We have been so fortunate to meet so many amazing people during our travels throughout Europe, the Middle East, and South East Asia. That being said, we do come across many travelers who tell a similar tale: “[insert stupid comment about getting drunk here – you’re funnier than me].” As you might have guessed, this breed of traveler tends to congregate in cheap ‘party’ hostels throughout Europe and SE Asia.
I’m proud to say we mostly avoided this scene, though it was sometimes inevitable given our budget, itinerary, and weak spot for modern architecture (turns out party people love cool hostels, who would have thought?). While in Barcelona, we stayed at Generator Hostel and had a terrible experience. We shared our dorm with six loud and obnoxious frat-boy-like characters who turned on the lights in our dorm and started screaming while chugging beers at five in the morning. For more on this, see our YouTube video here.
This does not mean we do not like to have fun. I love to experience and taste the local craft beer scenes in the countries I visit, while Vic sticks to fresh-pressed juices and coconut-water (SE Asia/India was heaven for her). Though we have met some great people at hostels, we have just found these places emit a first-year university vibe, which can get tiring of dealing with every night for months on the road.
So what other alternatives are there?
This is the best way to meet locals while you’re travelling. The concept is simple: you are hosted by a local for free, and in exchange, you share travel experiences, cultural norms, and language. We have had so much fun cooking vegan meals for our hosts, and they have been so great to us by passionately showing us around their city. This is the best way to save money while travelling, as your only expenses end up being food and drink. It’s also great for solo travelers, as based on our experiences, Couchsurfing hosts really love to bond with their guests.
As you may know, Vic and I have done work exchanges on an organic farms, wineries, animal sanctuaries, and culinary schools [insert hyperlinks for videos to all] throughout Italy and Turkey. Looking back, these are the times we had the most fun, while learning practical skills, and immersing yourself in local culture. The highlight of work exchanges is getting to know the other volunteers, becoming a member of the hosting family, eating the delicious home-cooked meals, and seeing the small towns they tend to be in. Months after our works exchanges, we still keep in touch with our hosts and fellow volunteers! For more details on the concept of work exchanges, watch this helpful Q&A video.
While travelling for four months throughout Europe, we used Airbnb frequently to find good, cheap accommodation. Airbnb is essentially Couchsurfing – but paying for it. Depending on the price, you can book an entire apartment to yourself or a private room in someone’s apartment. We found this to be worth it as you get to pick the location of the apartment, but more importantly, you get a kitchen! We loved having a kitchen while traveling, as not only is it cheaper than eating out, but we have a passion for cooking and like controlling what ingredients go into our meals. This might not be the best way to travel as a solo traveler, as you obviously meet less people, but if travelling as a couple, it’s a great way to live with the locals and score yourselves a clean and comfy place to stay.