The Art of Couchsurfing

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Nishant Prasad has spent five of the past eight years couchsurfing around the world. He has utilized the hospitality and social networking website Couchsurfing.com to arrange free accommodation and meet a lot of amazing people including his fiancé Isabelle. Nishant inspired me to start couchsurfing after we worked in India together running community service trips a few summers ago! Now, it’s time for him to inspire you to do the same!

The art of couch surfing

Nishant Prasad and his fiancé, Isabelle St-Germain, went biking around Amsterdam as part of their two year trip couchsurfing around the world! They stopped in Europe before heading to Asia. (All photographs courtesy of Nishant Prasad)

 

Name: Nishant Prasad
Age: 29
Hometown: Suva, Fiji & Seattle, USA
Country count: Somewhere around 75
Blog/Website: www.WTFnishant.com
Instagram: TallCupOfChocolateMilk

 

1. How did you start traveling?
When I was 21, I was a bit exhausted with life. School, work, blah, blah, boredom. Around this time, my uncle was visiting Seattle from Australia. On his way out, he mentioned that I should visit him and my cousins, who I had not seen in over 10 years. A few weeks passed. On the drive home after a late shift at work, [I] decided that I would take him up on his offer. I filled out a visa application online, entered in my credit card details, hit submit and then, went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up to an email stating that I had three months to enter Australia. I said bye to the life I knew, packed up and left. Since then, I have been hooked on seeing everything that this world has to offer. Five out of the last eight years have been spent on the road.

 

 2.  How did you get into couchsurfing?  [Couchsurfing.com is a hospitality exchange website with an extensive social network. It’s basically a free version of Airbnb that’s based on a peer review system. The community also hosts weekly meetup events around the world.]

Shortly after I arrived to Australia, I moved to Brisbane. I got a part-time job, a place to stay and started to explore the new life I now had. I met a German girl by the name of Pia somewhere in town, and she invited me out to a couchsurfing meetup at a bar. Prior to this, I knew nothing about couchsurfing, but none the less, I was keen to meet new people. Turned out that this was one of those life changing events. Eight years later, I have surfed many couches, had many surfers stay with me and organized events all over the world.

 

3. What is the biggest myth about couchsurfing? Share some safety tips for finding a good host.

Everybody is out to get you, and they just want to take what is yours. In reality, it’s the opposite. The world is filled with amazing people; you just have to meet them.

Safety wise, the reference system on the website is your best friend. If 83 people have nothing but good things to say about your potential host, chances are that he or she would be pretty awesome. Try to stay with more established members and stray form the ones that have negative references. Besides that, you have to go with your instinct. You are not entitled to stay with or host anyone. Keep the phone numbers and addresses of a few hostels nearby just in case.

 

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Nishant and his fiancé, Isabelle, stopped in Istanbul, Turkey on their two year round-the-world trip to celebrate their engagement.

 

4. Did you meet your fiancé through couchsurfing?

I met Isabelle as a result of Couchsurfing. While I was living in Brisbane, I had some French Canadians crashing at my place for a week or two. During this short period, we became good friends, but we were split apart a few months later due to different travel plans. Years passed and we kept in touch but because of the distance, we had not met since. I finally made my way up to Montreal about four years later, and we had our long awaited reunion. Isabelle happened to be good friends with one of them and that’s how the love connection was made.

 

 5. How did you fund your travels? What is your normal budget?

Every so often, I return back to Seattle to make money. I have been very fortunate to work for an amazing company that always finds a position for me when I am around. It’s a big plus when your boss is on board with your personal enrichment!

Working abroad is not always feasible due to visa restrictions in many countries. But, there are a lot of amazing websites like HelpX, Wwoof and WorkAway that link you with volunteer opportunities all around the globe. In many instances, room and meals are offered in exchange for your help.

Planning for the next trip starts years in advance. At this point, the next two major trips are already in the works. Now to learn Spanish and collect more money!

