Tag Archives: Couchsurfing

How to Travel the World, One Couch at a Time

28 Mar


Couchsurfing. Yeah, you’ve heard me slip it into conversation like a roofie. One moment we’re talking about capers and olive oil, then BAM – did you know I went couchsurfing in Colombia? That’s one way to make a stale conversation interesting. Anyway, I BELIEVE IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF SLEEPING ON STRANGERS’ COUCHES.

Why Couchsurfing?

  • Meet awesome, worldly and OPEN-minded individuals that will probably tickle your cultural brain cells beyond your wildest dreams
  • Couchsurfing.org is totally FREE for anyone to use
  • All that money you’re NOT spending on hotels/guided tours can be used towards airplane tickets to more countries! WOW!
  • You will find couchsurfers in almost every part of the world – even ANTARCTICA
  • Get off the beaten path – staying with a native or a local couchsurfer from that country will most definitely grant you the insider’s scoop on wondrous, underground things to do – stuff you will NOT find in tour guidebooks (lonelyplanet = barf)
  • Delicious food – a common activity couchsurfers indulge themselves on is cooking FOOD together! Exchange ninja cooking skills and recipes! Food is one of the most common areas in which people can connect on, no matter where you go in the world. Resist the golden arches, resist!
  • Learn awesome, sexy, foreign phrases that will make people drool and fall over everywhere you go
  • Hotels + tour guides + 5 years worth of salary = crappy traveling experience
  • Stuff like this will happen to you, and yet you come home safe in one piece because couchsurfing is not that dangerous, I swear
  • How many times in life will you get to meet an opera singer or a North Korean/German ambassador? Never. Unless you’re a couchsurfer like me…true story.

How to Start Couchsurfing?

  1. Create your profile – don’t be a boring blank page w/ creepy blank photo – I know that if you stumbled onto my blog you’re probably super awesome & interesting (obviously, because you know me). So don’t be afraid to concisely state the reasons that may compel someone to host you / crash on your couch. Check out my profile for starters.
  2. Build Credibility – To be less creepy, you need more positive references. Sometimes it’s a Catch-22.  How can you get positive references if no one will interact with you in person because your profile is blank and creepy? Start out as a host – join your local group’s “Last Minute CS” group. Since couchsurfers generally don’t plan very well, you’ll find lots of lost, wandering souls looking for places to crash in this forum. Save somebody, be a good host, then you’ll receive a positive reference! Woohoo! So easy!
  3. Start Traveling – Before you book that sleazy, all-inclusive hotel – creep on some couchsurfing peeps. You will have to lurk a little and see who you think you might click with. Send a message or couchsurfing request with a personalized message (people won’t respond to copy & pasted messages).

How to be an AWESOME Couchsurfer?

  • ALWAYS BE CONSIDERATE – If you’re the couchsurfer, act as if you’re the best roommate in the WORLD. Keep your sleeping area clean. Don’t clog the toilet. Ask before you use anything. Don’t walk around naked in your underwear (unless you asked them if they’re okay with that).
  • OPEN YOUR MIND – Leave your judgement and negativity on the doorsteps. If you’re open and honest, people will be open and honest in return. And when both parties are open and honest – well…lots of fun adventures can happen. Like riding on mopeds to go wreck diving in Tulamben, Indonesia.
  • RETURN THE FAVOR – If they cooked for you, clean up the dishes or take them out for a beer. Maybe you can bring a special gift from your country as a “thank you” token of appreciation for letting you stay on their couch. Teach them a new skill, or a dirty word in your language. Be an awesome wing man and hook them up with a hot chick.
  • BUT DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH – Okay, there’s a fine line here. Despite all the positive things I’ve said that couchsurfing has to offer – please don’t walk into somebody’s house expecting all these great things to happen, EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN’ TIME. You really need to exercise your perception skills and go with the flow of your host. They could be super busy and not have enough time to show you the sights – totally fine. Respect that these people have their own lives too. Or maybe your host wants to become your best friend and know every single detail about you. That’s fine too – cultural exchange is awesome. Just go with the flow bro….
  • LEAVE THEM MAD PROPS – Dude, if you had a good experience – shout it out to the world! Leave them a glowing, positive reference. It takes you like 2 seconds. Just do it – and they’ll probably do the same in return.
  • KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM AFTERWARDS – if they are in your country traveling, don’t blow them off. Let them stay with you. It’s only fair.

