This blog started out for friends and family, but somehow gained a medium-sized Internet following. Weird, but cool! Welcome to my blog, everyone. Here are answers to the three questions I get asked most frequently:
1. How on earth are you affording this trip?/Are you a trust fund baby?
Nope, not a trust fund baby. I’ve never had any “real” money – and my parents are poor, too (“but rich in family!” says my mother).
The answer to this question is really two-fold:
- I saved every penny for a long, long time.
- I travel as if I’m broke.
Basically, I saved ruthlessly for about 3 years to make this trip happen. I worked all through college, then I worked full-time for two years of grad school, which was about 90% paid for by tuition benefits (lucky me). I lived in tiny rooms in tiny apartments on the outskirts of town. I biked to work and school. I “borrowed” internet from my neighbors, and never owned a TV or paid a cable bill.
Finally, upon finishing my MPH, instead of using my savings to pay down my college loans or get “settled” at a non-profit job somewhere in suburban US, I decided to say “F it!” and promptly left the country.
Secondly, I’m not traveling like a typical “tourist”. Sure, I’m squeezing in some touristy things here and there, but mostly, I’m doing the off-the-beaten-path route. I’m staying for free with Couch Surfing hosts and friends, or cheaply in low-end hostels. I’m cooking most of my own food, bought at supermarkets. I’m walking or biking everywhere in cities, usually completely avoiding using public trans. I’m sneaking into hotels to use the bathroom instead of paying for public WC’s. I’m taking trains and planes at non-peak hours on non-peak days. I’m traveling in the off-season. And I’m making friends along the way, who’ve been great about showing me how to find deals everywhere without sacrificing an awesome time.
2. What is Couch Surfing?/Are you crazy, sleeping on strangers’ couches!?/Aren’t you scared of staying with sketchy foreign men?
Couch Surfing is a great community of people who share their space, experiences, and knowledge, all over the globe. I discovered CSing just before I left on this adventure, so have not hosted anyone, myself; however, I’ve surfed quite a few couches by now!
Like anything, there is a strategy to using CSing. You can search for hosts in any city, and probably find one easily. But finding a safe and reliable host, who truly understands and embodies the spirit of CSing, takes some work.
First, when I search for a host in my next destination, I filter the results by the following:
1. Gender. I really prefer to stay with women, because to me, this does eliminate a bit of a threat, even if it’s an unfair or merely perceived one. Further, staying with women can be easier and less complicated when you start crossing cultures. Unfortunately, I have found that most people on CSing are men, for whatever reason.
2. Experience. I only reach out to potential hosts if they have references – the more the better, and only positive, of course. If someone looks like a good host but has one neutral or negative reference, I will take the time to read through it and see what the deal is. It’s not always a deal breaker, whereas having no references at all usually is. This is because like any social networking site, people can represent themselves however they want to the Internet world. References are a good way to tell the truly accommodating, welcoming, CS-spirited hosts apart from those looking for something else.
Then I generally just look through people’s profiles, reading their interests, and learning what their couch situation is like (is it a spot on the floor, a guest bedroom, a sofa, or what? will I be sharing the space with others? will I be provided a key? how close is the host to the areas I want to visit?, etc.).
Last, I send them a detailed request. I never copy and paste the same request to many potential hosts – each one gets a personalized note. Whomever writes me back an equally personalized note will, in my experience, be the best host.
I’ve had about 90% excellent CSing experiences, and about 10% awkward/weird experiences. But none threatening or dangerous. I think if I continue my above strategy, the positive CSing vibes will stay with me as I carry on my journey 🙂
3. What camera do you use?
Unless otherwise noted, I took all photos on this blog with my iPhone 4S. Sometimes I edit the photos using the Camera+ or Snapseed apps, but most are unedited.