, as it’s famed for being one of the most beautiful countries, and slightly worrying, as it’s also known for its first-world, high prices. Thankfully Lisa saved us in Vienna (aka Wien), the capital! I had sent a message to Lisa on couchsurfing as she was one of the first people who popped up in my search and had a ton of great references. Lisa had hosted tons of travelers and had been a guest herself quite a lot over the years. But I didn’t notice until later that her profile was actually set to “not accepting guests.” Lisa had recently moved to a new apartment, shared with a couple flatmates.


This picture is so bad XD but it’s the only one we took! Lisa! Pls come to Romania so we can fix this 😀


I had mentioned in my message to Lisa that we’d been traveling for over three years. Curious at what stories we must have and as a generally social and generous person, Lisa reneged on her “not accepting guests” status and invited us in. She was only going to take one of us, since her flatmates didn’t know about her role as a couchsurfing host. But after hearing that my mom and Grace hadn’t found a hostel yet, she took all of us in! She was better than a tour guide, taking us out to the best coffee shop in Vienna, walking around the sites with us when she was free, and sent us tons of information about what to do in the city while she was working. Lisa was one of the most thoughtful people I’d met! She even let me teach my English classes from her bedroom. Lisa works as a personal trainer in Vienna and has begun building her own business in this field. She has a wide range of interests and abilities in addition to fitness, so if she starts her own blog, I’ll put a link to it here!


We stayed with Lisa for three nights before taking the train to Salzburg, where we were, surprise!, camping. Lisa was one of those genuine people you can become friends with easily and really talk to. We’re hoping she will come and stay with us when we return to Cluj, Romania so we can hang out with her again. 😀


Couchsurfing Germany


After a week in Salzburg, we booked a cheap bus over to Munich, Germany. It was still summer, so accommodation was exponentially more expensive than in the off-season. It was so busy in fact that everything except the priciest hostels were full. I didn’t feel worried about it through. God gave me total peace about finding an affordable place to stay. Just an hour and a half or so before taking our bus to Munich, I sent out about 4 or 5 couchsurfing request, because why not. Maybe ten minutes later I received a very enthusiastic reply saying, “Sure! You can all stay with me. I’m looking forward to meeting you and hearing your stories!” Bam. We had a place to stay with a cool Swiss girl who had just moved to Munich.


Svenja studied to be a lawyer, but identified more as an artist. She has traveled a lot and lived in several countries, including Brazil and Ecuador. Svenja was a generous, open person to whom you could talk for hours about anything and everything. She was just trying couchsurfing for the first time, as well as starting a new life in a new place. She was sharing a beautiful two bedroom apartment in the center of the city, but her flatmate was away traveling. As if to further make her the perfect host, Svenja fluently spoke six languages!


The first night we made homemade pizza together. …And had a bonfire… 😀


The second night another two couchsurfers joined the party: a Spaniard traveling almost completely without money (I don’t recommend this method XD) and a super sweet Brazilian who was experiencing travel outside of his country for the first time. The Spaniard didn’t speak German or English. That gave me a lot of opportunity to practice my Spanish, so I thought it was great. 😀 The Brazilian had a decent, intermediate level of English. We sat around that night communicating mostly in Portuguese, as it was similar enough to Spanish for everyone to understand. Svenja acted as translator between English, Portuguese, and Spanish whenever needed, too.




The third night we were joined by a Colombian who grew up attending international schools, so his English was perfect. He also had lived in Berlin for several years, so he spoke German as well. All of us were in our 20’s, except my mom of course. The guys stayed in Svenja’s room, and all us girls took over her flatmate’s room. 🙂 It was a great time and a fun mesh of cultures!



What do you think? If you’ve never tried it, would you want to? If you’ve done it, tell me your experiences! I’d love to hear them. ^_^

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