Let me know if you guys have any other questions or suggestions! I’m totally open to them! If you want me to elaborate on a certain subject…I can definitely do that too. Happy couchsurfing!

10 Tips on How to Make Pseudo Traveling Friends While Traveling Solo

1 Dec

Besides money, one of the biggest reasons why people are afraid to travel is fear of loneliness. Many refuse to travel unless they find “the ideal traveling partner” and as such are doomed to eternal pining and an unsatisfied soul. I know this because I used to be one of those people. Well, NO MORE! I’ve visited over 15 countries solo and have made tons of pseudo traveling friends all over the world – thus, I’m pretty much pro at this and have never felt lonely traveling. Below are some of my general tips on how you can find pseudo traveling friends everywhere you go.

General Tips:

  1. Be observant. Look for any signs that may create common ground between you and the people around you. Look for people that are alone. If you really want to take the easy road, try to look for Americans. They’re generally the friendliest and most ignorant, I’ve found. It’s easy to spot them by the way they dress: sports T-shirts, baseball caps, and the rambunctious way they are laughing & taking shots at the bar are obvious red flags.
  2. Eye contact. All you have to do is maintain eye contact for at least 3 seconds and smile. This is best in a bar setting,  but can also be applied in other public settings – like a coffee shop with free WI-FI (This is important! Fellow travelers are ALWAYS on the free WI-FI hunt, so you will definitely find a gang of them at WI-FI hotspots).
  3. Ask for help. The best way to strike up a conversation with a stranger is to ask them advice questions such as: “Yo, do you know if that jungle tour is totally awesome?” or “Do you know where the nearest pickle store is?” and more importantly, “Do you know where’s the best and cheapest place to rage tonight?” Actually, my favorite time is when we picked up a British guy in Times Square that just got off the airplane. All he had to ask was “Do you know where the bars are?” And he was immediately invited to join us girls on an awesome bar adventure.
  4. Be confident. Or as my friend Dan Gilroy once put it, “Walk into the room as if you have a 12-inch cock.” Sounds crazy, but it’s such a confidence booster. And people are drawn to confidence like Irish men are to whiskey. Scientific fact. And remember, don’t slouch.
  5. Memorize foreign phrases. Build up a data bank so that you can spew out random foreign phrases when you meet people from these countries. My random knowledge of German, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese phrases has gotten me very far in life.
  6. Be memorable & dare to be different. Wear something unique and brightly colored as a conversation-starter. I wear this owl necklace that people can’t help but caress and touch. Also, avoid being the first person to ask basic intro questions such as:  “Where are you from and why are you traveling?” Instead, talk about random, obscure topics like the scientific origin of eggplants or that one time you were hanging out in Inner Mongolia. Make yourself an interesting and compelling person and more importantly, make the other person ask YOU the basic intro questions.  As an interesting person they’ll want to get to know you and thus it will be harder for them to say ‘No’ when you invite them on a random adventure.
  7. Think of an awesome event, place, or activity to do in advance. Try to bring it up in conversation and BAM! Pseudo traveling friend can’t resist your awesome adventure idea. For example, “Hey, did you know that the world music festival is being held in that rain forest 4 hours away? Wanna split a tuk-tuk?”
  8. Don’t be afraid to spend some quality time with a stranger. Pretend that you’ve known this person for 10 years and it’s been awhile since you last saw each other. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward, you freakin’ platypus.
  9. At first, always be gentle in your approach. Don’t surprise them or come off too aggressive by being SUPER energetic and eager when you walk up to them. Try to be quaint, respectful and non-prodding. If you’re at a loud bar, disregard this tip. Being loud and energetic in conversation is okay when you’re drunk and there’s a big crowd around.
  10. DON’T BE CLINGY. This is a rule you should always follow in life. People, especially travelers, tend to flee at any sign of clinginess. I know I do. Be appreciative and revel in the adventure you’re having with this pseudo friend – but definitely don’t expect them to be around forever. If there’s chemistry and some type of cosmic force bringing you two together, then you’ll happily discover that you’re both coincidentally headed towards the same direction on your journey.

