My mum had a hard time understanding Couchsurfing: “You mean you find a stranger online and stay at their house… for free? But why would they have you? And why would you want to go?”. Until last week I’d never Couchsurfed – but when my travel buddy Ashley and I decided to finish off our USA trip with a few days in San Diego, it seemed like the perfect option.
After spending an incredible few days in San Diego, I am a Couchsurfing convert for life. Couchsurfing gave us an experience that would have been impossible had we stayed at a hostel. We got to know San Diego through a local – our wonderful host, Matt – and see smaller, less touristy parts of town that we would otherwise have overlooked. We took a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where we were shown around by Matt’s Mexican friend, Gerardo, ate the best tacos in the world and lost our inhibitions dancing Salsa all night.
While our experience was fantastic – the idea of staying at a stranger’s house in a different country is intimidating. This post will explain how we did it from start to finish and why Couchsurfing was such a worthwhile experience.
Finding a host
We sent a request for a host in San Diego using our Couchsurfing accounts. It’s easier to find a host if you have a few good reviews on your Couchsurfing profile. Luckily Ashley has positive reviews from previous Couchsurfing experiences so we sent out requests through her account. We received a reply from 24-year-old Matt, who offered to host us for three nights. He was interested in Mexico and was happy to show us around – which was perfect as we were keen to take a trip south of the border.
As Couchsurfing involves spending a night (or three in our case) sleeping at a stranger’s house, finding a host with good reviews is significant. Matt had four great reviews and seemed friendly and genuine when we exchanged messages through the Couchsurfing site – so we decided to accept his offer.
Our first day
We arrived in San Diego three hours later than planned after our disastrous bus journey from LA. Matt kindly picked us up from the bus station despite arriving not long before midnight. When we arrived at his family’s home (he lived with his mum, dad, sister and niece), he told us that we were sleeping in his bed and he would be on the couch. We were pretty chuffed – would you give your bed up for two complete strangers? Looks like Matt is a great guy.
Matt works as a Lifeguard at Imperial Beach – known as ‘the last local beach in California’ – situated just south of San Diego. Matt took us to work with him after cooking breakfast (what a delicious breakfast really). Then, while he worked a short morning shift, we lay on the beach and explored the small town’s ice cream shops. After his shift was over, Matt gave us a tour of the lifeguarding tower – including the views from the watchtower.
This was not a town we would have visited independently – but by Couchsurfing, we got a glimpse into this small Southern Californian community.
On our second day, we met up with two of Matt’s friends and took a trip to Mexico. The border crossing is a bit sketchy, and I doubt we’d have made the trip if we weren’t staying with someone who knew the area. We met up with Matt’s Mexican friend, Gerardo, on the other side of the border. Gerardo drove us to his favourite food truck, which served (probably) the best tacos in the world. Visiting with a local meant we got the insider scoop on the border town’s drug conflict and the country’s poverty (minimum wage in Mexico is approximately 4 US dollars a day – that’s not enough to live on.)
On the final morning of our three-night stay, we finally met Matt’s lovely mum, Amy. She asked us about our upcoming trip to Asia over coffee and pastries before packing us fresh cherries and more pies to take with us on our bus ride back to LA.
Last but not least, I can’t forget Matt’s dog, Peanut. I am not a dog person, to put it lightly. But this tiny peanut coloured beast stole my heart.
Couchsurfing gave us an experience we would never have had if we’d stayed at a hostel. We saved money, met some amazing San Diegans, and got a local insight into Southern California and Mexico.
We were welcomed into our host’s home and treated with superb hospitality. Hopefully, by hosting us, Matt also got a lot out of the experience. So maybe we got lucky – but if this experience is anything to go on, I’ll be Couchsurfing again very soon.