How I Asked Strangers to Let Me Stay in Overnight

This is what essentially Couchsurfing about.

Back in January-February of 2016, I was making a round across Western Europe with one-week travel through the towns of Cabo Verde in between. The only affordable way back from Cabo Verde to Minsk was through Lisbon, then Eindhoven and then Vilnius. So without further search, I’ve bought the tickets and started to look for accommodations.

The accommodation is Lisbon was always very affordable. Even when there is a carnival or a social event, finding a nice and cheap hostel is not a problem.

In Vilnius, I wasn’t going to stay at all, since the train to Minsk was departing in 3 hours after the plane arrives.

Suddenly I’ve figured out that Eindhoven didn’t have anything below 100 euros per night. Can you imagine? One freaking hundred euros! For what? For one bed for one night!

Nevertheless, the tickets had already been bought and I had to deal with it somehow. Luckily I’ve heard a lot about Couchsurfing, although haven’t tried it before. But it seemed the only way. I’ve also realized that it would really be nice experience to meet somebody from the locals. Indeed, a cool authentic trip. So I’ve registered on the site and started searching.

The first thing I’ve figured out is that I don’t know what Couchsurfing is really about. Well, yes, I’ve read 10-20 posts on WordPress by tag CouchSurfing, all from young women, said Couchsurfing is easy. I’d rather say it’s easy when you’re a nice young girl.

So, getting information from WordPress didn’t help and I’ve started my own attempts. I’ve registered on the site, filled the info fields and started looking for the hosts.

The first host whom I wrote was a small young family. I wrote something like this:

Hello,

We are blah blah from blah blah. We like travelling and always try to travel as much a possible.

We like meeting new people and are always happy to get acquainted with somebody. Blah blah, *a funny story about meeting people in some of the travels*.

We haven’t tried Couchsurfing before, but we’d like to try, because staying with somebody is always more interesting than staying in a hotel. Blah blah blah, some words of appreciation.

In a day, I’ve got a refuse message saying they can’t accommodate us.

I’ve gone on with writing basically the same request to one more guy. I’ve got declined in a day because he’s going on a journey and will be out of the town.

After getting two declines I’ve decided to rethink the strategy of sending requests. I’ve pointed out that I basically have two problems:

  • My profile info is probably too boring / not interesting for the hosts to read;
  • My request messages doesn’t contain what the hosts probably want to see;

So I’ve decided to change the couch request a bit in order to ensure that we will be good guests. The next one looked like this:

Hi (name),

We are blah blah from blah blah. We like travelling and always try to travel as much as possible. We are students and study in blah blah.

We like meeting new people and are always happy to get acquainted with somebody. Blah blah, *a funny story about meeting people in some of the travels*.

We haven’t tried Couchsurfing before, but we’d like to try, because staying with somebody is always more interesting than staying in a hotel. Blah blah blah, some words of appreciation.

We don’t drink/smoke, blah blah we will be good guests.

I’ve got once more refused with this message in about a day.

Then I’ve tried the similar request for one more guy and didn’t get neither accept nor refuse message. I’ve waited for a few days, and then wrote a message with a content like “It seems you can’t accept us, so I think we should better ask somebody else”. After that I’ve quickly got an answer “Yes, good luck with your searches”.

Something wasn’t right, so I’ve started to think about refusal reasons again.

Last time, I’ve changed my couch request. This time I’ve decided to change both, my profile info and my couch request.

The issue with the profile info was that it was shorter than average and perhaps it was boring. So I wrote more about my hobbies and thoughts.

Eventually, I’ve figured out what good couch request really is. The point of Couchsurfing is to make the journey more authentic and more adventurous. Moreover, local people can always help you. Maybe they can’t accommodate you, but they can provide you with information about what’s happening in the city and what interesting places which you can’t find in the guidebook are there.

So the couch request should reflect the fact that you do understand it. I wrote something like this:

Hello (name),

We are blah blah from blah blah. We like meeting new people and seeing new place. We don’t only want to make yet another photos from the guidebooks, so we want to stay with you.  We’re open-minded persons, and we would be happy to talk with you or to help you with something.