At the hostel:

  1. When booking a hostel, make sure you choose to stay in the room with the most beds. Usually these are the cheapest beds, and it’s also a sure-fire way to meet other travelers like yourself.
  2. Stay at a hostel that has its own bar. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with a drunk foreigner. Almost too easy.

At the airport/bus station:

Follow general tip #1 (Be Observant) and find people that are reading books that look interesting. Nonchalantly sit next to them and say, “Oh man! I’ve always wanted to read that book! How is it…?” And let the conversation slide from there. Note: Don’t approach those that are listening to iPods, these folks generally don’t want to be bothered and aren’t leaving themselves open to conversation. Only approach if they’re really, really cute and you’ve got nothing to lose.

On the plane/bus:

If there’s open seating on the plane, sit next to someone that looks like they’re your age and traveling alone. Usually they’re also solo travelers or at least open to conversation. Don’t be too bothersome….people need their space. Break the conversation by doing your own thing – but make sure you find out if they’re doing anything fun at the destination you’re headed towards and see if you can join.

On the Interwebz:

This should be at the top of the list – in my experience, using the internet as a resource has been one of the best ways to connect with other travelers on-the-go. I mainly use Couchsurfing.org or Travbuddy.com. As a last-minute, spontaneous traveler, I often don’t take the time to strike up conversations and will just post in the CS Last Minute Couch Request group in whatever country I’m headed towards. I usually get a few responses back, immediately. Check out my tips on How to Couchsurf or check out my other blog posts about couchsurfing.

Just remember:

Most people are afraid to take the first step. If you overcome your fear of rejection, you can overcome your fear of loneliness and solo traveling! Just know that you’ve got nothing to lose and even though you won’t always be successful, those pseudo traveling friends you DO make are going to be the best people you’ll ever meet in your entire life!

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please post a comment! OR if you want a live response, you can ask me a question on vyou.com!

How I Traveled to 21 Countries Throughout College

10 Nov

Bob: “I’m jealous. I wish I could travel as much as you do.”
Me: “So why don’t you?!”
Bob: “I’m too poor”; “I don’t know who I’d go with”; “I have too much going on.”

I have had this conversation more times than Antoine Dodson’s remix song has gotten stuck in your head. Fo’ real. I’m not trying to boast. I’d  like to demystify popular belief that traveling is tough on the wallet and share with you how I was able to travel without a trust fund, still able to earn legitimate work experience, and graduate from college. I traveled to 21 countries in 4 years (.43 countries per month) and it only took a bit of luck, time, and a loooooooooot of BJ’s.

LUCK: NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY

I was fortunate enough to transfer from a tiny hick university in the Californian desert to the #1 co-op school in America. I got really lucky because when I chose this school I had no idea what a co-op was. For those of you that don’t know, a co-op is basically an internship on steroids that pays very well. Northeastern University has THE BEST network of companies that hire strictly from a pool of Northeastern students. I was a business marketing major and I did 3 co-ops and was paid around $20,000-$25,000 each year. Granted, I don’t know where 80% of the money went (burritos?) because I definitely did not spend that much on traveling. But that’s how I got some of the funds. Downside: I had to sacrifice my summer vacations. 6 months were spent working on co-op, the other 6 months were spent in classes.

Northeastern is also pumping out these great study abroad programs where you can take 2 classes abroad over the summer. For example, I took the last 2 classes of my college career in a tiny medieval village in Spain. I created a bronze cast of my boob (now featured in the lobby of Ryder Hall) and learned some inappropriate Spanish phrases while getting 8 credits out of it!

