Michaela Grill, 25 is originally from Austria has done a number of travelling internships as part of her studies, as well as studying in Mexico, Madrid, Berlin and spent a gap year travelling across four different continents. She now lives in London and volunteered to talk to us about her experiences couchsurfing.
Its About People
Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.org) was a real help when I was a student. Its not just that I didnt have the money for a fancy hotel. I just didnt need to stay somewhere like that. I wanted to get out and have experiences with the locals and try alternative accommodation. I love meeting up with people in their home town and getting involved in discussions about relationships, religion, culture, even food and drink. These type of experiences are very unique and you cant get them in a hotel.
"These type of experiences are very unique and you cant get them in a hotel."
Ive become very close to some of the people I stayed with and some of them have even stayed with me. But everyone is different. Theres no standard experience. When I am planning to travel somewhere Ill post who I am, and what I love to do. I also add that I am independent but would love someone to show me around. That way people dont feel as though they have to be babysitting you.
Ive stayed on couches, in spare rooms, even on a waterbed once. It usually works out well but you have to be open and willing to connect, even if takes a little bit of work, although you can usually tell by reading someones profile if you will get on.
As a woman it is important to think about safety. I always look at the references. There are three types: positive, neutral and negative. Obviously you look twice at someone with a negative review, but do read it carefully, if they have 50 good reviews and one bad review because the traveller thought the place was too small, then you use your own judgement. I also look at how active they are and how many friends they have. If theyve been on there a while and have no pictures or profile then I am wary. Another thing I do is suggest we meet up for drinks first, that way I dont have to commit myself straight away and can get a hostel if something doesnt feel right.
That said, I have always felt very safe, perhaps because I do take the time to check people out like this.
Making The Most Of It
You really have to be open to whatever comes up in an experience like this. Sometimes you might get breakfast made for you or prepare brunch together ... sometimes not. Every experience is different." I always try to do something as a thank you. I might take a small gift from my home country or make sure I get the bill if we are out shopping. In short, I dont want them to spend a lot of extra money on my behalf.
Ive been doing this for four years now and met people of all ages - from 18 right through to people in their 60s. In Belgium I met a couple with a two year old daughter. They did this because they thought it was great for her to experience people from many different cultures.
For a male's perspective you can also read about Gilxs Wendes couch surfing experience, Couchsurfing Is More Than Just A Bed.