What is it like to use Couchsurfing as a young solo female traveler? We talked to Hailey about her passion for traveling and her experience using Couchsurfing as a solo woman traveler. Hailey joined Couchsurfing in October 2012 and recently set off for a 4 month trip to Iceland, Greece, India and Cambodia. You can follow her adventures and photography on her blog Not From Home.
“There are opinions in regards to traveling alone. There are stronger opinions in regards to being a woman and traveling alone.” ~Hailey’s blog
Hailey, when did you know that you had a love for travel?
I grew up in a conservative town where it was rare to even just hear of anyone leaving the country. I believe that this fact sprung a curiosity within me when I was about 8 years old. I wanted answers to questions that no one could give me. This is when I started sifting through photographs of foreign places. No one seemed to be talking about this world that apparently existed outside of Idaho. I decided it was crucial for me to see the world, to answer the questions I had.
Since that time, traveling has become the way that I learn about myself and the world. It has taught me to open my mind to those things unfamiliar and has made me realize that the world is so small, yet so big and diverse and full of incredible people. It helped me understand that I am but a very small part of the world, which I find to be very humbling.
“My name is Hailey Etheredge and I am a woman traveling alone.”
What do you like about Couchsurfing?
I think that the idea of opening your home to a complete stranger is one of the most human things a person can do, and this act creates a bit of vulnerability that each is willing to share with the other. The experiences that follow are some of the most true and unguarded. Couchsurfing offers a way to connect with people that seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way in the past few decades.
How has Couchsurfing changed the way you travel?
I have found myself in situations that would not have been possible without the recommendations of a host and their connections within a city. I spend significantly more time in the presence of locals who soon become good friends when Couchsurfing. It completely alters the overall experience in a foreign place.
What is your favorite Couchsurfing experience?
It is impossible to sift through the experiences that I have been lucky enough to have in the past year: from my first host in Iceland cooking dinner for me nearly every night and insisting I sleep in his bed while he stayed on the couch, to arriving in Manhattan and within minutes laughing hysterically over a game of Cards Against Humanity until 5 am, to spending a week with endless mimosas in the snow while hosting a surfer from London, to arriving in Vancouver, BC and almost immediately being welcomed with bowls of Halloween candy and X Files movie marathons — I think it is safe to say that I have had multiple ‘best’ experiences.
“My amazing first host in Iceland cooked dinner for me nearly every night and insisted I sleep in his bed while he stayed on the couch.”
Why are these your most memorable experiences?
These experiences were crucial in my realization that people, in general, are good. I think that it is easy to become caught up in the bad that exists in the world and these experiences I have had through Couchsurfing have helped to outweigh the bad. These experiences were possible because of people letting down their guard and allowing me to be a part of their life. I believe this act to be incredibly healthy, though difficult in this day and age. So, when this does happen, the experiences that follow are the most true and memorable.
What are ways to incorporate the Couchsurfing Values into your everyday life?
Sharing my life allows others to discover something new. It allows me to further appreciate each unique factor that makes my life precisely what it is.
I don’t believe that I can stress enough the importance of creating connections. I have benefited countless times because of the connection I have made through Couchsurfing. Though the world certainly seems immense, it truly is very small and the people that each one of us share it with are connected in more ways than one.
Offering kindness is our instinct and we should always be aware of the force that brings us to do such things. The smallest amount of kindness has the strongest capabilities. Never forgetting that our acts affect those around us is a true and good power.
Staying curious is the force behind travel. Personally, it is my reason for the persistent urge to discover the cultures of the world.
To leave it better than you found it is an excellent example of a simple act of kindness that goes a long way.
How do you think Couchsurfing has had an impact on the world and you?
I think it would be safe to say that Couchsurfing has forever changed the worlds of those who participate. Since the Couchsurfing community is made up of like-minded individuals, I believe that each person is actively looking for ways in which to share their world and to be a part of another’s. This act alone is impactful and capable of making changes that at first may seem subtle, but eventually grow to alter one’s views and opinions of the act of traveling.
Every Couchsurfing experience I have had so far has taught me to be more aware of my actions and to be more grateful, open, and accepting.
What’s your advice to fellow women travelers who want to try Couchsurfing for the first time?
Simply to be aware. Especially in the situations of being a woman traveling alone, it is essential to be aware of your actions and the cultural customs which you may be unfamiliar with. Equally as important, to not be afraid. Fear is capable of shaping experiences and it is important to be aware of this, but to not let it negatively affect your travels and decisions. Use common sense, take risks, and always know that everything works out in the end.
Visit our Safety Center for additional safety tips!