After rave reviews about Couchsurfing from friends who have both surfed and hosted, we were really intrigued to give it a go ourselves! And I’m so glad we did because our first experience was great. We have both stayed in hostels many times (and I have a lot of experience in hotels because of my job) so we wanted to mix things up by booking hostels, hotels, Airbnb and Couchsurfing. Each type of accommodation is very different, each with something different to offer. With hosteling it’s more about meeting a lot of different travellers in a small space, for example, if we hadn’t stayed in a hostel in St. Petersburg we wouldn’t have met crazy Ozzies Jemma and Luke and got to hang out with them in Moscow as well (thanks for organising the ballet guys and the random Ukrainian cuisine!). Hotels vary so much in price and quality in each country, we are only planning on booking hotels in Asian countries which tend to be a lot cheaper than say Australia. We can then treat ourselves once in a while and have some private time. With Couchsurfing and Airbnb we were looking forward to meeting more locals who could show us around and provide a slice of ‘real life’ we wouldn’t see if we stayed in only hostels and hotels.
So… Couchsurfing…. Most people I guess, would immediately just assume it’s just a free way of getting a roof over your head and saving on accommodation costs. Of course that certainly IS true, however it’s much more than that. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, how it works is ‘Hosts’ (anyone willing to let you stay in their home) welcome ‘Surfers’ (travellers who are complete strangers) into their homes. How long you can surf depends on the host of course, also the number of surfers that can stay and what facilities you are allowed to use also depends on the host. Now, being a cynical South Londoner the thought of hosting strangers in your own home seemed like a daunting prospect, and also if I was a single female traveller you’d think it might be a risk. However, the point of this new and growing community is to bring people together and experience something you wouldn’t if you just stayed in hostels and hotels. After our first experience I think we are fast turning into advocates.
Before leaving London we joined couchsurfing, sorted out a joint profile (it’s a bit like internet dating!) then we put out an advert out on the couchsurfing website for Moscow (basically a plea to see if anyone would want to host us). Surely enough I got a response from Marina, an experienced surfer and host, looking on her profile you can see she has a lot of couchsurfing friends (it’s similar to a friend list on Facebook) as well as many positive reviews. She accepted our request, gave us her mobile details and address. So when the time came we rocked up at our host’s place. Marina and Aidan (Marina is Russian and Aidan is Glaswegian) welcomed us in with big smiles and beer (the vodka flowed shortly after). They’re a crazy couple who just enjoy meeting people, socialising, traveling, partying. Thanks to them we had a couple of great nights out in Moscow in places we would have never found ourselves. We got taken to a fab bar in the centre called Bourbon Street where we drank and danced on tables all night. It was an American style rock bar with live music, dancing girls and friendly party goers. On another night we went to a couple of other bars along the embankment which were relatively new and seemed to be where the young hipster Russians hung out, tourists would not have known about this area unless a local told them about it. Sorry I can’t remember the second bar we went to (too much vodka) but the first one was called Thor, a cool and funky outside bar. We also tried to get into Gipsy, but the queue was too long. Aside from vodka we were introduced to ‘charcoal pills’ by Marina who told us that they soak up the toxins from alcohol to prevent you from having a hangover the next day. It’s activated charcoal in pill form, and I can tell you now they seemed to work and are cheap as chips from any pharmacy in Russia. We have some extra for other heavy nights we may have on our travels! Hopefully we won’t have to take them! Thanks to our two fabulous hosts we got to sample a bit of Moscow’s nightlife and culture and see and do things that we would not have experienced otherwise.
Couchsurfing is a thriving community of interesting and interested people. We can’t wait to have more experiences – so we’re also couchsurfing in Beijing in a few days!