We understand that probably you have your own plans and can’t accommodate us. It is OK. In this case, maybe you could tell about not well-known interesting places in the town. It is always nice to hear about the town from somebody who lives there.

That was it. At first, we were describing why do we want to stay with this person. At second, in this message we are stating that we are ready to get the refusal (so we’re not perfect, it is perfectly fine not to like us). At third, even if we get a refusal, we also get some information about the city which is very useful.

And it really was better. We were very lucky and a host Bertie accepted out request. That was really nice, and completely “worth it” experience. We lived in a quiet and nice old living district. Bertie met us at home and we’ve had tea and nice talks. We’ve then left for a walk, and had interesting talks in the evening too. When I’ve asked her why does she like Couchsurfing, the answer was simply “It’s always nice to have guests”. I am really grateful to her.

In the morning we’ve said “thank you” words and “good-bye” and left to continue the journey. It was a nice first experience of Couchsurfing.

Summing it all up, I’ve learned a few things:

  • It’s OK to get 5-10 refuses before somebody accepts your couch request.
  • Whenever you write the request, do reflect that you’re ready to get it declined, but ask for interesting places. Afterall, the main purpose of Couchsurfing is to let people met locals and enable them to see the places which are not well-known for the travellers.
  • Bring gifts for your hosts 🙂

Feel free to share your own Сouchsufring experiences in the comments! What is your couch request usually? What kind of guests do you want to accommodate?

Eindhoven, The Netherlands

A queue to the ATM.

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Central streets.

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In the beginning of February, there is a major carnival in North Brabant province of The Netherlands. Unlike in Cabo Verde, or in Lisbon, everyone participates (not only youth).

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Leaving the center and going to the living districts.

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Some street-art appears.

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Old 3D paint.

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I’ve chosen Eindhoven for a day-long transit stay without knowing anything about the carnival. Needless to say, all hotels and even airbnb were incredibly expensive. That made me try Couchsurfing for the first stay. The process of looking for the host deserves a big separate post. Eventually, a kind woman Bertie let me an my girlfriend to sleep one night at her house.

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McDonald’s.

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I’ve seen this building on photos a lot of times, even before visiting Netherlands. Quite disappointing, it had figured out that this is clothing just a shop with a strange name “Sissy Boy”.

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In the evening, the street was completely littered.

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In the morning, everything was perfectly clean and deserted.

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Way Back from Africa. Lisbon: cosplay-carnival, sights, street-art

Lisbon is still a city of a dream…

…with its’ cosy tiled streets…

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…and its’ creative paintings…

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IMG_7610.JPG…and its’ street art…

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…and its’ cute funiculars…

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…and its’ tiled houses…

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…and its’ Christ statue…

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…and its’ magnificent architecture…

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…and its’ main square…

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…and its’ cheerful youth…

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…and its’ festivals…

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…and its’ vulgar nuns!

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Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

Cidade Velha is a village in Cabo Verde, in 10 kilometers from Praia.

Fifteen years ago, it didn’t differ much from typical African village, but in 1999, it was added to World Heritage list of UNESCO and now it is a small touristic center and a must-do for those travelers who found themselves in Praia.

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Cidade Velha was a capital of colonial Cabo Verde. That time it was called Ribeira Grande de Santiago. The main square has a monument called Pelourinho, where the exchange and the punishment of slaves took place.

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Cidade Velha used to be a port city.

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Some historical places are still in ruins.

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But something is restored already. The restoration works take place gradually.

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Farm animals walking on the street is already a common thing.

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Most houses doesn’t have glazed windows. Some of them doesn’t have doors either.

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Children try to play music by beating the bowl with a stone. Right when they see white men, they start ask for money.

Three children divide two coins.

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Some time ago there was a fertile valley.

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The main sight is the fort.

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Now there is also a restored church in the jungle.

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Local art.

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Calm street.

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Tarrafal, Cabo Verde. Local transport

Tarrafal is a town in Cabo Verde, located 70 km away from Praia.

There are generally two ways to get everywhere on the island from Praia.

The first way is just to go by taxi. But it is very expensive, because even for a 5 km ride from the airport they ask 10 euros. So, we will choose the second way. The second way is going by public transport.

