If you don’t already know what Couchsurfing is, it is a website that allows you to look for people to stay with for free when you’re traveling. Yes, for FREE.
You may be wondering, what’s the catch??
Why would anyone want to open up their homes to strangers for free and why would you want to stay with a stranger?
Because when you’re a budget traveler, you need to save every penny you can. And most hosts on Couchsurfing are also travelers, so they understand. It’s a way to pay it forward.
Plus, it’s an AWESOME way to meet new people.
My Search for the Perfect Couchsurfing Host
Before Couchsurfing, I’ve heard of mostly good things but I did hear a few fishy tales as well.
Fun fact: I hosted someone a couple of years ago but I, myself, have never tried Couchsurfing.
So I thought, why not try it out when I’m in Spain?
But I had one very important requirement.
My host must be vegan. Why? Because veganism is an integral part of who I am and I wanted to stay with someone who understood my values. Also, I thought it would be cool to meet another vegan in another part of the world.
So I got on Couchsurfing, typed in “vegan” and “female” in the filter and it returned… THREE people. So many choices.
I messaged all three of them and my inbox stayed dead silent for the next week.
Then the universe surprised me.
Three days before departure, I got a response from someone saying they were willing to host me.
I was skeptical.
What if this “woman” was actually a 60-year-old Spanish man with an Asian fetish? What if this woman drugs me and sells me to a brothel like in Taken?
I mean, my dad is awesome but he ain’t no Liam Neeson.
But still, I decided to take a chance…
As soon as I got to the airport and met Mariela (yes, she came to pick me up!) all my worries and fears dissipated.
Mariela was exactly who she was on her profile and better.
Thanks to Mariela’s insider knowledge, I was able to quickly learn the difference between Catalan and Spanish.
If you’re going “Huh?” let me clear this up:
- Catalonia is a region in Spain.
- Barcelona is in Catalonia.
- Barcelona is in the northeastern shore of Spain staring at the Mediterranean sea.
- Most of Catalonia wishes to secede from Spain but they have been unsuccessful so far.
- Most Barcelona natives can speak Catalan and Spanish, which are two different languages. I was told Catalan is like a mixture of French, Italian and Spanish. Children learn both in school.
English: I want to go to Figueres.
Spanish: Quiero ir a Figueres.
Catalan: Vull anar a Figueres.
Got it? 🙂
Exploring on My Own
When I wasn’t stuffing my face in vegan food, I walked all over the city.
Barcelona was an extremely walkable and bike-friendly city. I almost got hit a few times by bikes.
Public transportation was also very easy to navigate. Thank you, Google maps.
And of course, I visited the famous Sagrada Familia church. I bought myself a ticket to go all the way to the top and got an amazing view of Barcelona and then got lost inside its twirling staircases.
Interactions with Locals
Most of the people I came across in Barcelona were extremely friendly.
Everyone in customer service spoke some English and when they didn’t, a simple “hola” and pointing worked. I tried to use as much Spanish as I can.
“Cafe con leche de soja por favor?” Coffee with soymilk please?
I did encounter a few guys who thought it’d be funny to say something lewd to me but from the language they were speaking, they were also not from Spain. I gave them the dirtiest look I got and walked away. Realities of being a woman.
New Friends and Old Friends
Some of my favorite memories were meeting up with an old friend from high school, trying vegan tapas with new friends, drinking way too much sangria and cava (Spanish champagne) for our own good, and eating churros with Mariela while laughing our butts off.
Exploring with my Host
On my fourth day in Spain, Mariela came exploring with me in a town called Figueres.
Figueres was two hours outside of Barcelona near the border of France.
As soon as we stepped off the train, I felt like we were in a different world. All the signs were in Catalan instead of Spanish and the streets were nearly empty.
Despite so, Mariela and I still ended up having a lot of fun.
We climbed up a hill to see the largest “castle” in Europe (which was more like a military fortress), shared a delicious vegan lunch at the top which we packed, and really got to know each other.
Before leaving, we also visited the famous Dali Museum because Figueres is actually Salvador Dalí’s hometown. The museum was fun and quirky. I loved it.
Romantic Seaside Town
On my fifth day in Spain, I headed out to a beautiful seaside town called Sitges (See-jes).
Sitges was the type of place you would imagine Spain to look like and made you aware of how single you are.
But all jokes aside, I really enjoyed it.
As soon as I got there, I ran to the beach, tossed my shoes aside, and dipped my toes in the sand and water. It made me feel like a little kid again.
I sat on the edge of one of the cliffs, people watched and had lunch.
Would I Recommend Couchsurfing?
If you can’t tell already… absolutely, yes!
Without a doubt, Couchsurfing made my experience in Spain much more memorable than if I had just stayed in a hostel or hotel.
Couchsurfing gave me the chance to see and understand a culture from a local’s point of view.
I was able to look inside a real home in Barcelona, be a part of Mariela’s everyday life, cuddle with her cute dog (Totoro), practice Spanish with her roommate, go to the supermarket and ask her what everything was, and notice all the every day things that make life in Barcelona unique.
But most importantly of all, Couchsurfing connected me with someone who also loves traveling and veganism, the two things that make me who I am.
It was like meeting a different version of me in another part of the world.
And by the end of my trip, I didn’t just leave with memories or souvenirs, I left with a new friend and a little bit more faith in strangers.
Tips on Couchsurfing
- Use the filter! Do not just type in a city and scroll through the thousands of search results. It’s tempting to stay with anyone since it’s free but make sure to find someone with common interests as you.
- It’s great to be open-minded but if staying with a male or female host makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it! The reality is there are some creeps in Couchsurfing who are looking for more.
- State clearly in your profile that you are not interested in flirting/dating, well, unless you are.
- Make sure your host has plenty of good reviews and it isn’t just from their friends.
- Look up the nearest hostel or hotel to your host’s place in case things don’t work out so you’re not left stranded on the street.
- Tell someone your host’s address before you go in case anything happens.
- Show your gratitude. Yes, Couchsurfing is technically free but making them dinner, taking them out for drinks, or buying them a small gift wouldn’t hurt.
- Don’t be a jerk. Clean up after yourself, don’t come home super late and drunk. Be a decent human being.