When you get that message through on Couchsurfing saying someone has agreed to host you, it’s always really exciting. You’re going to meet someone new, see the local side of a place, and have an awesome time – or are you?
I’ve heard a lot of tall tales about Couchsurfing from travellers on the road, and here are some of the best (and worst)…
Carnival Parties and a Crazy House
Jules and Christine from Don’t Forget to Move didn’t get much sleep when they were surfing.
Our best Couchsurfing experience definitely comes from our time in Veracruz, Mexico, during the carnival. Our host for the weekend was Carlos, a local Mexican guy who was offering up a big two-storey house to as many surfers as it would fit. Literally!
When we arrived at the house, it was already packed with at least 50 people from Mexico and all over the world, and the guests kept coming over the weekend! There was no furniture in the house, only one running tap and the toilets were clogged, but it didn’t matter. We found an empty spot on the floor, dumped our stuff and hit the beers! Over the next couple of days, we partied hard and barely noticed the hard tiled floor underneath us on the odd occasion we got some sleep.
Two Nights in Paris, Porn Stars and Pocket Pussys
Mat, a Kiwi traveller I met in Poland, had his two strangest Couchsurfing experiences back-to-back in Paris.
Day 1, Paris: I arrived in the evening after a long day of travel. The guy’s house was in the outer suburbs of Paris, about a half hour metro ride, and by the time I got there it was 10pm. His mother was staying with him; she seemed nice and had prepared a meal for us all. Me and the guy had a few beers and chatted about traveling and life experiences. After a while, his mum went to bed and we continued chatting and drinking…
He told me he was bisexual and started telling me stories about his sex life in great detail. He then put on a porno featuring a famous French pornstar and he asked me repeatedly if she was turning me on. I’m a pretty laid-back guy so just said, ‘nah, not now man,’ and continued sipping my beer. After that, he grabbed a role of paper towels, went over to the sofa and began to have a wank. He told me not be afraid, said that it was normal, and wanted me to join him.
It was a pretty weird situation, since it was now midnight and I was in a new city. I didn’t want to cause too much offence, just in case he kicked me out. I continued to drink my beer alone, watching the porno, not wanting to look at him. After a while, he went to bed and I slept on the couch (not the wanking couch). In the morning, I told him I was going to stay somewhere else and got in contact with another host who had offered me a place…
Day 2 in Paris: I moved from the above place to my next host who had a well located little apartment quite close to a lot of the main attractions in Paris. The guy’s profile had mentioned that his surfers get a double bed in a room to themselves, so I was very much looking forward to having a comfortable sleeping surface for once. I arrived to a cooked meal already prepared, followed by beers and a French history lesson.
This guy was really nice and provided great hospitality. The only thing here though was that my room was full of porn DVDs, pocket pussys, a sex doll, a laptop with the sole purpose of watching porn, lubricant, condoms, paper towels and complete instructions on how to use the material provided. I couldnt help but feel during my stay there that there were some cameras up in the room and he was hoping to get some new material for some sort of home made sex tape. Although this seems really weird, the guy was a good host and we had some good chats. I ended up staying here 4 nights.
Does Sexsurfing mean that Couchsurfing isn’t Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
Agness from eTramping shares her uncomfortable story of sexsurfing, the sleezy underbelly to Couchsurfing.
I’m extremely adventurous and am keen on meeting different people from around the world. I’m also a budget traveller, so Couchsurfing seemed to be one of the best accommodation options when backpacking Europe in winter 2012.
Unfortunately, my Couchsurfing experience was more like sexsurfing. After being hosted by male hosts who offered me sex for the hospitality, I am not sure if it is the best and safest option for solo female travellers. Long story short, I picked my 8 hosts (5 male hosts and 3 female hosts) in Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Oslo and Prague. I was asked to have sex twice, and two of my hosts admitted they only accepted the requests because they were hoping to sleep with me. I felt embarrassed and really uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t? There were a few really awkward situations that I don’t want to recall…
When I was back home, I wrote a blog post summarizing up my bad experience – Couchsurfing or Sexsurfing? What’s the difference nowadays? Within a few days, there were more than 150 different responses in which our readers shared their opinions and experiences on this issue. Surprisingly, many comments suggested that having sex with your host was pretty normal.
On the other hand, I met amazing people in Bruges, Amsterdam, Brussels and Prague thanks to Couchsurfing. We had a blast together and still keep in touch. This summer I’m about to visit one of the girls who hosted me in Prague. We’re meeting up in… Paris! I’ve learnt my lesson, however this bad experience will not stop me from Couchsurfing. I’m back in Europe in July, and I’ll be travelling across Portugal, Greece and Germany. I’ve already activated my Couchsurfing account and I hope to find some awesome hosts… female hosts this time.
What’s so funny?
Margherita from The Crowded Planet wasn’t in on the joke when she Couchsurfed in Turkey.
