Traveling on a road can sometimes get bumpy or present obstacles, but one must travel, for his destination is very rewarding. – Bryant Johnson
Wait, you want me to show up and just stay at a strangers house? Isn’t this practically everything against what you were told growing up as a child? I suppose I didn’t listen when strangers offered me free candy either, and even now, as an adult you can still catch me chasing after the blacked windows of passenger vans with the words ‘free candy’ spray painted down the side too. Well, I suppose this is the same analogy that many people feel about CouchSurfing–a website that offers users hospitality exchange and social networking services. Most travelers are well aware of this site and why not, in March of 2013 there were 6 million members in 100,000 cities worldwide[source]. Once again this is a great service to use while traveling to either keep travel budgets down or meet local hosts or both.
- TYPES OF GUESTS: You are in a like-minded environment with other backpackers that are traveling, often in the same area or direction.
- SOCIAL ASPECT: Typically hostels are filled with people wanting to be social and while you may get tired of the same four questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? Where have you come from? How long have you been taveling? If you are looking to be social or just lay in your bunk all day, again it’s nice to have your choice of how you are feeling that day.
- 24-HOUR ACCESS: Most hostels do not have curfews or lock-out periods, which gives you complete freedom of how long you stay out or how early you need to depart.
- NUMBER OF DAYS ALLOWED: Typically once you are booked into the dorm you are free to continue to choose to stay for multiple nights or pick up and leave the next morning with little notice. Extending your stay you can often ask for a discount, receive a free night’s accommodation, or even be offered a job or volunteer position (that’s when you’re staying for free).
- ACCOMMODATIONS: If you haven’t heard something about the place you have arrived at from another backpacker you can at least always ask to see the dorms, bathrooms, etc (for cleanliness, but more to get an idea of the atmostphere of the place) and make a decision before paying to stay.
- SAFETY: Most hostels realize this is a huge priority and since they are running a business they will often pay for overnight security, have lockers, limit accessibility to non-guests in areas, have CCTV cameras, etc.
- LUGGAGE STORAGE: If you are doing an overnight or weekend trip and you want to store your larger backpack this can typically be done at a small cost or in some cases for free if you are returning to stay as a paid guest.
- SPENDING MONEY, PERIOD: Regardless of your budget and while cheaper than hotels you are still paying to stay for acommodation even if it is dirt cheap.
- RESERVATIONS: I’ve noticed depending on the area and what time of the year it is, you will need to do this, which I try to avoid using my credit or debit card at all costs because of the foreign transaction fees and you are more susceptible to having your card number copied as you may be entering secure information over a Wi-Fi signal that is not secure.
- NOISE: Often there can be late night or early morning noise, whether that be people up late talking, partying, music, etc.
- DRAMA: Yes sometimes hostels can feel like high school and there often tends to be some type of drama floating around.
- ABSOULTELY FREE YO! And those that do attempt to charge after accepting you as a surfer there are negative implications, which is the next pro.
- RATING SYSTEM: Just as with most accommodations nowadays other hosts and surfers alike can leave positive or negative comments and there is the referral and verification method.
- LOCAL LEVEL: Often you will get taken out to areas that are outside of the tourists zone, even to backpackers, and enjoy a meal with their friends where you will get a chance to ask where some of the best places to eat or how to get around. This is different from a hostel, even a long term great informative backpacker, just because it’s on a local level.
- RESTRICTIONS: Most hosts have an organized life because they have a permenant or at least more long term living situation in order to be a host (which means they normally have jobs, routines, other various responsibilities).
- ACCESS: Some hosts do not feel comfortable leaving someone they met, even with postive glowing reviews, in their home when they are not present, which in turn may mean that you are on their schedule. Up in the morning and out the door when they are and back in bed when they are as well.
- SAFETY: There is no guarantee that your belongings left there will be safe, but typically this is not an issue as the hosts can feel that they are taking the larger risk inviting someone into their home. I'm glad I've experienced both hosting and surfing to know how and what to expect.
- ACCOMMODATIONS: The cleanlinest factor and sleeping arrangement may not always be entirely clear. Sometimes it’s a private bedroom, their couch, or even just the floor where you may need to bring your own bedding (i.e. sleeping bag).