In fact, there is no public transport in Cabo Verde that goes between towns of the island at all. If you go to the municipal market, some guys will approach you and ask whether you want to go to some towns.

These guys are drivers of the transport that the locals call “collective”. There are two kinds of collectives.

A collective is either a truck with two benches inside.

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Or a minibus, which is more typical to East Europe. Minibuses are also popular in ex-USSR countries, where they are known as “marshrutka”.

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The price of going to Cidade Velha is 200 edcudos, to Assomada – 250 escudos, to Tarrafal – 500 escudos. If you are going to Assomada, you need to look for a collective, going to Tarrafal, because Assomada is the intermediary station on the way from Praia to Tarrafal.

Those who just want to deliver goods pay forward. The rest passengers pay by the time they leave the collective.

After you’ve found your collective and taken a place there, be prepared to wait for 30-50 minutes before it finally leaves. The collectives are being loaded as much as possible before they go. They are usually loaded with goods from the market and people. Where there is normally a corridor between seats, the additional planks are put to establish new seats. Sometimes two thin guys sit at one seat.

Before the collective leaves, different traders enter it, offering the passengers some fruits.

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Lollipops.

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Water.

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Anything you can imagine.

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As the collective leaves, there is also a guy, shouting the destination from the window of a wan in hope that some people will also want to join.

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There is no “bus stops” for collectives. The collective stops when somebody tells the driver that he wants to quit or somebody at the street shows that he wants to enter.

Cabo Verde has amazing nature. During the trip you can enjoy the landscape.

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In Assomada the collective stops (again, near the municipal market), the half of people and goods gets unloaded, and everything starts again. You might be asked to change the vehicle.

On the way from Assomada to Tarrafal, the vehicle stopped at some minor villages. The local children were looking at us like they didn’t know that the skin could be white. There are pigs, goats, chickens, cows walking freely on the roads.

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Oink-oink.

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And finally, we are in Tarrafal. The road of 70 kilometers took us “only” 3 hours.

The reason why someone is ready to bear these conditions is probably the best beach on the Santiago island.

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You can swim and enjoy the view of the mountains.

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Literary, lie under the palms. Like on the travel agencies’ of your city’s ads.

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The trader on the beach.

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Early in the morning there’s a fish market.

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Local art.

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Basketball court.

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The local market.

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A monkey is tied to the tree to entertain people.

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The street-food.

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The slums.

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The whole town in one photo.

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Tarrafal is rather small, so the collective was travelling the streets of the town, searching for people going to Praia or Assomada. The special guy was loudly shouting: “Praia, Somada!”, from the window of the minibus.

I understand him. After 15 minutes of shaking on the cobbled road, I myself was ready to shout loudly from the window if it could help us to go faster…

Monte Verde, Cabo Verde

Monte Verde is the highest point of San Vincente island. It is about 750 meters high.

After 2 hours walking in Mindelo, we’ve realized that there’s nothing more to watch, so we’ve decided to go to explore another part of the island. We’ve hired a taxi which driven us to this mountain. Such taxi-tour was rather cheap and costed for about 20 euros, but the landscape was really stunning, so it was totally worth it. As a bonus, you’ll get a safari in the poor districts and slums.

Making the first stop at the altitude about 500 meters above sea level.

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Moving to the next viewpoint. 670 meters above sea level.

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There is a few abandoned houses on the mountain. Perhaps they remained from the colonial times. Some people live in them.

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There is no toilet in such houses. When one needs it, he just walks away from the house and does his stuff. There won’t be a photo-proof.

Moving forward. About 720 meters above sea level. The driver doesn’t want to go upper, perhaps, because of the bad road. But you can always climb by yourself.

The views from the top are totally stunning. The photos can’t reflect all the beauty of the place.

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On the top, there is something like radio station, surrounded with a fence. The strangers are banned from entering it.

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Some time ago, Monte Verde was “verde”.

There were cabbages.

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There were peas.

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There were tomatoes.

IMG_5897.JPGThere was dill.

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There were cucumbers.

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There was fertility. But now everything is abandoned.

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When a taxi goes back, the driver beeps almost any time. There is a lot of hairpin bends, and the road is often too thin to accomodate two cars at the same time.