As for budget, we don’t really have one. We just try not to go overboard with our daily spending and that tends to keep prices down. It’s just deciding what your needs are over your wants. Pretty much the same thing we would do while we are back home. With that said, for the most part, we spend less daily while on travels than at home. Most days are under $20 USD per person per day. Usually less in most instances. It’s just limiting yourself to seafood dinners when you are in a cheaper coastal town. Deciding when you deserve a beer, etc.

 

6. Tell us about your most recent adventure.

The most recent adventure started about two years ago when I proposed to my now fiancé in Montreal. The next day we embarked on our next world trip by flying to Paris. We spent the last two years making our way around Western Europe, The Balkans, North Africa, the Caucasus region, The Gulf, India and Southeast Asia. We just arrived to New Zealand a month ago where we plan to travel and volunteer around the country.

 

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Nishant Prasad hitchhiked and couchsurfed his way across Georgia and Armenia in Eastern Europe last year.

 

7.   Share one of your travel highlights.

While we were traveling through Turkey, Cyprus, Georgia and Armenia for a few months last year, we decided to make our way around solely by hitchhiking. The level on kindness of the people in this part of the world is unparalleled. Even though we could barely communicate with the language difference, people went out of their way to show their amazing hospitality. Something we will remember forever.

All in all, I must have couchsurfed over a hundred times in about 30 countries since I joined Couchsurfing.com. About a third of these have been with members who had stayed with me previously or who I had met on travels. It really is a network that goes full circle. A bulk of the people I have met still remain good friends to this day.

 

8.  What advice would you have for aspiring travelers? Any tips for overcoming fear or budgeting?

It is very, very, very easy to get comfortable. You can have a good job, a nice apartment, a close knit group of friends and such. To this day, I still struggle to leave after settling down for a bit. But once you leave, and step out of your comfort zone, you will be rewarded past anything you may know.

 

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Isabelle and Nishant travel on the Chiang Mai Express in Thailand. The couple roughly spends $20/USD a day on the road.

 

9. Name three things you always pack for a trip.

  • Smartphones with the aid of offline maps have revolutionized travel for me. As fun as it is to get lost, it’s also nice not to wander around with a heavy pack.
  • Compression sacks, best thing for packing. Makes it super easy to fit everything into a backpack; though, the downside is that you end up with wrinkly clothes sometimes.
  • Oh, and you can’t forget the passport!

 

10. What is your next adventure?

The next big trip will be in Mexico, Central and South America. Need to get my Spanish to par first!

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Interested in Couchsurfing?

Check out the Couchsurfing.com website to find out more! Attend one of the free meetups to meet local members and ease your fears. Nishant inspired me to couchsurf, which is how I met Kaleena Quarles, who I interviewed recently about funding her solo round the world trip by teaching English in Korea!

For more information, check out my Guide to Working Abroad and tips for saving on accommodation!

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Come with me to

I C E L A N D!

Next week, I head to Iceland for one of the most exciting (and expensive) trips of my life! I’ll be taking a two week break from the blog BUT promise to have a detailed report of my trip including costs and tips for planning your own Iceland adventure when I get back! The best part is you can join me on my trip via Instagram!

P.S. Let me know what Iceland questions you have in the comments below!

How To Save On Accommodation

Accommodation, food and transport are the top three expenses in life and travel. I will break them down in a three part series.

DSC9946I rented a basic tiki hut in Fiji in 2008.

Types of Budget Accommodation

Couchsurfing (Couchsurfing.org)
Locals post profiles offering their couches for FREE and are reviewed by users. The website is also a great community for meet ups and events including language groups and social activities. For safety concerns: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/safetyBe sure to have friends provide references for you when you sign up initially.
When I moved to California, I couchsurfed while I was looking for a place to live and made a cool friend who’s also traveling the world: http://kaleenaskaleidoscope.com
Hostels
Hostels are the best place to meet other travelers. You essentially rent out a bed in a dorm of 3-20 people. They feature shared showers and lockers for your valuables. (Pack your shower shoes and a sturdy lock.) Private rooms and female only dorms are also available. Most have full kitchens and some offer free breakfast. It’s basically like being in college again without having to go to class. Prices range from $6 (Asia/Central America) to $50 (NYC).

