Studying abroad is all about new experiences. It’s a time to step out of your comfort zone, to try new things, to travel, to find yourself. It’s also a time when funds are tight. There are flights to buy, housing to figure out (especially if rent is higher in your new city or you are coming from a no-rent situation like your parent’s house or significant other’s place…thanks Mike!), and maybe a higher tuition fee. Put that on top of the fact that you can’t work abroad and you have a pretty stressful financial situation if you’re not careful.
Since all of these factors are weighing on me, I decided to try something new to save money: Couchsurfing.
I had heard a lot of great things about Couchsurfing so for my first weekend trip I went on the website and found a place to stay in Rimini. I booked it a few weeks in advance, got my train ticket and left. Long story short: it was an amazing experience.
Okay I’ll give you the long story anyways.
When I got to Rimini, Sara (not her real name) and her mom picked me up from the train station and took me to their lovely home. They spoke English to me and also helped me with my Italian. Shortly after arriving, they started making this huge meal, having me try new dishes that were both delicious and vegetarian, as they were kind enough to ask before hand about my dietary restrictions. We had after dinner drinks and watched a movie.
The next day Sara showed me her city on her Vespa (my first time on one!) and took me to the bus station. Although I had only booked a stay for one night, I asked to stay for two because I had such a great time! So I took my day trip to the little country of San Marino and came back to stay another night.
I was so happy to find a new friend in Italy, and also to get a glimpse of Italian family life.
The second experience was not so nice.
My roomate and I planned a trip to Venice, and I booked a place to stay in the suburbs via Couchsurfing. The woman who agreed to host us had asked us what time we were arriving and everything, so we made sure to get to her town around the time we agreed on. Upon arrival, however, she still had not given us her address, and she had stopped responding to my texts. We had just taken a bus ride into an unfamiliar area with no place to stay and no friendly faces to hep us.
In retrospect, we could have just checked into a hostel back in the city and it woud have been fine. But it was late, I was coming down with a cold, and I just felt defeated. I also felt incredibly guilty because I was the one responsible not just for myself, but for my roommate as well. So we booked the next train home.
I’m still scarred from that second experience, but because my first time Couchsurfing was so great, I’m willing to try it again. After all you have the potential to meet great people and learn new things. Plus it’s free, which is an excellent option for a poor student like me!
Next time I will be sure to plan everything out better and try to stay calm when things go awry. I just have to remember that it’s all a learning experience and everything will be fine in the end!