- NUMBER OF DAYS ALLOWED: I’ve noticed the average host only wants to take in surfers for 2-3 nights, which means staying in a specific city for a while can mean moving often, which is one of the most exhausting parts of backpacking–the stuffing everything back in your bag–It doesn’t matter that the next host is only a 10-minute walk or the next subway station down, this can still be an exhausting hassle.
- RESERVATIONS/CONFIRMING: Even while I have received ACCEPTED to surf, often when it comes time to confirm with the host and retrieve directions to their place, suddenly they vanish and are never heard from again. This can cause last minute hassles, even adding to costs that if you were to otherwise book a cheap hostel you would avoid, because you may end up inquiring additional transportation costs (taxis are the worst) and last minute options to find a place to lay your head before it gets too late.
SIMILARITIES & DIFFERENCES:
- ETIQUETTE: These can be both similar and very different at the same time. For example at a hostel you’re highly encouraged to pick up after yourself as some of the most frequent signs state that the staff is NOT your mother and to WASH YOUR DISHES, and the same consideration is expected when surfing, however the demand of your host may be much greater and more strict because you have been invited to stay in their home.
- VERY DIFFERENT ACCOMMOCATION TYPES: Definitely DO NOT attempt to use CouchSurfing as an alternative to save on paying for a hostel, and when I say this I mean not willing to have any interaction with your host but basically ‘using them’ for a free place to stay. The point of CouchSurfing is to connect hosts with surfers by sharing in a community of generosity and getting to know one another.
- SLEEPING: This is like Russian Roulette. Sometimes you get a private comfortable bed to sleep in CouchSurfing and other times it’s sleeping on the floor in the same room with your host that snores. And Hostels can be just as bad. You get that snoring monster in your dorm room and no one is sleeping. Dorms you also have the additional negative of people coming in and out at all hours whether it’s stumbling in from the bars in the early morning hours or getting up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus. I swear sometimes when I’m sleeping at the early morning pack-up happens I wonder if some people just have an entire bag full of plastic bags or balloons because that’s all I can hear as I fight to get back to sleep as the sun is rising.
- ACTIVITIES: While both types of accommodations have activities, whether it's hostel parties or dinners, or CS meet up dinners or social events, both will give you an opportunity to meet people.
- LIFE LONG FRIENDS: In my experience as well both selections of accommodations will provide you with some of the most amazing people and they will end up being life long friends, even if months or years go by.
A few nights ago I went one of the scheduled CouchSurfing Meet Up events, hosted by Kelly–a Korean that spent some time in the States for school, and at this event outside of the Gangnam subway station I met a variety of people. At the crowd swelled and we were occupying the various circular sitting benches just across from the various restaurants and shops, after the pedestrian crowds became too much the group began splitting off into smaller groups. I found myself with three other guys–all Koreans. Tony, was the only Korean-American, but not an adoptee, that grew up in Seattle and was currently living in Seoul with his mother and looking to potentially live here permanently. The other two guys had both grown up in Korea, PJ and Kevin, I’m assuming they were using alias’ for the sake of ease when it came to introductions. During our conversation, of course PJ and Kevin were asking why Tony and I had come back to Korea. As I told them my story, they were all amazed and excited for me at the same time, and I can’t tell you how nice it was to feel this level of acceptance. Later, I asked PG and Kevin how they felt I was viewed since obviously I look Korean but all I know is American culture, and tend to fumble over the simpliest of cultural expectations? For example, on the subway I didn’t realize that one of the unspoken rules is that the area that is maroon seats is reserved for the elderly. Even if the entire section has no one sitting in it, you do not dare take a seat because it is viewed as being disrespectful. I had done this several times and had no idea, because again I am still becoming accustom to the nuances of Korean society. Anyways, from my question to PJ and Kevin, they told me that they felt many younger Koreans would be envious of the fact that I am Korean, but because I was educated in the United States and speak perfect English, it was something of an anomoly. But I was also told that regardless, I would still always be viewed as a foreigner even though the blood that runs through me and my birthplace is this country. This just reaffirmed the feelings of an identity in limbo I supose, but the longer I am here I feel more at peace about things and am very thankful for that.
Also please forgive my awful grammar at times. Since I don’t have a traveling editor, I often don’t have the time to proofread my writings before posting and realize that there can be a number of horrible mistakes. And this coming from an English Lit minor at University. Pathetic, I know. I know.