Having nailed the interview and received the job offer, I thought I’d make the best of the two weeks I had before my start date at the beginning of the second quarter – it was time for that road trip I had always wanted to take. There was only one problem: I had no cash flow. Having quit my day job two weeks prior, I had slowly but surely whittled away my checking account. The thought of dipping into my savings to finance such a spontaneous venture left me sour, a feeling that would certainly taint the entire experience. But then my buddy Joe reminded me of CouchSurfing.com, an online community network of people who generously welcome travelers into their homes – for free!
We had both independently heard of the service before, mentioned in passing by a handful of our more adventurous extroverted friends. Discussing their experiences, we found not a single negative report. Everyone we knew had come back with exciting stories they were eager to tell. We thought we’d give it a try.
Signing up was easy. Facebook has a direct tie-in, so we didn’t even have to fill out any forms to get our names on the network. To ensure the authenticity of its members there is an optional verification process via credit card (they recommend a $25 donation), however, in our experience, simply having a single positive reference in the network is often enough for members to open up their home. In the spirit of the community, you’re asked to post a little blurb about yourself and some general interests, which actually end up being quite helpful for finding a suitable host. After all, most people involved in the network are in it to meet new people and broaden their horizons.
Within the week, we had been offered couches by three people from Cincinnati, OH and two from Madison, WI, with requests still pending for Chicago, IL. To think, a few days earlier we were worried about not having enough money or having a place to stay, and now we had to choose who we would most like to stay with. A day later, we were on our way West out of New York.
Of course at first, it was a little odd finding yourself about to fall asleep in a random person’s guest room, the thought of possibly getting robbed or something creeping up in the back of your mind. But the more and more people we met through the network, the more positive experiences we heard of – and in the unlikeliest of places. One of our hosts had first heard of CouchSurfing after finding herself stranded without money for a night in South Africa. She was in a park lamenting about her situation and a stranger mentioned the site. She was able to find a safe, honest host on a day’s notice, and was hooked ever since.
All-in-all, the CouchSurfing experience was nothing short of incredible. Each of the homes were clean and tidy, we always had at least a futon to sleep on. Our hosts were more often than not eager to spend time hanging out and getting to know us, treat us to meals and drinks – we were their guests after all, they would say – and share their favorite local spots with us. They were happy to hear about the places we had traveled, what life was like back home, and to hear about our aspirations and life goals. What turned out to be simply an economical decision delivered a uniquely human experience that not even the most luxurious hotel-resort could compete with.
If you are particularly strapped for cash, I would also recommend pairing CouchSurfing with the MegaBus service, which offers the first open seat on any given bus for $1. Plan your trip early enough in advance and you can literally travel the U.S. for a month with just a few hundred dollars. With services like this, what are you waiting for? Traveling has never been so easy – or economical!