TIME: OPTIMIZE, CREATE or SACRIFICE IT

I am a creature of transit and have a strange paranoia of losing time. Although I had no summer vacations, every time I found an open week in my schedule I would find an excuse to travel. Downside: I started sacrificing time with friends and family at home. I made a selfish, life choice to pursue my passion in traveling and to actively keep global opportunities open. I still came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I would celebrate New Year’s in a different country.

BJ’s: BIG JETS & BIG JUMPS

When I was a Sophomore I decided that I needed to get with a BIG JET. So I signed up for a JetBlue American Express card and got a free flight immediately. I used the card to pay EVERYTHING – from $1 PBRs to thousands in tuition. I racked up some major points and got a bunch of free flights. I used one to fly from Boston to Colombia for free. Then I spent $3o0 from Colombia to Ecuador and stayed with my friend Stefi. Including the flight I spent a grand total of $650 for 2 countries, and 10 days of bungee jumps, Amazon jungle adventures, and chillin’ on the beach.  Not too shabby.

If you’re dedicated to traveling .43* countries per month then you must also take a BIG JUMP and DO IT ALONE. FLY HANS SOLO. You only have two eyeballs and two legs – it won’t help if you spend 50% of your time arguing with your soon to be ex-bf/gf on which museum will bore you the most. When traveling solo, it’s easier to make friends (you’re forced to). You can also go with the flow and have awesome places to stay for the future! For example, I met some friendly Norwegian dudes when I was traveling alone in Malaysia and then a few months later, I was able to have an amazing place to stay near the Fjords in Norway….for free! I also do a lot of couchsurfing – free places to crash around the world. This is where I saved a crapload of money. Downside: traveling alone can suck sometimes during long train rides. I will be posting more deets about how to effectively meet pseudo traveling friends later.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. Anybody can travel with a small budget. It just takes a bit of open-mindedness, due diligence in research, and the good times will roll.

If you ever need a traveling buddy – feel free to give me a shout-out on TRAVBUDDY or COUCHSURFING.

*Thanks Rafa for the calculation

INNER MONGOLIA & My 1ST Couchsurfing Experience

6 Oct

 

BEIJING, May 2009. So I was sitting at the public computer at Leo Hostel, after having just said 在见(good-bye) to traveling buddies Dawei & Stuart. I had about 2 extra days to kill before heading back to Shanghai. I decided, yo – Imma gonna head to INNER MONGOLIA! I tried to check train times, but of course China’s unreliable websites said nothing to me. I hopped onto couchsurfing.org and created a profile so I could crash somewhere for free.

When I ran the query for couchsurfing hosts in Inner Mongolia, only 8 results appeared. I clicked on the profile at the top of the list – ‘Nuppu from Finland.’ Nice reviews, cool desert pictures – couldn’t see her face, but whatever – safer to stay with a girl, right? Cool, doing it. So I messaged her:

Hi Nuppu!~ I am Allison from Los Angeles, CA. I’m taking a SPONTANEOUS trip to Inner Mongolia and was wondering if I could crash with you? This will be my first time. You seem like a really cool girl, I’ve never met anyone from Finland! I’m sorry this is so last minute, but hey that’s the nature of these things right? Please let me know as soon as you can! Thanks, Allison

RE: Hi Allison, yea sure you can crash here, when are you coming? Give me a call. Nuppu.

I gave her a call and she had a really cool English-sounding accent and I pictured her to have dark skin like an Indian-Eskimo (At that time I had no clue what Finnish people looked like).

I went to the train station via $2 cab, begged for the last standing seat (got bumped up to a hard sleeper) to depart Beijing at 11:31 PM and arrive to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia at around noon. I. was. so. excitedly freaked out. Here I was traveling solo being all cool with my knock-off Northface backpack I got for like $10 bucks and nobody knew that I was going to Inner Mongolia except for Nuppu. I’m such a badass.

The train ride was a bit boring…I was surrounded by a bunch of old Chinese people that I didn’t feel like talking to. One took a liking to me and I had to swat him away. I slept on the top hard-sleeper bunk and cuddled with my backpack out of fear that I would get mugged in my sleep (a common paranoia us travelers have). After having spent the last 6 months jailed in my Chinese dormitory with 20 horny Americans, it was so nice to travel on my own. I finally felt like I could be the traveler I wanted to be. Granted, I was still in China – but I felt great to be independent, alone, and unsure of the future.

