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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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.

 

 

Praia, Cabo Verde

Praia is the capital of Cabo Verde. The quality of living here is better than anywhere in the country.

In Praia only the front side of the buildings is painted.

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Women carry anything on the head.

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The currency in Cabo Verde is escudo (CVE). There are two versions of each bank note.

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Local people usually fold the bank notes as many times as possible. Normally, it is two consecutive horizontal folds (on the dimension which is initially greater), and one vertical fold then. That is why the most part of bank notes are wrinkled.

The local market.

Everything is being sold on the market.

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Small buses to the other towns of the island are departing from this market. When you approach the market, the drivers start to ask you whether you want to go somewhere. The prices are rather cheap – it will cost for about 5 euros to go to the most distant town.

Local art on the walls.

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And on the paper.

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The public school.

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Pupils are going back to school after the long break during the lunch time.

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From the first glance it may seem that there’s a school uniform, but it is actually more like a dress code. Indeed, look at the photos. The colors of the shirts and the pants differ, but not significantly.

Boys wear dark pants and a blue shirt.

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The kindergarteners. They also have something like dress code.

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Old Soviet wheel tank.

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The central district is guarded by armed soldiers, so in the evening it is relatively safe (though scary). The host told that it is better not to go, or at least, to be very attentive in the other districts in the evening-night time.

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Local beach. Though “praia” means “beach” in Portugal, the beaches aren’t as nice as on San Vincente or as in Tarrafal. Some local children were swimming though.

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The old lighthouse.

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The Atlantic Ocean.

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The road signs are drilled so that locals don’t steal them and use in the household.

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Of course there is no any brand closes’ shops in the country. When one needs some clothes, they go to “boutiques” or to the market. Those who are richer most probably bring goods from Lisbon and the rest Europe. Perhaps, that is why there is no “strict” school uniform – there is no shops where it can be bought.

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Usually there’s no fitting rooms in the boutique.

IMG_6960.JPGProbably because of the lack of the clothes’ shops, the most prestiguous restaurant in the capital doesn’t have a strict dress code.

National quisine mainly consists of seafood. For example, fish baked with potatoes and bananas.

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The barber shop.

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I’ve met the following episode a few times in Praia: a guy is walking his way, just like anyone else. When he sees a white guy (me), he instantly makes a sad face and asks whether I’ve got some change for him.

A Few More Lines on Lisbon

From Lisbon there will be a flight to Cape Verde Islands. So this visit was just a short transit overnight stay. I stayed in a cosy hostel in the sleeping quarters of Lisbon.

The girl does a juggling performance on the road, when it time for pedestrians to cross and then collects a change from those who liked the performance. The most original way to collect money I’ve seen so far.

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Portuguese collect money for Syrian refugees.

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And advertise a new film.

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The poor apartment house in the sleeping quarters.

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Portuguese trash bin. Ah, what can be better than these trash bins?

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Lemon trees in the private sector.

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Sun batteries on the roofs.

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The installation in the trade center.

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Ah, there is no city in Europe, better than Lisbon!

 

Ajaccio, Corsica

It is rather hard to get here on a tiny budget. You can fly from major French cities or to take a ferry from Marseille or Nice. Travel on a ferry will take about twelve hours.

The sunset.

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Early in the morning, the market on the main square starts to work.

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There are French and Corsican languages used. But mostly French.

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Ajaccio is a birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. There is a memorial park, a hotel, a street, a cinema and a bunch of cafes named after him.

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Stylish touristic bus.

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Authentic clothing shop.

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The cinema “Bonaparte” right next to the cafe “Napoleon”.

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The Corsicans do like dogs, especially small and shaggy. The dogs sometimes walk by themselves and don’t hesitate to ask for food.

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The railway station.

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The abandoned summer cafe at a beach.

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The streets.

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The beach. The water at the beaches and even in the port is very clean.

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Corsicans greet each other with a hug and two kisses.

The food at the cafes and restaurants is very expensive. You need to cook by yourself. The cheapest cafe, where the locals eat had a breakfast for 10 euros. It is more popular at locals.

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On the opposite shore of the bay, there is an airport. It is convenient to watch planes take off and land.

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“Take care. It is cold now. “, – told me the host, – “By the way, where are you from?”.

“We are from Belarus. Be~la~rus? Where is it? I didn’t hear anything about this country.”

After I’ve shown her, where approximately it is, she asked a boyfriend. He didn’t know either.

But actually, the weather isn’t so cold. Early in the January morning the temperature is about 3-6 degrees, but during the day is raises to 20 degrees.

Meanwhile, there are tangerines and lemons on the trees. But the tangerines are still bitter at this season, so my plan of getting a free lunch in this expensive city has failed.

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There is a “siesta” time at Corsica. Normally it is a few hours after the midday, say, 1-3 PM. During siesta, the majority of the shops will be closed, as long as some cafes. The buses will go rare. The life freezes.

Children play on the main square.

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Even a simple walk is very relaxing.

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Serenity.

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