If you like traveling probably, you have tried the famous couchsurfing.com service finding a place to stay and finding new friends.
Since I am not good at meeting new friends just on the way, I decided to try it. And after 5 months of wandering around Asia, I can share the truth about traveling with Couchsurfing as an introvert (well, this is about Asia only).
I was filled with many stereotypes about people on Couchsurfing.
I thought if I go to some place I will be obliged to do all the boring things – go to party, dance club with them, have a drink and so on. That’s the impression when you read their profiles, where they insist that you should hang out with them. (What does “hang out” really means?)
That’s what I feared the most. I was pretty much sure that no bad things can happen to me because I am the one who is traveling, and THEY are accepting unknown people in their homes, so, they have what to fear, not me. I was afraid only of some awkward social moments.
But I decided to try because it is a short-term stay – if something goes wrong, anyway I will leave soon.
I traveled 5 months and during that time I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
In each country, I had slightly different experience, but I always tried to stay with Couchsurfing instead of hotel or hostel, and if I could not find a place to stay at someone’s home, I used a hotel. Also, sometimes I changed plans so quickly, that I did not even try to find an emergency host in one day, just booked the hotel.
And very often I was staying in my tent. So, I had absolutely no worries about the place to stay, because I had my tent with me all the time. And that is the reason why any roof with shower inside seemed a luxury thing to me.
So, now it is time to see what are my insights about traveling with Couchsurfing as an introvert.
1. They want you to come
Indeed, they want you to hang out with them. That is amazing. For me as an introvert, it is difficult to understand why could someone want some random people to come to their house and to spend time with them.
But they do want, not just accepting, they are inviting. A great example is this guy (see the video), who insisted me to stay with him in Kuala Lumpur. I had doubts because that seemed weird, but he was the most normal guy you could expect!
I understand that for those people meeting a foreigner is already a cool thing! Also, they have the opportunity to practice English (sorry I am not a native speaker though they are quite sure that all foreigners are native English speakers). Sometimes they seem to be lonely and need a company.
And they want you to come.
2. No time to read a book
And when you come, of course, you hang out with them. And what does that mean? Actually anything.
We can go to visit night market to try local food and to feel the vibe, to sit in a restaurant to try local food and to feel the vibe, to cook at home, to go to cinema, to museum, to swimming pool, to walk around the city (that’s what I like!), to ride a motorcycle around the city, to ride a bicycle around a city, to ride with a car around the city, to visit temples, waterfalls and other famous places. Also, some bonus things: to teach children English, to talk about your country for students, to have a role in a video project of some students, to participate in a Buddhist ceremony, to go hiking to a mountain, to take a yoga class and finally – to play poker for money!
See? No getting drunk together or partying all night.
Being together with people met for the first time can be really fun, and sometimes our activities last until 2 am (when I am in my tent, I go to sleep at 9 pm) so, it is really too late for a book. And I do not regret that.
I read the book of life.
3. Sometimes they have plans for you
Some Couchsurfing hosts ask what I want to do, and let me do that during daytime (because they are busy working or studying), then we spend time together in the evening.
With some of them, we negotiate activities together. Should we watch cinema or go to a museum?
Some just do what they are used or already planned to do, but suggest me to join. Like hiking or day trip somewhere with their friends.
But some have a special program for surfers. Now we will go here and see this. Now here. And now there. I am not even expected to think about my itinerary! Then, even if I have some plans or ideas I do not need them anymore. And their ideas are often better because they are not based on reviews of American bloggers.
4. Couchsurfing is learning to enjoy simple things
Yes, we did mountain hiking with some elements of climbing. But usually, it is absolute fun doing things like
cooking food at home, watching TV, walking along the river, going to buy food to market, playing cards, watching the sunset
Well, when I left for traveling I expected much more amazing things. And I did most of the amazing things I planned, but also, I rediscovered the joy of simple daily life. If there is joy cooking with some guys in Taiwan, why there is no joy doing it at home?
While cutting some Vietnamese vegetables, I thought: “oh, I am cutting some Vietnamese vegetables, that is sooo cooool”. Isn’t cutting vegetables a cool thing?
5. You can meet other introverts on Couchsurfing
Well, that is unexpected.
Couchsurfing hosts often are really talkative, eager to know the world, to communicate with every living creature (yes – cats, dogs, bugs and lizards), able to keep the conversation running for hours (ah, good for me, they lead the talk).
