The first post on the Couchsurfing stories page! This post was submitted by Kate who happily runs her own blog, Her Travel Therapy. She’s sharing her amazing experience with locals through Couchsurfing.
My first day at Magui and Santi’s home in Córdoba, Argentina, we had to use Google Translate every few minutes to understand each other. Despite studying Spanish for two years in university, I felt so unconfident with speaking that I could barely get through a couple of sentences without faltering. Magui and Santi’s English was even more basic than my Spanish. However, by the end of my week with them, we were easily conversing in a mixture of Spanish and English, or what is affectionately known as Spanglish.
I knew that I wanted to interact with local people and practice my Spanish as much as possible when I went to South America. To me, it feels almost conceited to go to a foreign country and assume that locals will speak with you in English, and Couchsurfing seemed like a useful way to improve my Spanish. There was the added bonus for Magui and Santi that I could help them improve their English, and together we could try to share our lives with each other. Couchsurfing is a form of free accommodation that is mutually beneficial, in that it is designed to facilitate cultural exchange.
We spent five days together, visiting family members and exploring the sweeping alpine terrain that encircles the city of Córdoba. Staying with locals that owned a car allowed me to see parts of the countryside that would have been otherwise inaccessible to me. This included mountainside towns in the Altas Cumbres and Magui’s mother’s home by the river outside of the main city of Córdoba. This was on top of the experience of living in a family environment and being included in all the meals and outings to see family members and friends. I have never felt so welcomed by relative strangers before and it definitely greatly enhanced my travel experience in Argentina.
However, before getting to Argentina, I had my reservations because, like most people, I have a deep fear of the unknown, and I was signing up to live with complete strangers. I think a lot of people avoid using Couchsurfing because they are terrified of being scammed or deceived, but there are ways to use the site safely and successfully.
Look for hosts with verified profiles. Hosts with verified profiles have had their address, contact details and identity verified by Couchsurfing, meaning that they are who they claim to be.
Look for hosts with positive reviews. Not all hosts have hosted before, as was the case with Magui and Santi, but for proper peace of mind, it’s usually a sure bet to choose hosts who have multiple positive reviews from other surfers.
Add potential hosts on Facebook and maintain a conversation. I was speaking with Magui and Santi through Facebook for several months before I stayed with them. As well as showing to me that they were reliable and safe people, it also built rapport that made it less awkward when I showed up at their house.
Most people are good and are trying to facilitate a cultural exchange with you, and are not out to get you. I certainly had a very positive experience with Couchsurfing and hope that I can stay with more hosts again in the future.