Post-Netherlands Backpacking Trip

Staying with Locals

For so long, I’ve struggled to articulate the purpose of this blog. Only recently did I realize that it was staring me in the face the whole time.

You ready for the moment of revelation?

It’s in the title.

“Wander. Learn. Repeat.”

I’m accumulating so much knowledge, both the practical and insightful. After nine months as an au pair and nearly six on the road, I have so much to share.

Here are some examples of what I can write about in future posts:

-how to fund a trip abroad

-hitchhiking know-how

-how to be a good guest

And I’ve met tons of travelers. If I don’t have an answer to a travel-related question, I can likely find someone who does. I want to share this wealth of knowledge, allowing people to see the benefits of travel (in all forms), and how affordable/feasible it can be.

The subject of today’s post? Accommodation. In traditional forms of traveling, accommodation and transportation are the two biggest expenses. Both can quickly eat into your budget, dramatically shortening the amount of time one can travel.

But there are alternative approaches, and today I’ll focus on the one with which I have the most experience: using hospitality websites.

The most popular and widely known site is couchsurfing.com (though there are others). You make a profile online, filling in your interests and providing a couple pictures. Then you can start participating in the community, through hosting travelers, being a guest in someone’s home, or going to the activities scheduled in your area. It is my primary means of accommodation.

Pros: stay with a local, get insider tips, great for solo travel, leads to new opportunities, free

I most definitely wouldn’t have gone to this Vietnamese wedding in Huế, if it hadn’t been for couchsurfing.

Cons: less control over the schedule (example: may have to leave in the morning when host goes to work), not ideal for traveling in groups, may not click with host

Other things to consider:

-Some people worry about the safety of meeting people online, which is a valid concern. Luckily, couchsurfing has a reference system in place that allows you to see who else has stayed with your potential host. I like to click on some of these profiles, to make sure that the people leaving the reviews are real. Typically, I’ll send a request if the person has 5+ postive references. I also send an email to my dad with the name, phone number, address, and couchsurfing profile of my host.

-Also, it’s not just a free place to sleep. Couchsurfing is based on the idea of cultural exchange, so be mindful of that when entering someone’s home. They’re providing you a place to stay, so it’s often nice to bring a gift, cook, or buy them a meal.

Types of accommodation vary widely. I once had an entire two-story house to my own. The owner was out of town for the weekend, but didn’t want to leave a fellow couchsurfer high and dry.

More often, it’s a simple couch in the living room. Which is really more than enough for me — sleep is just a state of being, and it doesn’t matter too much where I rest my head. What I value most from my experiences couchsurfing is the people I meet, and the moments of learning I share with them.

I can’t even remember half of the couches/beds/floors I’ve slept on. But I can recall all the people I met, no question.

I understand this approach isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For those who want to simulate a couchsurfing experience, an alternative is to travel to somewhere where you have friends or family. In this scenario there’s an added sense of security, because you already know the person or they have been vouched for by someone you trust. You still get the local perspective and possible hangout buddy.

For me, this option has always been an opportunity for me to relax and recharge, and also to stay in one place for an extended period of time (because friends are more inclined than strangers to let you stay for weeks at a time).

David let my friend Nikki and I stay with him for two weeks, taking
us on camping trips through the English countryside and Wales.

Dina and Iris are family that live in Germany. They’ve hosted me
TWICE, once allowing three of my friends to also stay in their home.

And Van is my old college roommate. I was so lucky to stay with her and her family in Hanoi for two weeks — I often told Van that staying in her home was like going to a nice people convention.

I highly recommend trying one of the two options on your next vacation. It’s an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and plan your travels according to people, rather than places.

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3 thoughts on “Staying with Locals

  1. Pingback: Day 3: Travel Style | Wander. Learn. Repeat.

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