A lot of people love to travel, but not as many people enjoy traveling alone. However while it’s definitely great to travel with friends, there are also some huge benefits to traveling alone, as I think it increases the chance of meeting and getting close to new people.
One of the fears of solo travel is that you simply aren’t going to meet anyone. I’m not good at walking up to random people and somehow turning that into a mini friendship. I’m not even good at staying at a random hostel and meeting people there. However whenever I travel by myself and make the slightest effort, I can almost always meet someone cool, and sometimes it even turns into a friendship that lasts for years.
What is the trick? Couchsurfing.com of course, but not in the way you’d expect.
Couchsurfing.com is an online site in which travelers from all over the world offer for guests to stay in their home. You then logon, search for places to stay, write a message asking to stay there, and then sit back and wait to see if you will be accepted. If this works then bravo, you now have a place to stay in a foreign country.
However this was not how I used Couchsurfing at all. A much lesser known side of Couchsurfing is that you can simply ask people to hang out. The success rate of finding someone to simply hang out with you, and show you around the area is much higher, because of course it requires much less commitment than having you stay in their home the entire time. Also the people who have signed up to Couchsurfing are exactly the type of people who want to show travelers around their home city, so many of them are very enthusiastic about meeting you!
Here is how Couchsurfing worked for me on my last big solo trip. My itinerary was Madrid-Barcelona-Paris-London-Brussels-Amsterdam
In Madrid and Barcelona I was already with friends so I made very little effort to use Couchsurfing.
In Paris I sent a few messages to people asking to hang out before I went and I posted a quick note on the Paris messageboard. I got plenty of replies, but one woman seemed very positive and enthusiastic so we met up. We ended up hanging out a ton (at least 3-4 times while I was there), and she showed me all of her favorite places. We still keep in touch, and the next time I came to Paris we also hung out multiple times and had lots of fun.
In London I ended up staying with an awesome woman who I met the last time I was London. How did I meet her that first time? Through Couchsurfing of course. She was the first person I met on CS, and it was a lucky case because I was just asking people to hang out and she was like “ahh screw that, come stay at my place!”. Throughout that week in London we had a great time and she took me to so many amazing places. It was during that trip that I realized Couchsurfing was basically the greatest thing in the world and that I was going to use it as much as possible.
Next I was in Brussels for only a two or three days and had a little less energy to meet people, but ended up writing to a guy who sounded really cool. We met up, and he showed me an awesome cafe that played great funk music. He gave me a giant tour of the city, and we met up with his girlfriend later for dinner. We even played a game of chess at the end of the day.
Lastly I was in Amsterdam and heading home in a few days. This was actually the only time I ever used Couchsurfing to specifically stay with someone. It turned out it was some major European holiday and so pretty much every place in Amsterdam was booked. In those days my favorite thing was to show up to a city without having a place to stay and just wing it. This was the only time it backfired on me. This was also before I knew about AirBnB, which makes it much easier to just find a place to stay.
It ended up that I staying at some ridiculous hostel for almost 150 euros a night because it was the only place I could find, when I found a guy on Couchsurfing who was a serious chessplayer. I figured that’d be a good try for me, and he generously allowed me to stay with him even though I gave him less than 24 hours notice. He showed me some of the great chess cafes in the city, and at the awesome Cafe Laurierboom, I even ended up playing the Dutch legend, IM Manuel Bosboom, in a 3 hour blitz chess marathon.
That was how I used Couchsurfing in just one trip to make everything more awesome, but I have made other lifelong friends through CS as well.
I also have hosted people and met people while they were traveling through Philadelphia and every experience was wildly positive. I highly recommend hosting travelers, because when you have a traveler in your house, it’s almost like you are also on vacation. They are so excited about everything that this positive energy rubs off on you.
Now it’s not so easy that you can just login to Couchsurfing, start sending generic messages, and expecting everyone to want to hang out with you. You have to:
- Fill out your profile
- Make it fun and interesting, so that some people will want to get to know you
- Write engaging and personalized messages to everyone you are interested in meeting. If you want to be sure of success, start writing at least one week before you are arriving, and write to as many interesting people as you can, as you will be rejected or ignored by the majority of people no matter what you do.
While I haven’t used CS in a while, I promise you it’s an amazing tool that you can use while traveling. I have never once tried to meet someone cool in a large city and failed to do so while using the Couchsurfing site.
It definitely takes a little bit of work, but the reward in the end is worth it. You’ll end up creating meaningful and fun relationships with people from all over the world and it gives you an easy way to travel on your own and meet lots of fun people along the way.