Everyone has his or her passions. It just so happens that mine (traveling) is a bit expensive. My whole life, I have been told that I sometimes have unrealistic expectations in life and that I can’t have champagne on a beer budget. Well, to that I say “watch me.” I am always up for a challenge. Ever since childhood, my parents have told me that I can do anything I set my mind to, and I have always taken them seriously. If you want something out of life, you have to make it happen. After all, Blair Waldorf, my favorite television character ever says, “Destiny is for losers. It is just a stupid excuse to wait for things to happen instead of making them happen.” Here’s my take on one of the ways to make the the travels you’ve been dreaming of happen even if your budget is scanty.
Imagine sleeping on the couch of a complete stranger. Picture them showing you their city the way they see it, and getting you off the beaten path. That’s exactly the kind of experience Colby and I had during our trip to Washington, DC for my conference presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English. We chose to take advantage of an international movement called “Couchsurfing” in which people open up their homes to travelers for little or no cost to them.
I know what you are thinking. How crazy and dangerous is this idea? Might I remind you that we live in the age of online dating and social media, so the concept is not that outrageous. If that still doesn’t convince you, please read on. Consider this Couchsurfing 101: Jill’s Essential Guide to Having the Best Vacation Ever. You don’t have to be a little bohemian like me to enjoy this idea.
1. It is safe.
I wasn’t concerned with safety. My travel companion, my hubby, is enormous, and I knew we would be fine. However, the Couchsurfing website implements a lot of safety measures that can give surfers peace of mind. For example, the website verifies the identity of hosts so that they cannot make fake profiles to endanger their guests. Granted, it requires a fee to have one’s profile verified, but there is a simple solution: do not request to stay with hosts who have not been verified. Also, guests are encouraged to write reviews of their hosts after the trip. If I trust TripAdvisor, I trust couchsurfer’s reviews too!
2. It is free (or very cheap)!
Our main reason for Couchsurfing was that WCU did not give me a large sum of money to travel to this conference. In order to cut costs without sacrificing the number of our days in DC, we chose to cut out hotel fees. Our particular hosts did not charge us anything to stay with them, but even hosts who run their homes like bed and breakfasts charge a fraction of what hotels do.
3. It is customary to buy your hosts a gift.
There is no rule that you have to, but it is a nice gesture. My suggestion: buy your hosts a gift that reflects you and your hometown. Colby and I chose to get cute coffee mugs from a local gift shop (Appalachian Memories) and coffee from a local shop. Funny story… ground coffee apparently looks like gunpowder in a carry-on bag, which led me to getting frisked twice in airport security. Thankfully, the coffee and I both made it to DC unscathed, and our hosts loved the gift. For those who might be thinking “I thought you said Couchsurfing was free,” think about the money would will save buying a $30-$50 gift as opposed to a hotel room every night.
4. If you couchsurf, you will make great friends.
Colby and I stayed with a couple named Moataz and Bethany. To say they were incredible would not do them justice. They made sure we were able to navigate the city, cooked us several meals, and drove us to the airport for our return flight. We had an amazing time discussing our travel experiences with them. Both of them have been all over the world, and they had so many stories to tell. Moataz is from Lebanon, and he spoiled us with a traditional Lebanese dinner. I may need to put Lebanon on my list if for nothing more than the food! I can definitely see this couple being lifelong friends of ours, and I hope they visit us in our little corner of the world someday.
5. It is so much more pleasant than staying in a hotel room.
Hotel rooms can be nightmares. They usually smell funny, you can rarely perfect their room temperatures, and sometimes I am taller than hotel shower heads. Moataz and Bethany’s Arlington apartment was so cozy and nice (it should be featured on Apartment Therapy). I felt so at home, which is something I do not get from hotel rooms.
So there you have it: your ticket to traveling and one of the most special experiences you can possibly have. Get outside of your comfort zone and just do it! At least peruse the website http://www.couchsurfing.org to see what it is all about. The world is just one click away!
“Travel is rebellion in its purest form. We follow our hearts. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We develop a love for the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We sometimes choose to never come back.”
We are never the same.