Although we’d been couchsurfing hosts before, and it’s on our list, it’s taken us a while to actually get around to surfing someone else’s couch. To be honest we were rather nervous about staying in a stranger’s house, and not sure what to expect. Finally, in Paraguay, we went for it and, boy, are we glad we did. Big Mexican feasts, games of flaming football, a Paraguayan rave and much hilarity ensued and we present here our top reasons to Surf that Couch:
1) Takes You Places You Wouldn’t Otherwise Go
It’s the dream. It’s Shangri-la. It’s the hallowed and sacred ‘Off The Beaten Track’ that almost every traveller is searching for. We were in small town Paraguay – between Encarnacion and Asuncion – and were it not for Couchsurfing we probably wouldn’t have stopped to check it out.
It turned out San Juan Bautista was a lovely little town with some picturesque colonial architecture and a laid back, tranquilo vibe that made relaxing very easy. It also happened that the people there liked to kick around footballs on fire.
2) Meet Interesting People
We stayed with Brad, a Peace Corps volunteer and all round good egg for four nights. The night we arrived, there was none of the awkwardness that one sometimes feels when meeting new people. Brad was warm and welcoming and put us instantly at ease.
He introduced us to two other Peace Corp volunteers, Natasha and Andy. All three of them were unique individuals doing some incredibly selfless and inspiring work. We made some good friends.
We also got to spend a lot of time with Hugo and Francisco, two of Brad’s Paraguayan amigos, taking us beyond the often superficial meetings you have with local people while travelling (not to mention giving us the perfect opportunity to practice our Spanish). We even pulled out my travel guitar and Hugo and I jammed for a few hours, mixing it up with a bit of Paraguayan pop and North American/English classics (Stairway! Stairway!).
3) Home-Cooked Food!
As soon as we arrived, we got straight down to important business – making a huge Mexican meal for four. We were joined in our Tex-Mex Quest by the lovely Natasha, but Francisco steadfastly refused to try the food because a) it was vegetarian, and b) it was spicy. Perfect for us though, after a few near misses on the Paraguayan food front and, after many hours toil, we turned out quite the feast that all four of us were justly proud of.
Having access to a kitchen and being able to cook was a real treat having been at the mercy of Paraguayan chefs for the most part. It was a win-win situation, too – Brad thought it was fantastic because he had people who were more than happy to cook and wash up for him!
4) Really Local Events
As it turned out, we had arrived at the start of La Fiesta de San Juan – a month of interesting activities, so the following evening we went out to watch the crazy Pelota Tatá (Fire Ball) event. The evening focused on the local kids setting footballs on fire and then kicking them around the square. Unable to resist, Brad and I risked life and melted shoe to join in.
The following evening the festivities continued and we went out to another event – the Vaquero (Cowboy) Festival. This was a huge country-themed festival complete with cowboy hats, a slightly un-PC Miss Cowgirl competition, a Paraguayan country band and, er, lots of bad dance music.
These events were just too small to feature in any guidebook but just because they don’t beep on a publisher’s radar doesn’t mean that they’re not incredibly interesting and totally unique experiences.
5) Comforts Of Home
Sometimes staying in cramped hotel rooms painted hospital green and lit by ugly fluorescent strip lights can get tiring, so staying somewhere that feels a little more like home is a real bonus.
With that in mind, we declared Saturday America Day, where we basically spent the whole time chilling out and eating good ol’ fashioned American grub like hash browns and buscuits (Brad and Natasha are both from the South) and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cake. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia-fuelled junk food indulgence.
The hot showers, fridge access, comfortable living spaces to chill in, and super-fast internet that you’re not having to share with 20 other guests is the many-layered icing on an already super-sweet cake.
6) Save Money
Despite offering to buy the food and beer as often as our hosts would let us, we still managed to save whole bundles of cash. Accommodation is relatively expensive in Paraguay, so cutting out that huge daily expense made saving money a lot easier and meant that we were under budget every day (despite my best efforts).
7) Tap Local Knowledge
Brad told us that he knew of someone looking to rent a beautiful house fully kitted out with all of the mod cons – AC, leather sofas (I know, but we’re in cow country!), a modern kitchen and 3(!) bedrooms. The cost?
£80 a month.
We really couldn’t believe it – we’ve never seen such great value and we’re still tempted to go back and rent the place now. This is the kind of information you can only get from locals.
We’ve had an amazing first experience with couchsurfing, and we really can’t wait to do it again. Although this was our first overnight stay, we have met a few people for coffee through the program and, so far, everyone has been completely friendly, totally accommodating and generally ace.
This is why we recommend that, if you are even slightly interested in other cultures and/or love meeting cool new people, you just go for it – whether as a host or a guest.
Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.