Traveling Europe for a couple of months and then the United Kingdom for half a year I figured, our budget wouldn’t last long if we’d stay in bed & breakfasts and hotels between our house sitting assignments.
As we’d had a lovely couch surfing experience last year with a family in Durban, South Africa, I wanted to give it a closer look also for Europe despite the fact that most hosts were in their twenties.
Pro 1: Encounter hospitality and friends all over the world
I don’t mind to sleep on the floor, a mattress or a couch and to bring our own bedding. I noticed that most profiles of the hosts revealed ladies and men between 20 and 25, keen to extend their clique and to go out to party with their guests. Figuring our kids wouldn’t want to hang out with some old dudes of 50 something either, I felt quite discouraged.
Pro 2: Free accommodation and local guide in one go
I wrote to several hosts on hospitality club, which seemed to me a more mature target group. But the sight looks quite unprofessional and there weren’t any responses initially, only after some weeks when we didn’t need accommodation anymore.
Pro 3: Meet fascinating people with broad interests
Instead we were invited to an informal lunch at the home of a friendly couple close to Norwich and a dinner in Cambridge in a living community of students quite similar to the TV-series of ‘Big Bang’ by members of the hospitality club. We were most impressed by the friendliness by this gesture.
Pro 4: Live with locals and experience their culture
Our first couch surfing experience in Europe was in Lille, France, at a town house of an interpreter and his family with his wife and two sons. “Wonderful, I have guests anyway when you’re here. Just come and join into the party!” We had a great evening with lots of home made Asian food and the whole neighborhood digging into it.
Encouraged by this positive experience, I went on to find couches in the UK on the couchsurfing.com. I filtered the hosts by age and YES! There were actually a few older hosts in the UK. But crap! Almost on the other side of the British Isles of where we wanted to stay! If we wouldn’t have been with our traveling Beagle, Vlou, the search results would have been a bit more as only few hosts accept pets.
Cons 1: Backbreaking sleeping conditions
So, it was that we stayed at the west coast of England near Blackpool for our second couch surfing experience more than 100 miles away from our first house sit near Northallerton. Most probably we would have easily been able to pay a hotel for the additional transport costs with this detour. If we’d known we wouldn’t have decided this way as Blackpool is rather grubby as was our accommodation to say the least.
Cons 2: You don't meet each others expectations
After this one we were very lucky to stay with a family with young kids in a house in St. Bees. The beach was just a stone throw away and the most stunningly beautiful place in England – the Lake District – only a twenty minutes drive to the east. We shared the cooking and could give them a little bit of relief as babysitters for an evening.
Another family in Durham accommodated us for three nights. We had some precious evenings with the children in their teens, mother and fathers of the children and grandparents as-well. A not very con-formative but nevertheless a most affectionate family.
We are still in contact with our last hosts which showed like the previous ones, that there are also younger people which like to hang out with Grey World Nomads. Being between thirty and forty they were just about to head on an adventure themselves for a few months. They’d rented their house and quit their job to discover Canada by WWOOFING (volunteering on organic farms). They’d already packed up a lot of their stuff. It’s great to follow their travels on their blog The Roaming Fen Tiger!
Update: I’ve just heard about a new platform called Hippohelp, it’s a similar website as WWOOF. I’ve not tried it myself but it might be worth a look if you’re interested in working in exchange for food and accommodation. The platform is free to use.
Cons 3: Higher transport costs dictated by location
Leaving the Brits for the Netherlands by ferry we stayed first near Delft, a quaint town famous of its delft blue paintings on old dutch crockery. Our host wasn’t at home the first evening but that didn’t stop her from offering us her house and surprising us with a laid table and soup. Awesome! Surprisingly our hosts sister had just returned from a trip to Iran where she had found some couch surfing opportunities.
In Amsterdam it’s good to have a local guide. So, what’s better than to be guided by your host who offers you his bikes and his knowledge as well? We were staying only a 10 minute walk from the old city center of Amsterdam and even so our host was able to find us free parking!
Cons 4: No privacy
Our last two couch surfing experiences so far were in Germany along the quite touristy, well-known Romantic Road. The first hosts, a young couple, she expecting her first child, their home a former café with plenty toilets to choose from.
The second host was living on his own near the walled old town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in a beautifully renovated farmhouse with plenty space to accommodate guests. With both hosts we had most interesting discussions with insights of the German culture which we’d otherwise would never have had.
All in all, we think the the advantages of couch surfing beat the drawbacks. With enough time, appreciation and interest for your hosts it’s in proper and metaphorical sense a priceless experience. Just keep in mind that you need to charge your batteries in between to keep up with your hosts!
Thank you, dear hosts, for your couch and comfortable beds, lovely meals and enjoyable company!