At 40 Couchsurfing experiences and counting, we consider ourselves very lucky having never had a really negative experience. But when it comes to strange experiences, we’ve had many. In 2011, we travelled from Italy to Georgia by train, Couchsurfing most of the way.
One of the places we visited was Kars, a Turkish town near the Armenian border. Our Couchsurfing host was a young man called Yildiz, a telecommunications engineer. We nicknamed him ‘silent boy,’ because he was always very quiet and didn’t seem to like to engage in conversations. Having said that, he was a lovely person; he made us breakfast each morning and took us out for walks around the city, and gave us lots of tips on how to reach Ani, an archaeological site a few kilometers away. Trouble is, most of our conversations were monosyllables. He did have good English; I think perhaps he genuinely didn’t like to talk, but liked the company.
One night, he took us to a friend’s house for dinner. Yildiz and his friend are both Kurdish, and the night with the Kurdish family was… erm, interesting. We did eat delicious food, but the mother of the family laughed her heart out each time I tried to talk. When I asked Yildiz why was she laughing, he refused to translate, saying I would have got offended. I never found out why she thought I was so funny!
Is finding a good host impossible in Paris?
Jacqui, who I met whilst teaching English in Taiwan, has surfed over 20 times in 13 different countries but says her first Couchsurfing is still her best.
The First and the Best: While living in Turkey, we decided to try hosting, noting that the first experience would determine whether we would continue or not. Of course, when the brothers from Switzerland arrived, they had no idea how much pressure was on them. Luckily, we had a fantastic weekend with these two!
To start things off, we crammed way too many people into a Fiat and went to the coast to have the best meal I had in the year I spent in Turkey, full of Raki, fresh fish, fruit and cheese. The next night, during the Super Lig finals, the boys made an effort to learn Turkish chants at our favourite watering hole.
By the end of it, almost everyone in the bar had bought them a round, and they were so drunk they probably don’t even know who won. When they had to leave, they left an entertaining note in dry-erase on our fridge and gifted me with a Swiss army knife direct from the source!
My two worst experiences in Paris: The first host gave us confusing directions, and when we arrived later than expected, we found that he was much older than stated and requesting massages for our “tardiness.” We refused, but all seemed fine.
Around midnight, while my friend was showering, he freaked out saying she had to finish immediately, and that we couldn’t stay there again, we had to leave at 7 when he left for work. In broken Spanish, I arranged a last-minute place with an Argentine, but he worked at 6, so we had to leave earlier. The door was locked from the inside, so we had to awkwardly wake up our unhappy host to leave.
The next host was nice, just not the place. It was a tiny room half full of trash with no ventilation, the air mattress was deflating, so we spent the night laying on each other, and we later found out (after walking all day in 40°+ weather) that there was no shower. We used a bucket and a fountain in the middle of the hallway to wash “the important parts” as our host instructed and dumped the water out the window because the drain didn’t work. It was interesting.
The Generosity of Strangers
Dan Hagen has hosted around 100 people in his home in Wicker Park, Chicago.
I’ve had plenty of great guests come through the house over a span of two years. One of my favourites was a group of four Hungarians who were on a roadtrip. When I came back after work, the house was empty.
A little while later, the door swung open and they came in with nine bags of groceries! Apparently in their culture, it is custom that when you stay with a host, you repay the favour by cooking them dinner. They made some great Hungarian pancakes and French onion stew, and we spent the next few hours drinking in my kitchen. Budapest is now on my ever growing list of places to see, thanks to these guys.
Dark Clouds and Suspicious Streets
Jowita from Polacos de Polonia was an awesome host to me and Luke whilst we were travelling in Poland earlier this year. She recounts her worst experience and her better ones too.
Abandoned in Marrakech: We only had one negative experience with Couchsurfing. In Marrakech, Morroco, we had to go to the suburbs and wait for our host. The area seemed quite dreary: non-operating hospital buildings, suspicious streets, decaying houses. Imagination did the work – it was getting late, with sky full of dark clouds. There were some people around, but we couldn’t communicate with them, not knowing Arabic nor even French. Our host ignored our calls. Only when we called him from the phone booth did he mercifully explain to some boy standing next to us to put us on the bus to the centre, because he was not going to host us!
Marriage Therapy in Bosnia: It is much harder to name the best experience, as we had so many; with both hosts and surfers (you were one of them Charlie and Luke!) We would like to bring up here the story of Sandra and Dejan from Tuzla, Bosnia. They didn’t really have much time to host us, but they did it anyway, because they care about people. Sandra is a psychologist and she provided us with a short but illuminating marriage therapy session (not that we needed it!!) and Dejan constantly felt responsible for us. Not only did they give us a ride, offer us food and a place place to stay, but when we asked where can we could get the best rakija in Bosnia they said: ‘on our balcony’ and gave us more than we would ever have asked for!