But you can meet people with whom you will be able to walk along the river for an hour not talking at all. And when you talk – you talk about books, cultures, history, traditions, things that are complicated and that’s why interesting.
I should be honest and say that this blog helped me to meet some of them. But anyway – there are introverts on Couchsurfing you could enjoy silence together.
6. Couchsurfing is about leaving your friends
Now this is the sad part. You meet some nice people, do some simple, but amazing things together, find common interests, common topics, hang out together, if they feel really close you share your life story with them and listen to their stories, share future plans and …
… leave them in a few days forever.
You could say, “hey there is skype and facebook, you can keep in touch with them”. But for me, it is impossible to keep in touch with such many people especially while I still travel. So, it is usually like this – I meet some people, spend some great time with them, and leave them, to meet new people.
Sad part. But all those people seem to become a faceless and nameless travel companion, a local person always knowing where is everything, speaking the local language and … enjoying meeting foreigners.
All of you, my friends.
7. There ARE awkward social moments
By reading descriptions of hosts, it is not difficult to see which people are those boring party lovers, and which are really exciting, interesting to talk to and hang out together.
But sometimes I just do not feel that those people are friends. Well, there are common interests, common activities, but no feel. You cannot easily guess will there be or will there be no feel judging only on profile description.
So, I am not an easy-going guy and it is difficult to easily get along with every kind of people, so everything becomes quite formal – hanging out, talking and so on. Even the silence together becomes awkward.
But anyway I am grateful to those people for their hospitality.
8. Time to recharge is still needed
If you have read an article about my amazing stay around Buriram (HERE), you should know that at my next destination (Siem Reap) I stayed in a hostel and did not go out for 2 days (except to buy food).
If you feel like an introvert you should not rely on Couchsurfing only. Sometimes you should stay in a hostel – there it is not necessary to talk to anyone. But even hostel may be crowded and noisy, sometimes I booked separate room (room for €5 is a reality in Southeast Asia), but the ultimate recharge happened when I stayed in my claustrophobic tent in a remote place. These were the moments when I could really read my book and take rest from people.
Of course, I do not want to tell that meeting people was not awesome, I want to tell, that I need to rest from awesome activities and gain energy for new ones. Like playing basketball may be awesome, but you cannot play it all day, you need to take some rest.
So, take rest sometimes.
9. You do not need always to talk!
That is the funny part about Couchsurfing. If you take tours (like I did HERE) and stay only in hotels, you may not hear how the language of the country actually sounds like.
“How do Albanian sounds like?”. “Dunno, they all speak English…” – real conversation with my friend.
But when staying with local people you will hear a lot of their language, especially when they meet friends. And when lots of people with only one foreigner sit around the table, that foreigner is not really expected to talk a lot unless receives some questions in an international language (which is not necessary English). That is why such events become more like an observation than participation, so less tiring and more fun.
Lots of people around, all of them talking – but you don’t need to talk. Awesome.
10. You will get tiny knowledge of the country
Introverts become easily overwhelmed by massive events or festivals. What is shown on stage is not always the most interesting thing. Observing separate individuals in the mass might be much more exciting that seeing the “big picture”.
That is why Couchsurfing is an ultimate experience compared to reading a book about culture, where you can find facts and “big pictures”. You will not see the socialist republic of Vietnam. You will see someone who proudly says that Ho Chi Minh once met Lenin. You will not just know how people of Thailand respect the king. You will hear people telling stories how the king banned narcotics from Thailand.
Not the museum, or town hall, or main square, but an ordinary home will be the thing to see. Home with no hot water, with disappearing electricity, a luxury home filled with books by Tony Robbins and similar guys, home in the countryside with hens and cows, bananas and coconuts, a small room in a condominium where surfers sleep on the floor.
How do hosts live? Whom do they pray? What do they actually think about their history or politics? Whose poster is on the wall? What do they actually eat?
For me, these are the most interesting things about the country.
I have some more insights about Couchsurfing to share, but they are not really related to introversion. These things surprised me or were opposite to some of my expectations. I think some of you who had not tried Couchsurfing (or even those who had) may find this interesting.
11. The feel of being paid
One thing that surprised me a lot, that sometimes hosts not only accept me to their homes, bring around with their motorcycles, but also pay for meals! At first, it was surprising, I was trying to refuse. But I was never sure if it is polite to refuse.
Later I simply get used to it: okay, some of them do like this. I am still not sure is it Asian hospitality or is it Couchsurfing style everywhere? But more often we used to share expenses, that was less awkward for me.
