How I managed to travel cheap on my first solo adventure in Europe

Leaving the University, I began to prepare my first trip alone to another continent. Actually, it was an idea I had been contemplating for years, but now the conditions were given: I was making money on my first job and eventually I would have time.

As a good lover of contemporary history, my goal was to tour Europe. But since I wanted to spend a long time, I had to make the most with my money.

So I spent hours on the computer finding out everything about flights, trains, schedules, prices, hostels, tours, accommodation and this was the most expensive thing besides the tickets but I couldn’t skip that part if I wanted to travel.

So I thought about trying Couchsurfing, a website that connects travelers from all over the world, and as its name says, it allows you surf their couches for a night or two. Basically it is a cultural exchange in exchange for a place to sleep.

On paper it sounded like a wonder, being able to travel with free accommodation. But I thought I should know exactly what it was about before venturing alone into another continent.

Therefore, a year before my trip (2011) I singed up on the site and after discussing it with my roomie (my sister), we began to receive foreign travelers passing through Santiago de Chile in our department.

Couchsurfing Experience as Hostess

Of course, I was concerned about my sister’s and my own safety, so after each request we carefully read the profile and reviews of each request, and together decided who would be the next guest.

In summary, we had 5 or 6 people in one year, and the experience was wonderful.

I realized that my English was better than I thought and that, despite considering myself as very shy girl, I managed to have a good time meeting and sharing with new people, from cultures very different from mine.

I started friendships, some lasted longer than others. But they were all valued. Even years later I met one of them on other trips around the world.

Couchsurfing Experience as a Guest

Finally, in May 2012, after I was fired from my first real job, it was time to travel. Since it was my first time alone, I worked hard planning the two months I would spend touring Europe.

And happily everything turned out fine, not necessarily according to plan the whole time, but I had no really bad experiences. These were my Couchsurfing experiences during that trip:

  • Rome, Italy.
  • Patra, Greece.
  • Athens, Greece.
  • Mykonos, Greece.
  • Berlin, Germany.
  • London, Ingland.
  • Paris, France.
  • Bilbao, Spain.

With Francesco, my host in Rome, Italy. Every day after his work he took me to know a different place in his city.

Group of other travelers that I met through the events section of Couchsurfing. We were all traveling alone in London, so we got together to go to a music festival. We got along so well that we toured the city together until each continued on their journey after a few days.

I only had a very strange experience in Athens, where I went to find an Okupa house with some Spaniards, belonging to the Indignados movement. Luckily, where the police came to break in to evict them, we were not there, but I had to look with great fear at what was happening from the corner.

Honestly, I have no idea what could have happened to me if I had been inside the house without being able to communicate in Greek with the police, if communication was even a chance. And I think I prefer not to know.

That same night, when the police dissipated and my host appeared, I told him that I had found another place to sleep (lie, I was so nervous that the only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t sleep there), so I went to look for my backpack and I went to look for a hostel at 1 in the morning.

I think experiences like this made me a more cautious traveler and taught me that I can overcome, solve problems, take care of myself, etc!

Odysseas and his brother Nikona, with whom I stayed in the port of Patra on my first visit to Greece. The first night they took me to drink Ouzo, and then they made me lead the way back. I don’t know how many laps we took, but we had a great time.

After the experience with the Okupas in Athens, I found another host, Stratos, who took me to see the entire coastline of Pelopoeneso (south of Athens) to the Temple of Zeus that you can see in the photo. He told me a lot about the history of Greece and its myths, including why the Aegean Sea bears that name.

Rebeca, a friend I met on the way. She arranged our accommodation in Mykonos also through Couchsurfing. When we arrived on the island, our host went to look for us at the port and took us to the restaurant where he worked. There they waited for us with an exquisite Grecia Style snack!

The fabulous typical house of the Greek islands where we stayed with Rebecca. Our host told us that this house was over 300 years old and that he inherited it from his grandmother.

The friends of the apartment that I stayed in Bilbao, Sonia, Eneko (in green) and the gang. Thanks to them I tried the wonderful pinchos and the chacolí and we spent some nice afternoons drinking beer in the estuary.

My conclusions

In addition to exchanging accommodation, Couchsurfing is a good tool to get first-hand information about a destination you have in mind.

Every time I am preparing a trip and I need information. I try to contact people from the place through Couchsurfing.

The last time I used it was in Seoul, South Korea (December 2019). Seoul, is a very expensive destination and I managed to save a lot thanks to a boy who lives in the university district, who also showed me the food and what life is like for young people in that city.

I am infinitely grateful for my luck and of all the people I contacted, they made my trips easier and taught me so much more than I expected to learn from each destination. I have heard that there are not so happy stories, therefore the call is to be cautious and always be alert.

Sorry I don’t have any more photos, it was a long time ago and I was losing them with every change of cell phone and computer.

More inspiration:

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