Prior to my trip on the Trans Siberian Railway, I had never participated in Cousurfing. I had plenty of friends who have couchsurfed in the past and heard good things but frankly was a little skeptical of the whole concept. For those who don’t know what Couchsurfing is, it’s a social networking site for travelers. On couchsurfing.com you’re able to connect with others and essentially “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, or meet up with other Couchsurfing members. If you’re on a budget, Couchsurfing is a great alternative since you don’t have to pay to sleep in a host’s home. But keep in mind, if you’re going to use couchsurfing you should understand the community. Couchsurfing is all about connecting and sharing. So if you’re just interested in a place to sleep, couchsurfing may not be for you. Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals, learn about the area that you’re visiting, and creating friendships.
I ultimately decided to try couchsurfing at the recommendation of a Russian girl that I met in Vietnam. Like I said, I was apprehensive about staying in a stranger’s house for free and just wasn’t sure how safe it would be. Especially for two young females. This Russian girl though gave rave reviews about Couchsurfing and participates in Couchsurfing as not only a traveler but also as a host. She assured me that Couchsurfing in Russia was very safe and that I should try it. Long story short, this Russian female and her husband ended up hosting me and my friend when we traveled through Krasnoyarsk, a city along the Trans Siberian Railway.
Looking back on my Trans Siberian adventure, my experiences would not have been as amazing without Couchsurfing. My friend and I met some of the coolest and friendliest people because of Couchsurfing and definitely learned way more about Russia than we would have if we had just stayed in hostels.
I HIGHLY recommend Couchsurfing in Russia. Russians on Couchsurfing are super eager to connect with the rest of the world. Russia doesn’t have the best reputation, especially as of late, but those that choose to be on Couchsurfing are, in general, globally minded and tolerant individuals. I’m a big believer that international and cultural exchanges have the ability to really build bridges and understanding, and Couschsurfing is no exception. Sure there are people that do have negative experiences with Couchsurfing but I so far only have good things to say about my experiences. Especially in today’s political environment, it’s more important than ever to build understanding. The U.S. and Russia don’t have the best relations and as an American who traveled in Russia I think I helped dispel some misconceptions and vice versa for those who I encountered during my travels. I participated in Couchsurfing while in Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, Perm, and St. Petersburg. Most of my favorite experiences in Russia are with my hosts. And because I had such great experiences via Couchsurfing, I would be interested in hosting and meeting up with other travelers in the future.
But of course, be smart. Couchsurfing is just a platform for people to connect so you have to do a bit of your own vetting. Use your best judgment when connecting with others. As two females traveling, I didn’t feel particularly comfortable staying with males. While in Omsk my friend and I stayed with a male but only because a friend of mine knew the person we ended up staying with. Other than that, I only contacted couples or females. I also tried only contacting people that had references. I’ve heard that some countries it’s really tough to be able to find people to host you but that wasn’t the case in Russia, especially if you’re an English speaker. I had not problem finding hosts while in Russia and even when hosts fell through, it was pretty easy to find others to host us.
Anyways, I’ll go into some of my Couchsurfing experiences in more detail as I continue to write about my Trans Siberian adventure!