Sleeping in a Buddhist Prayer Room and Eating Cow Tongue for Breakfast
Illia and Nastia from Crazzzy Travel talk about the time they slept in a Buddhist prayer room in Bangkok.
Couchsurfing in Bangkok is always awesome, but once it was really awesome! Our host, a lovely girl called Susitha, lived in a traditional Thai wooden house on the bank of a tiny, dirty (but not smelly) river. There were no walls to separate the rooms on the first floor, but on the second floor there was a separate Buddhist prayer room.
We slept on a mattress in the corner of the prayer room. It was unusual, but romantic! Every morning, a cute dog walked into our room to wake us up. We cooked Ukrainian food for Susitha and tried traditional Thai breakfast, made by her mother: mashed rice with ginger, row eggs and cow tongue. It was the most exciting Couchsurfing experience we’d ever had!
Couchsurfing through the World Cup in Brazil
Dan and Casey from A Cruising Couple share their awesome World Cup Couchsurfing experiences.
We’ve been Couchsurfing for years, both independently and as a couple. To date, we feel incredibly lucky to say that we have only had absolutely wonderful experiences. While we don’t Couchsurf as often as we used to, we have been utilizing the resource while we’ve been in Brazil for the World Cup the past few weeks and have had some of our best experiences yet!
Our first host in Belo Horizonte met us at the bus stop, got the family together for a home cooked ‘welcome’ dinner, prepared a private room for us, and generally went above and beyond to make us feel like we were part of his family. We then went to Couchsurf in Brasilia where we were met with a similar hospitality: our host picked us up and dropped us off at the airport, played tour guide, and took us on a weekend camping trip. We had such a wonderful time with both hosts that we plan to meet again when we are in Rio, just to hang out.
From Sleeping at a German Fetishist’s to Welcoming Guests at Chinese New Year
Nicholas from My Rambling Feet has had two very different open-minded experiences.
Surfing in Germany: I have stayed with Couchsurfing hosts in all sorts of dwellings, from massive farm houses to Soviet-era student dormitories, but it’s hard to forget that time I slept in a German fetishist’s playroom!
His profile appeared near the top when I searched for a host to stay with in Berlin (I’ll never figure out how the CS engine matched us according to “relevance”), and was an honest description that didn’t attempt to hide anything. The open way which he lived life piqued my curiosity though. It helped that he lived in a part of the city that was central to the places that I wanted to go, and there were a couple of positive references to go with his profile.
He turned out to be a generous and open-minded host with whom I could hold an intelligent conversation. There was a proper bed in the room, but it’s not every day that you sleep with masks, cuffs and restraints hanging around, among other things! That said, I slept soundly throughout my stay!
Hosting at Home: Hosting Couchsurfers can be difficult when the people you live with don’t buy the idea of sharing a private dwelling space with strangers. My family and relatives don’t either, but they warmed up to the idea of having a couple of visitors with us for dinner over the Chinese New Year, when most of the shops in Singapore close for the holiday.
They turned out to be sweet hosts, explaining each dish that we made to our Austrian and Lithuanian guests and getting them to toss some salmon salad with us. It was the first time the visitors had specialities like fish maw and black nuts. Our domestic help had a laugh watching my cousins trying to outdo each other to impress them! The experience hasn’t won over any of my family members yet, but that might change if someone who has hosted me pays a visit. When that happens, I’m now certain they will be very able hosts!
The Local Taiwanese ‘Nightlife’
Strange and confusing experiences aren’t uncommon for Westerners living in Taiwan. My partner and full-time travel companion, Luke, tells the story of our first Couchsurf.
There was one unusual night which I will always remember. Charlie and I arrived in Kaohsiung, a sprawling mega-city on Taiwan’s south coast, late at night. When we met our Couchsurfing host, her English was shaky and our Chinese was even worse, but she was friendly and we were pleased to have been invited to stay with her.
At 11pm, her parents returned to the apartment with two cups of hot, milky coffee as a gift for us. They are shy but smiley. Our host and her parents talked in Chinese, then she asked us if we would like to see the local nightlife. We were pretty exhausted, but didn’t want to be bad sports, so we agreed to a night on the town.
At first, we were surprised when our host’s parents seemed to be getting ready too, but then our host told us that they would be driving. A gift and a lift into town? How generous of them! We raced along through the neon-lit streets of Kaohsiung. When we stopped, I couldn’t see the club, but everyone seemed to be getting out. The night was taking a turn for the stranger; her parents actually seemed to be coming with us! I knew that Asian parents could be protective sometimes, but this… We turned a bend, and were greeted with a magnificent view of the city.
Our host smiled, “I see you like the nightlife!” The what…? “The night scene,” she said, “Or should I say night view?” Ah. Things finally started making sense. Turns out, Kaohsiung has an excellent viewpoint from which you can see the whole city lit up at night!
Are any of these Couchsurfing experiences familiar? Have you heard any other weird and wonderful stories?