I think I still have to learn to accept good intentions of others.
12. Couchsurfing is not free
Traveling financial analyst used to deal with corporate finance and accounting (it’s me) quickly realizes that Couchsurfing is not free.
Sometimes your host lives in such a remote place, that you must take a bus or other kinds of transport to reach the place of interest. It may take lots of time and money. Suddenly a hostel in the backpacker street may become a cheaper option.
Sometimes your hosts take you to eat to some not so cheap places. I know that many travelers travel to enjoy a different kind of food, and they enjoy going to not so cheap places. But for me, wannabe Gabrovian (about Gabrovo – here), food is just a fuel. I used to buy things in the market and cook by myself (with this thing). So, sometimes I spend additional money on food rather than accommodation in a hostel.
Sometimes hosts have plans for me and bring me to places either I did not plan to go by myself or I did not know about their existence. And there might be entrance fees.
Some nice surfers buy souvenirs for their hosts – that also cost money. (Well, that’s the point where I have failed)
So, as a finance analyst traveling on a super tight budget, I can clearly state, that based on my experience – Couchsurfing is not for saving money. It is for spending money differently. (Unless you are being paid, so you do not spend money at all).
But are that money worth spending? That is the right question! For me – yes, they are.
13. The feel of showing around locals
I had some funny experiences when I was the one who was taking locals to some places.
I have heard many stories of expats living in countries like Spain or England, that when they come there to live, they barely visited anything around. Some friends saw more Spain in two weeks than those who lived there for 3 years.
The same with hosts, sometimes they just sit in their town but do not know that right out of town there is a waterfall. They do not know about a wonder of nature – a crazy tree because other surfers come just to visit one specific market (floating market on the river).
But that’s a rare thing. You must be really well prepared to surprise them.
14. Couchsurfing is not everywhere
And there is also a thing everyone should know. It is impossible to travel with Couchsurfing only if you go for longer time or to more remote places. You must either have money for a hotel or be able to live in a tent.
Sometimes there are some people hosting, but it may happen that all of them are busy or already hosting someone else. Sometimes there are NO people hosting, no matter you see many profiles in search. They don’t reply, not active.
Sometimes I changed plans instantly and there were not enough time for hosts to respond. But if I arranged everything two weeks in advance, then I would have a host.
And the last thing, that happened to me few times – there are cases when plans of your hosts change, and they cannot accept you anymore even if you arranged everything in advance.
So, be prepared.
15. Couchsurfing is not always a local experience
I have read about a guy traveling in Japan with Couchsurfing. He said that Japanese are not willing to invite foreigners to their homes, but there are lots of foreigners inviting foreigners. So he was staying with foreigners all the time.
This is obviously less authentic experience, but it is interesting in its own way. This way you can see how does the life of an expat look like. How do guys from the United States live in Cambodia, how does Englishman lives in Thailand (of course he watches football), and how Chinese people live in Malaysia (they’re not expats, they are the ethnic minority there, but anyway).
Couchsurfing is a diverse experience, each moment is unique.
Should you try?
First of all, Couchsurfing is a different way of traveling. Full of unexpected things (you are never sure how your new home will look like, and what are the people there, no matter how carefully you read profiles and references), full of new friends (at least facebook friends), full of simple things (Let’s go to cook some food and then watch TV? What an adventure!).
That’s different even from staying in a hostel!
Also, I had no negative experiences. There were moments when hosts changed their minds and could not accept me on agreed date. There were cases when we had very different sleeping habits (I prefer to go to sleep early, but they – no). Many small unpleasant moments. But I consider none of them really negative. People have their lives, so I am lucky if some absolutely unknown people agree on me to come to their home, to sleep in their bed, to be their friend for some days. That is amazing.
So, be prepared, keep your heart open, do not demand anything, just accept what you get. And I am sure your Couchsurfing experience will be wonderful.
Should you try? I think – yes. Then you will be able to decide if it is a good way of traveling for you or not. It is possible that you dislike it.
For me personally, it is one of four best ways of traveling. Three others are: traveling utterly alone in rural areas with a tent, participating in an expedition to the wild and the last one – traveling with those who are close to me, no matter how.
Some activities designed for extroverts have much space for introverts, but they should not accept general rules and do things a bit differently – their own way.
Introverts can also travel with Couchsurfing – to meet other introverts just to sit silently together, to climb a mountain together, to read a book together, to have a meaningful talk together.