Eurail day 3: Split to Ljubljana and Couchsurfing Tips!
Today was a long travel day! I almost missed my train from Split to Zagreb because my alarm didn’t go off, and then for some reason halfway through the train trip, they made us alight, take a bus for 30 minutes, then reboard the train only to have it go as slow as molasses! What should have been a 6 hour journey turned into 8 hours!! Luckily I still made my connection to Ljubljana and am now on my way to the capital of Slovenia!
So now, a note about Couchsurfing. I know a lot of people have heard of it, but have never tried it. There are huge concerns about safety for men and women (but naturally, more for women) and also the precariousness of entering a strangers home that you met on the Internet. It sounds like exactly everything your mother told you never to do! Here’s the skinny on Couchsurfing, how to use it, how to stay safe, and how to get the most out of it with minimum headaches.
So here’s how it works. You create an account on Couchsurfing.org, which has been around for years. I remember first hearing about it from another backpacker I met in an Internet cafe in Rome in 2006, so it’s at least been around for 6 years. Once you have a profile, you can search through their extensive database for people who have couches available in cities all around the world. Travelling to Tokyo? Rio de Janeiro? Johannesburg? No problem, Couchsurfing has hosts located in all these cities, and hundreds more ( if not thousands). Send a Couchsurfing request to someone in that city, and if they can host you for those days, blammo! You’ve now got a place to stay for free once you arrive in that town. It also works in reverse, so if you have a free couch and would like to host an international traveller, they can contact you!
Fill in as much as you can. In fact, fill in every section and load it up with details and enthusiasm. This is no time to be writing, ” I don’t like to talk about myself,” or ” if you want to know, ask.” Comments like that are infuriating and don’t put any potential hosts at ease. They want to feel like they know you, like you’re already a friend, so tell them about yourself! Why are you travelling? What do you do for work? Your favourite adventure you’ve ever had? Coffee or tea? Pitt or Clooney? Cat or dog? Whatever! Be as specific as you can, because you will want to find the perfect host who can also become your friend. Take a look at my profile for hints and clues. See all the info! Do you feel like you know me after reading that? Would you host me?
If you have a blog or twitter or any online profile, link to that so they can see how you interact with others or how you see the world.
Do upload photos, because people want to put a face with the name. But remember, this isn’t Facebook. No time for bikini or drunken photos here. Smiling head shots will suffice.
Try to connect with your real life friends on Couchsurfing if they have profiles as well.
You can also get “verified” which means you have paid a fee and taken extra steps to ensure the community that you’re safe and serious about Couchsurfing.
Don’t copy and paste the exact same message to everyone! People aren’t stupid, and they can sniff out a rat really quickly! Especially if you get lazy and forget to change the Hi Laura to Hi Esther! Esther will be pissed if you call her Laura.
Read each hosts profile and tailor your message to them accordingly. Are they a vegetarian too? High five! Have they also been to an Arctic Monkeys concert? High five! Tell them why you think you’d make good friends.
Tell them as much about your travel plans as possible. Do you know what day and time you’ll arrive? By train or by plane? It’s important to include this not just because they’ll know when to expect you, but also because they may be able to pick you up!
How to choose a host that’s right for you
You’ll notice that surfers and hosts can leave references for the people they’ve stayed with, and references can be good, neutral or bad! I always say that a profile is only as good as its worst review. However, take each negative review with a grain of salt. Read it carefully, and decide if that persons complaint is something that would actually bother you. For example, I’ve read negative reviews where the surfer complained the host didn’t hang out with them much or show them around. Is that something that would have bothered me? Nope. However, I once visited this hosts profile, and he had a whopping 84 positive reviews, yet 4 negative reviews. And let me tell you, those measly 4 reviews did an excellent job at cancelling out all the positive. They were from women who all said that he had tried to get them drunk, made inappropriate advances toward them, and was short tempered when they expressed their concerns. RED FLAG! Oddly enough, even though i never sent him a request, he actually sent me an offer to stay with him on my journey ….. I respectfully declined.
After you’ve stayed with a host, make sure to leave them an honest and respectful reference, because theyll do the same for you! The more references you have on your profile, the easier you’ll be able to find hosts and travel!
If your host can’t pick you up, make sure you get all the exact directions and maps to their place so you don’t get lost. Every last minute detail, from which bus to take, to which buzzer number to push, is essential. Arrive when you say you will, and if you’re running late, text them!
Proper etiquette whilst there and once you leave
I think that it’s rude to show up at a persons house empty handed. I’m like this at dinner parties, and also Couchsurfing. It’s just proper etiquette to thank them for their hospitality. Ask them ahead of time if there’s anything they’d like you to bring them from your hometown. If not, once there, treat them to a drink or a meal if you can afford it. Maybe even cook for them!
Also, you’re in their home, so please leave it the way you found it. Make your bed, wash your dishes, hang up your towels, and don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you!
Safety for both men and women
The very first time I ever couch surfed, it was with a man who lived in Brooklyn. Was I nervous? Yes. Was I pleasantly surprised? Also yes. He was nothing but respectful and generous and kind. It is natural to fear strangers, we are all told from a young age not to talk to them, or go into a strangers home. So Couchsurfing might feel awfully unnatural or against your instincts, especially for solo women travellers. Here’s how you can stay safe:
-Have a backup plan. If your host starts giving off RED FLAG signals as soon as you arrive, just politely excuse yourself and leave. You are not beholden to anyone you meet, and you are not obligated to stay. Either contact your second choice host in the area, or just check into the nearest hostel. That’s not just for women, that’s a good rule of thumb for men as well.
-Tell people where you’re staying. Text a mate and tell them the name and location of who you’re staying with.
-Leave an online trail. Tweet or Foursquare your location and the name of your host.
-Tell the moderators at Couchsurfing. Believe it or not, but they actually can help out in a situation like this.
-Know where your consulate is, and also the local emergency number. It’s not 911 everywhere in the world!
-Leave them a horrible reference to warn any potential surfers.
-As with real life, always use your discretion and common sense when dealing with the opposite sex or strangers. Listen to your instincts. Pay attention to mannerisms and body language. If anything feels wrong, just go.
-Make sure you bring extra padlocks to lock up the access points to your bags if you’re worried about theft, or even just the household toddler with sticky fingers.
-When in doubt, try to only surf with the same sex. I get a lot of offers from men, but usually only accept offers from women.
There you have it! Follow these tips, enjoy your travel in a budget, and listen to Chrissy. You’ll live longer.
Here’s how much money I spent today! Still under budget! I have a surplus of €27.81 which means tomorrow I can spend a whopping €42.81! I probably won’t though!