*Silky smooth narrator voice:* Ah, summer vacation. Sandy beaches, catching waves, dancing the night away in trendy nightclubs… the classic post-college Euro-trip, right?
*Turbulent Marissa voice:* …Almost.
Though certainly no less enjoyable, the surfing and clubbing I’ve been doing has looked a little different—as in, couchsurfing and running with running clubs. As a shoestring-budget travel researcher/writer, I’m not quite on the same level of freedom as your typical recent college grad blowing all my hard-earned dorm cleaning money on vodka-redbulls and festival tickets. But between thousands of words of chapter deadlines, I’m certainly having my fun.
Left to my own devices to last seven weeks in Scandinavia on a sufficient but very modest travel stipend, I’ve had to get a bit creative with accommodations and entertainment. Hostels are usually the go-to for budget travelers, but for many in Scandinavia, prices are still pretty steep. And as a solo traveler whose job it is to dig up insider info, it helps to meet local people who know the ins and outs of a city. So, ignoring every warning I’ve ever received about trusting random strangers, I registered on couchsurfing.com and started searching for places to crash with them.
For most people, couch surfing sounds sketchy and dangerous, and you’re certainly not crazy if you agree. But the purpose of the online platform is to make the practice as safe as possible, so when you arrive at a host’s place to sleep on their couch, the word ‘stranger’ no longer applies. Long story short, there are a number of safety measures by which couch surfers and hosts must get verified and referenced, and communicate with each other before arranging a stay.
This is a great way to learn what places are like from a local point of view—much more raw and honest than the brochures and pamphlets you’ll find in tourists offices or hotel lobbies.
It’s essentially Airbnb, except hosts are generous enough to offer a place to crash for free. Most do this out of the kindness of their hearts, or to pay it forward for times they’ve crashed on other strangers’ couches as weary travelers themselves. Generally, both surfers and hosts have a mutual interest in meeting new people, and it’s common to spend some time getting to know one another or sharing and learning things about the area. This is a great way to learn what places are like from a local point of view—much more raw and honest than the brochures and pamphlets you’ll find in tourists offices or hotel lobbies.
My couchsurfing experiences exceeded all expectations: beyond the various furniture items on which to rest my head for the night, my hosts offered incredible amounts of kindness, thoughtful care, and generosity. I was greeted with hugs at train stations, shown around their neighborhoods, fed much-needed calories and caffeine, invited to go out with their friends, and welcomed to make myself at home immediately upon entering their doors. Eager to share tips on what I could write about for Let’s Go, they divulged information on the best local hang-outs, and even offered to help me find fresh content for the book.
Each of my hosts had interesting stories to share, and were eager to hear my own. These exchanges have been memorable, though I’m also grateful for their willingness to give me the space and time I needed to run frantically around their cities gathering information, and sometimes to be up late into the night or early morning writing furiously toward my next deadline. I can’t thank these people enough for how they shaped my experiences in new places as a solo traveler, for enthusiastically accepting my offers to cook them dinner as a small token of gratitude, and, most importantly, for complimenting my cooking.
It can sometimes be intimidating to arrive in a new place alone, and I’m grateful for the kindness so many have shown me as I stumble my way through Europe. Though I certainly look forward to surfing some real waves soon, couches have been a pretty good budget travel alternative so far.
To take full advantage of the Northern summer’s endless daylight, Marissa will squeeze every last minute of hiking, running, splashing, and climbing into her outdoor adventures through Iceland and Scandinavia. Bananas and coffee are all she needs to fuel up for marathon-treks through rugged mountains, thundering waterfalls, jagged cliffs, and rocky fjords, though trying to keep her two sets of clothing clean in the process might be one of the greatest challenges this world has ever known. Marissa studied engineering and environmental policy, with lifelong goals of saving the world’s glaciers, oceans, forests, and wildlife from the perils of anthropogenic climate change. When she isn’t busy reading about solar panels and cursing modern consumerism, Marissa enjoys rowing on the Charles River, stopping to pet every dog she ever sees, running the occasional marathon, and cooking plant-based feasts for forty at the Dudley Co-op/commune. Her favorite legume is decisively the garbanzo, for its incredible versatility and protein-packed punch.