I woke up to a Chinese lady yelling out some crazy ass words that had to do with breakfast. I decided to buy a pork-filled bun, mmmmm. I dazed off into the landscape passing by, arrid grasslands, rickity houses, muggy blue sky..then after a couple of hours I realized…when the hell am I supposed to get off? It’s noon! And right at that moment, I heard on the P A: ‘huhhohaute’ and I was like (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ??? should I stay, should I jump off the train ? ? ? ? ????crapcrapcrap ??) over and over in my head. I decided to make a run. I leapt off the train and looked at the signs all around me. No signs. Crap. I hope I’m in the right place. I called the Fin.

Thank God, my instinct is always correct, I had gotten off at the right stop – I took a cab to the address Nuppu gave me. Ended up at Inner Mongolia Da Xue. I waited at the guard’s gate for about 30 minutes – shootin’ the shit in my broken Chinese, hiding under the umbrella as a storm just came in. Finally in the distance I see a dark figure – Nuppu. As she walked closer and closer, I saw that she had really long hair sweeping in the wind………….on just one side of her head. The other side was completely shaved.  OKAY. I don’t wanna be a hater, but this was my first time couchsurfing so I was being all sorts of judgey in my mind – I kept thinking: is she a psycho? Is she going to kill me? Rape me? Her skin was as pale as Michael Jackson’s (RIP) and had strikingly blue eyes. I decided to brush off my thoughts and try to feel her personality out. We did some small talk on the way to her DORMITORY (didn’t see that in the fine print of her profile).

“So uh…Nuppu. That’s a cool name. Where are you from?” (I knew full well where she was from)
“I’m from Finland with an interest in studying Mongolian.”
“..Ohhhhh cool!! …!!! So……………I’m finally here! Inner Mongolia!”
“Why’d you decide to come here?”
“Oh, you know just being spontaneous. I wanna check out the desert. Someone told me about it and I thought it was cool. Why are you here?”
“I’m supposed to be studying Mongolian…but I find that I’m just learning a lot of Chinese instead.”

As we entered the dark corridor leading up to her room (imagine dungeon-like features) we entered her musky room. It was filthy & disgusting. Strange black dirt marks on the walls, floors, toilet seat. There were cobwebs in every corner. LIVE MOTHS FLITTING ABOUT AND STUCK TO THE WALLS. It was a studio-sized dorm and as I went to plop down my backpack and take a seat in the only chair in the room – I realized there was a pile of books on it with cobwebs all over it too. (SHIT. WTF, WTF). I look around and I realize that there is only ONE.TWIN.BED. Where the hell is the couch? Isn’t that whole reason for couchsurfing?

“So Nuppu…..ehm…. have you ever hosted before? ”
“Nope, you’re my first.”
(OH SHIT. I’m definitely going to die here. I have no way out)……………………….. ……. … after minutes of silence and noticing Japanese anime posters pasted over the cobwebs on her walls. I finally said, “So what’s there to do here?”
“Oh I dunno, I don’t get out much, I might go to a classical music concert later tonight.”
“Oh, okay cool. Hey, can I borrow your laptop!??” *nervous laugh*
“Sure.”

I never typed so hard and fast in my entire life. I logged right back into Couchsurfing.org and saw a profile of a guy that looked like Chuck Norris who was from CA. Thank god. I messaged him frantically saying that I was in Inner Mongolia and that I needed to be saved, without leaving any details but my #. I got a phone call from him within 5 minutes and was off and left Nuppu behind.

This couchsurfing experience ended VERY VERY VERY happily and I met 2 of the most interesting and funniest people I’ve met on my world travels. We actually traveled to the Gobi Desert together and I went ATV riding and sandboarding. Below are the pictures from my awesome adventure.

Looking back now though…I’m sure Nuppu was a very nice girl. But I was very naive and narrow-minded and wanted my first couchsurfing experience to be a bit more normal. Oh well, life doesn’t roll that way.

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