You can find hostels and reviews on Trip Advisor or HostelWorld.  To avoid booking fees, book with the hostel directly. If you are planning a long stay, only pay for the first couple nights when you arrive to make sure you like the place.
People rent out rooms and couches in their homes for a fee. They post profiles about the space and guests provide reviews. Airbnb verifies the identity of all hosts, offers a secure payment platform and 24/7-customer service. It’s a great option for locations without hostels. Be sure to have a friend refer you and offer a reference. Click here to get a $25 credit when you sign up!

When I lived in California, my roommate and I rented out the Ikea futon in our living room for $75/night and met some cool folks. I found a room for $35 in Albuquerque on a road trip last year and spilt a nice room in Burlington, Vermont with a friend in October for $70. All were great experiences and cost effective.

House Sitting/Pet Sitting
I am the official house/pet sitter for Austin, Texas. Handsome chatty parrots, fluffy cats named Adam and overly energetic dogs are my specialty. My roommate’s lease ended a few months before I left for this trip. Conveniently, several friends needed house/pet sitters while I was homeless. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
It’s a good way to save on rent before your travels and find free accommodation on the road. My friend, Carla, spend several months house sitting when she moved to Australia. Make sure you leave the house better than you found it. 🙂
Mindmyhouse.com ($20 annual fee)
Trustedhousesitters.com ($60 annual fee)
Stay with Friends or Friends of Friends
The more you travel, the more your traveling network expands. Your friends also have friends. Ask around before your trip or put a post on Facebook to see if anyways in your destination.
I am eternally grateful for all the people who have let me crash on their couch. They’ve been an essential part of my traveling experience. Before this trip, I did a two-week Amtrak trip through the East Coast and stayed with friends the entire trip except one night in Vermont. When I moved to Australia, I emailed a lady I met a wedding about grabbing lunch after I got to Sydney. She instantly offered to let me stay with her family until I found a place to live. The kindness of others is astounding.
Most people will offer you a place to stay instantly. If I ask, I always make a point to say, “If that’s not a convenient time, then I completely understand.” That gives them the option to be honest if the timing is not good, and there are no hard feelings. I always make a point of leaving handmade cards for people who let me crash at their place. Or I buy them beer/wine and add them to my postcard list.
Don’t forget karma. Offer your couch to friends and friends of friends. Sign up for Couchsurfing!

How to find Budget Accomdation

A basic guesthouse room in Southern Thailand.
Four Essential Accommodation Tips
 
1. Be aware of high/low seasons.
Costs can triple during holidays and high seasons. Book in advance. Be aware of national holidays in your destination country. It’s easier to negotiate prices in the low season, but the weather might not be ideal. Lonely Planet guides provide a good breakdown for seasons and holidays on their first few pages. Christmas, New Years and Easter are always peak seasons.
During the low season, I lived well on $15/day in Khao Lak, a beach town north of Phuket in Southern Thailand. That’s cheaper than any place I’ve lived in the States.
2. Skip the A/C
Air conditioning isn’t standard outside of the U.S. Opting for a room with a fan or with cold water only will cut the price significantly. Plus, you really should be spending more time exploring than sitting in your room! Trust me, you don’t need warm water in the tropics.
3. Pay in Local Currency
Despite whether you are paying online or in person, it’s almost always cheaper to pay in local currency. Currency conversion rates usually inflated for profit.
4. Share a Room
Private rooms in hostels are usually the same cost per person as a dorm bed or cheaper. Guesthouses are another great option. They have fewer facilities than a hotel but offer private rooms with private baths.

I shared a three-bed room in a guesthouse with three friends in Laos a few years back for $4 per night EACH. That included an amazing private balcony, private bathroom, air-conditioning and free wifi. Seriously. Traveling is cheaper than you think.

Get out of your comfort zone and go see the world!

Next Post: Tips for Saving on Food Costs