To my surprise, couchsurfing with kids is easier than I first thought! When we were in Melbourne, the thought of staying the night at a friend’s places was always daunting for me with Jack as a baby and even as a toddler. Would he sleep through the night? Were we going to wake our friends up? Is he going to spill or break something? So you can imagine my concerns when we thought we would give couchsurfing a try.
Firstly, couchsurfing isn’t just for young backpackers with little to no money. You aren’t necessarily going to be sleeping on a couch in the middle of someone’s living room either. Couchsurfing hosts seem to cover the full spectrum from the young student, to single professionals to older couples. But they all seem to have a few things in common. Most have travelled in the past, enjoy meeting new people and like the idea of helping others out, perhaps even with the hope there is some reciprocation in the future.
So we thought we would give couchsurfing a go and it just so happened we tried it out while we were in one of the world’s most expensive countries, Switzerland. We set up our profile at www.couchingsurfing.org and started searching for people in cities we were keen on visiting and available for the specific time period. With the ‘suitable for kids’ boxed ticket, it wasn’t too dissimilar to looking for hotels online except this time you are looking at profiles of people rather than hotel brands.
Couchsurfing experience #1
Our first host, Julien accepted our request and we were off to stay at his home in Lucerne. We met him at the local train station and walked to his apartment which was not that far, but when you are carrying two heavy packs, pushing a pram with a few small bags and wrestling with a two-year-old, it was a challenge.
Julien showed us to his flat and our room which conveniently had a double and a single bed. It was a totally different experience to one of checking in at a hotel and to a room which was devoid of any personality. But here we were given the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in a home, and although Julien had only just moved to Lucerne himself, it was nice to kick back in a local’s place for a bit. Julien, a single young guy, to my surprise was very receptive to couchsurfing with kids and made Jack feel very welcome. Although my fears were realised as Jack wanted to touch and play with everything in Julien’s home. Thankfully nothing was broken, but it’s hard to rest easy when you are surrounded by other peoples’ precious possessions. I guess that’s the bonus of being in a hotel room, there is very little for kids to damage.
Our stay was very pleasant at Julien’s and it was a nice change from staying in a sterile hotel room and certainly a saving money wise. We enjoyed dinners together in the home and it was really enjoyable to converse and get to know other like-minded people from around the world. And to my surprise, Jack slept well through the night and Julien left early for work the next day which meant we weren’t trying to keep him quiet (almost impossible for a two-year-old).
Couchsurfing experience #2
Our second couchsurfing experience was in Bern with a lovely single lady in her homely apartment just a 10-minute bus ride from the city. Again, it was so nice to be welcomed into someone’s home. This time it was slightly different as Marianne had lived in her home for a number of years and it was in a very family friendly, picturesque neighbourhood. Jack seemed instantly fond of Marianne which put me at ease and I was looking forward to spending a few nights at her place. There were less things for Jack to destroy which I was grateful for, but we had a couple of rough nights trying to get Jack asleep as well as him crying a couple of times throughout the evening. When you are in a small home you are always conscious of noise level and the thought of Marianne being woken in the night by a child was horrible. Thankfully as a mother of two now adult children she was very understanding.
Again we ate dinner together, each sharing the cooking duties, and swapping stories of our travels and future planned adventures. This is what makes couchsurfing with kids so great. When you travel to places only staying a few days in a hotel, it’s not often you get to connect with the locals and enjoy their company.
Couchsurfing hosts put a great deal of trust in you as they open their home, give you a key and expect nothing in return. Although some may not have kids, they are fully aware that you are travelling with a little one, so to some degree they know what they are in for. As Chris said when trying to reassure me everything will be just fine, ‘it’s not as if we just show up and say ‘surprise’ we have a two year old in tow!’
If you want to really get to know a town, want to have a break from hotels or need to save a few pennies, then give couchsurfing a go. Don’t let having kids stop you from great experiences like this whilst travelling as they may just be some of the most memorable.
5 couchsurfing with kids tips!
- Be open that you have a child or children as well as their ages on your profile and throughout your correspondence with hosts.
- If you require a bed for your child ensure you stipulate that, or if you have a portacot just make sure there is enough space to set it up.
- If you require towels or bedding ask if they supply this as some don’t.
- If you are arriving later in the evening, perhaps ask what the host’s dinner plans are. If you are not in a big city, there may be limited places open and you might find yourself with a very hungry, grumpy child.
- Don’t stress too much and let your child enjoying being in a home for a change too.