We’re hosting travelers, organizing events and will be out surfing around the globe!
Role: Community Team
Surfing in… Greece
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Couchsurfing’s Staff in the Wild program, here’s a quick rundown – every month, we send one employee to a mystery destination to get out of the office, stay in touch with the Couchsurfing community, and have some fun!
When I learned that my coworkers had selected Greece as my destination, I was so excited – I’ve been lucky enough to see much of Europe, but have never been able to visit Greece. Since I joined the team a year ago, I’ve been bombarded by awesome stories from other Couchsurfers like this and this – but so far, I’ve never had the opportunity to Couchsurf myself. So, for all of you who are considering your first Couchsurfing adventure – here’s how I planned my trip to Greece!
My first step, when I learned I was going to be Couchsurfing in just 5 weeks, was to fill out my profile. As a new Couchsurfer, I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have references from previous hosts and surfers. I only had basic information on my profile, so I went through and added some more detail. I wanted my potential hosts to have a good picture of my personality from reading my profile.
If you know you’re going to be Couchsurfing well in advance, it’s a good idea to host a few Couchsurfers or attend some events. This is a great way to get to know the Couchsurfing community and add some references to your profile!
Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own advice. While I’ve attended several Couchsurfing events in the past, I’ve always been too caught up in the moment and conversations to remember to ask people for their profile/contact information or personal references – oops. And, living in San Francisco, my living situation doesn’t really allow me to host. With three people in a two bedroom apartment, I don’t even have a couch for people to surf on!
However, even if you can’t host or get to Couchsurfing events, you should still get some Personal references from your friends! With over 12 million Couchsurfing members worldwide, chances are you have some friends in our network already. If you connect your Facebook account to your Couchsurfing account, you’ll be able to see which of your Facebook friends are already on Couchsurfing, so you can add them as a Couchsurfing friend. Afterwards, send them a message to ask them to write you a Personal friend reference. I emailed my coworkers and asked them to write me references. Check.
Planning out your trip
Once I bought my tickets in and out of Athens, I was ready to plan out more of my vacation! Since this is a Couchsurfing trip, I didn’t want to be too attached to going to a particular place. Some places have more hosts than others, and on the islands of Greece, I knew that some of the smaller islands were going to have fewer available hosts. If you’re traveling to rural places, it’s good to keep in mind that you may not be able to find a host everywhere you go.
Based on this, I planned to spend the majority of time in Athens, and then made a list of islands to explore. I wanted to research the hosts in each island, choose my favorite hosts to send requests to, and then plan those days around who was available to host me.
A note about booking your plane tickets: It’s a good idea to keep in mind that you are going to be a guest in someone’s home, so if you can avoid landing late at night, do that! I chose a pretty inconvenient plane flight (departing at 6:30 am – ew) so that I’d land in Athens at 9:15 am instead of late at night. It’s also a little bit safer – if, for some reason, you don’t feel safe with your host, you’ll have the whole afternoon and evening to get to a backup hostel, and won’t have to wander around a foreign city in the middle of the night.
Finding a compatible host is the most time consuming part of your trip, and something that is worth doing right. Here is my strategy: Write Couchrequests to a few hosts that stood out, and then make a Public Trip in the area. Of course, I make sure to read each host’s profiles, any house rules listed in the My Home section, and all of their references (or most… some had well over 40 positive references!) before sending them a Couchrequest.
I wanted to make a Public Trip because there was no way I could read through hundreds of profiles! What if there was an awesome host that I didn’t see in Host Search? I realized in some ways, it might be more efficient to see who responded to my Public Trip, and then check out their profile and references to see if they’d be someone I wanted to stay with. I lucked out in Athens and Santorini with Public Trips. I found an amazing host in Athens that hadn’t come up in my initial Host Search, and a host in Santorini to whom I hadn’t sent a request because I didn’t meet his requirements. He normally only accepts surfers who plan to stay for 3+ nights, and I was only planning to be in Santorini for two.
I wanted to check out Delphi because I love the Ancient Greek history. Unfortunately, Delphi doesn’t have many hosts, and many of them hadn’t logged in in awhile. I sent a few Couchrequests, but only heard back from one host, who wasn’t sure if she’d be in town. She hasn’t responded in a few days since she’s currently on a business trip, so I booked a hostel for one night in Delphi. I verified that the hostel had a flexible cancellation policy in case she responds positively at the last minute. I’d so much rather stay with her and hear her travel stories than stay at the hostel 🙂
For my second stint in Athens, I decided not to make a Public Trip. I wrote two Couchrequests to hosts who stood out to me. I received an enthusiastic “Yes!” from one host and didn’t hear back from the second.
Unfortunately, my host in Santorini had to cancel on me two days ago, due to unforeseen circumstances. So I’m now working on plan B for my second weekend in Greece. I sent a few requests to hosts in Crete, Corfu, and Mykonos and created Public Trips in each of those cities as well. I’m confident that something will pan out soon.
Creating an Itinerary
I used the Athens City Page to see what was going on while I was there and I found an awesome event for my first night! It is a Seaside Nightwalk led by some Athens hosts.I figured that would be a great way to kickstart my trip, get to know some locals, and meet other travelers in the area I could potentially go to sightsee with.
I purposely left my schedule in Athens flexible and a little empty. I want to make sure I had time to spend with my host, and the other Couchsurfer he has staying with him at the same time too. I’m glad I did. My first Athens host contacted me yesterday to ask if I wanted to go on a day trip with him on Saturday to some of his favorite attractions. Count me in!
I contacted a few travelers in the area to see if they wanted to sightsee or go exploring with me. The Travelers search is awesome, especially if you are traveling by yourself. It’s a list of people who don’t have to go to work, are probably going to want to explore some of the tourist attractions, and also want to meet new people.
There are tons of good internet resources for what to pack when you’re traveling by yourself – like this video or this one. So I won’t go into detail here, plus I wouldn’t call myself the “Best Packer in the World”. This is another reason why it’s important to read the “My Home” section of a host’s profile, because what each host can offer can vary widely. I have a compact travel towel and a travel blanket that folds up small and is easy to transport, so I’m bringing those just in case my host can’t offer them. I also picked up a few San Francisco postcards so I could write thank you notes, swiped some Couchsurfing swag from the office to give out, and baked a little something for my generous hosts.
Planning for the worst
I’m 23, I’m a girl, and I’ve never travelled by myself before, especially not in a country where I don’t know the language. I may be a little overzealous in my planning, but better to be too prepared than be stuck in a foreign country. I made a Google doc for my family and my boss so that they knew my plans. In it, I included my location, my host’s name, a link to their Couchsurfing profile, and when I was arriving and departing from my host’s home.
I also looked up the closest hostels to each of my host’s homes, just in case. I don’t expect to use them, but I want to know where they are. I’ve worked with members who have stranded their surfers due to unforeseen circumstances. In one case, their house burned down the night before they had a surfer arriving, so they had to cancel the request last minute. It was a stressful, horrible situation for both parties, and one that I want to make sure I’m prepared for.
And now it’s time for me to head home and pack for my flight tomorrow! Be sure to follow all my adventures. I’ll be posting on Instagram @couchsurfinginthewild.