I couchsurfed for the first time in 2015 as a 21-year-old journalism student. And I’m not saying I crashed on a friend’s sofa for a night. I spent a month travel alone through Central Europe and staying with strangers at the time.
When I turned 28 last summer, I debated whether I was “too old” to do it again. I decided against it and spontaneously planned a month-long solo trip Sweden.
Sweden had recently intrigued me for its lakes, mountain forests and cardamom buns, but I knew that wasn’t necessarily the case cheap.
Since I wanted to see the country extensively, Couchsurfing made sense. But it wasn’t just the logistics that drew me back here pocket friendly form of travel. I knew that my relationships with places would be very different if I stayed with locals and I would gain new insights from seeing how others live.
How Couchsurfing.com works
CouchSurfing.com is a simple product with a simple premise. Used by 12 million people around the world, the platform connects travelers with hosts willing to offer accommodation sleep for free.
My CouchSurfing.com account was still active and the platform was practically frozen in time. The only difference is that it now requires a small monthly fee (€2.26 per month or €13.51 per year).
CouchSurfing builds on that cultural exchange and the reciprocity of kindness, openness and trust.
Shining references are the cornerstone of a successful profile.
I already had a number of references confirming I was a fun and respectful guest with knowledge to share. To keep my profile current, I’ve updated my interests so hosts can paint a more rounded picture of me.
Using the filter tool, I looked for people who also had positive character references. I sifted through profiles to find people who were praised both for wanting to hang out with travelers and for acknowledging the need for downtime.
As a solo female traveler, I paid close attention to references left by others Women. These were important, as was a verification tick available to those who provided their photo number, payment details, or some form of ID.
I let my conversations with hosts guide my trip
Radically different from how I structure other parts of my life, spontaneity led the way I traveled in Sweden. I arrived via the Oresund Bridge, which connects Sweden to Denmark, after spending the weekend there with friends Copenhagen.
Although I had a rough idea of the route I wanted to trace, I didn’t have a concrete plan. My “planning” had expanded to the decision that I would be guided by conversations with my hosts.
My first host, who had over 60 references from his travels around the world, was a Swede my age. He lived in Höör, an alternative municipality just north of Malmö and Lund.
Amused by my decision to end up in this sleepy place, he welcomed me to his caravan which he shared with his fiancé. Since he was there alone and it was mild at the end of August, he pitched up Tent outside while I took the bed.
They live semi-autonomously on their own Farm yard property, with tomato vines framing her trailer entry and all sorts of vegetables in her vegetable garden.
Although I had my laptop in tow to work on the road, I kept it locked during my time in the trailer. Instead, I spent my days biking and swimming in nearby lakes.
Past quiet farmland – punctuated only by my relentless desire to keep capturing the scenes camera Role – I traveled through time into a childlike state where I felt completely free.
Although I had shared a location pin drop with my mother as Security As a precaution – so someone knew where I was staying – I felt like no one could find me or bother me.
Finding a CouchSurfing host is easier in rural areas
Since the CouchSurfing platform doesn’t allow currency exchange, I repeated my host over the meal. A eaten Garlic salt he prepared meant the dahl I cooked was my best yet – so good it made its way into my reference.
At dinner he told me that Dalsland, north of Gothenburg, was my destination. Our eyes widened at the same time when he spoke of it lakes and forests in the region. After a few nights in Gothenburg, three hours by train north of Höör, it became my next couchsurfing destination.
I had no luck finding a host in Gothenburg so I missed out Airbnb. The concentration of travelers in cities makes the chances of finding a CouchSurfing host lower in urban areas.
In Dalsland I arrived in another sleepy community called Mellerud. I stayed in one this time cottage in the forest – a ‘stuga’ in Swedish. Luckily, I hadn’t delved into horror movies, so I wasn’t scared of being alone in the woods with a stranger.
Any fears were allayed by the 100 testimonials that highlighted how this host embodied the spirit of the CouchSurfing community. True to the references, we shared our thoughts on the world while chatting into the nights.
on the days mine Austrian Host went to work, I was all alone in the cabin. The nearest house was 600 meters towards the street. It planted the seed of my dream of a Stuga that is now non-negotiable.
Couchsurfing reminded me of the kindness of strangers
A week in rural Dalarna, a few hours north, was followed by Dalsland. I spent it with a mother and her two teenagers Children. They knew couchsurfers who were met by my host, a longtime surfer.
I spent my days working from and to Bathe in the nearby lake, scrolled through the list of stugas with my host and played adoptive sister to the not-so-interested teenagers. My fabled Dahl made another appearance, although it had nothing to do with my garlic-salted masterpiece in Höör.
Before they said goodbye to me for my 11 hour lesson train ride until Skellefteå I spent my Friday night celebrating my temporary brother’s twelfth birthday at a circus restaurant.
Next was to watch teenagers play ice hockey in northern Sweden, where I was staying with a woman I met on a business trip earlier this year. On my recommendation, she signed up to CouchSurfing.com with no regrets.
I stopped in Umeå with some boys my age as I drove down the coast before joining an expat couple in Härnösand, another sleepy destination. I hiked to the forests and cooked my dahl for the last time.
Similar to Gothenburg, Stockholm did not return a CouchSurfing host. However, it did offer a quiet few days to reflect on the experiences I had with my CouchSurfing hosts. Almost six months later, I’m still contemplating that window of opportunity and dwelling on the kindness of strangers.