September 16, 2008

The Financial Impact of CouchSurfing
Lugoj, Romania

I made a $25 donation to the CouchSurfing Project today. Although it's not necessary to pay to participate in CouchSurfing (hence the dizzying number of users), recently I've been feeling more and more inclined to do so.

The CouchSurfing Project incents donations as a part of their user profile verification process—a sliding scale based on the earning power of your home country determines how much a minimum donation should be. Profile name information is verified using a credit card to make the donation, with a code on a postcard sent to the registered address to reenter on the site to verify location. People reviewing your profile supposedly take your verification level into consideration when deciding if they're going to host (or be hosted) by you, although we (like many others) have had plenty of success without the endorsement of a verified profile.

It goes without saying that CouchSurfing has significantly changed our (travel) lives for the better. Not only are we getting access to the things we need to make travel with an infant work properly (like a kitchen and washing machine), but CouchSurfing takes us off the tourist trail and straight into the lives of the local inhabitants. It's an amazing experience that reveals a tremendous amount about a country and the customs and lifestyles of those within it, without costing us a dime.

We started CouchSurfing to save on the daily expense of our living accommodations, but we've kept CouchSurfing because of the dramatic increase in our quality of life, and the unique nature of the travel.

Eastern Europe is not by any means an inexpensive place to travel within, and for the first time I'm keeping much closer tabs on exactly how much I'm spending. I've always had a pretty decent idea about my shoestring spending when I was backpacking solo, but adding a girlfriend and baby into the mix can really dilute your idea of frugality. Babies cost a lot of money (…diapers, formula, wipes, powdered cereal mixes and other foodstuffs, etc.), and items are certainly far from bulk discount Wal-Mart/Tesco prices. We can only carry so much, and often have to make some hard decisions on matters regarding price, future availability, and quantity purchased/carried.

I tend to talk about the price of things a lot as I've traveled over the years. Not only does it anchor subjective terms like 'cheap' and 'expensive' to an actual price that we all can interpret for ourselves, but money is an ever-present component of this lifestyle.

I'm often asked about travel budgets, and how to make a trip to region Z a successful one based on X dollars in hand, or how much long-term travel really costs in the first place. The reality is that it's different for everyone, and it's up to each individual to trim expenses back to a lifestyle level that they're comfortable with. Remember, the big four cost components of any long-term travel are going to be food, accommodation, Internet, and transportation. Being a father adds the burden of baby into my costs, but by CouchSurfing I've removed both the expenses of accommodation and Internet.

So how much does it cost an experienced traveler to live on a shoestring in Eastern Europe with a baby in tow? Well, for those interested, here are the figures (based on ATM withdrawal statements from my bank):

  • Poland: $250.53, 10 nights (≈$25/day)
  • Slovakia: $456.51, 23 nights (≈$20/day)
  • Hungary: $214.94, 26 nights (≈$8/day, CouchSurfing with hosts for 23 of those nights)

Pretty amazing, huh?

CouchSurfing, I'd say that 60% of our expenses are now baby-related, with another 35% in food and 5% in transportation. The generosity of others has kept us from fleeing the region from financial heartache, and allowed us to spend more money at the supermarket on creative meals for ourselves and our hosts. We're eating better, conversing more, learning loads, and living far outside the realm of traditional tourists. What a blessing.

Comments:

The United Kingdom

Jack from eyeflare travel tips

November 18th, 2008

Those are some impressive figures for your spending, I couldn't actually imagine being able to get by on that little anywhere. And good on you for verifying your Couchsurfing membership.

Canada

jocelyne marchand

November 18th, 2008

interesting though that people travelled for thousands of years with babies without the benefit of wipes, formula, powdered cereals etc. etc.

Nursing eliminates the need for formula, real cereals are a good subsitute for pre mixed, wet facecloth for wipes, etc, etc

Romania

Tatiana

November 19th, 2008

I'm glad our little nomad family is more civilized than the hunter-gatherers of ancient and early medieval age! I cannot imagine us traveling around with pooped cloth diapers to save on the expense of the disposable type at the cost of grossing our hosts out. We are very thankful for convenience items such as baby wipes and disposable diapers. The cloth type needs not ony washing, either by hand or machine, but also boiling for disinfection and stain removal, and this is done in an enormous pot purchased only for that purpose.

As for food, we make all our baby food by hand except for the formula and cereal, and we buy formula not because we want to be modern or because we like to add the expense but simply because Aidric does not want to be breastfed anymore (not since he started with solid food at 5 months of age). I must admit that it made me sad at first, but a little relieved on the other hand (those teeth of his are sharp!). I never really liked breastfeeding in public. That was my private time with my baby, not the opportunity for people to give me the oh-how-cute look or for the pervert to try to catch a glimpse of my boob.

Bulgaria

Craig | travelvice.com

November 26th, 2008

I thought this as good a place as any to continue posting my CouchSurfing financial figures:

Romania: $508.92, 72 nights
— 2 months & 11 days (CouchSurfing with hosts for all 72 of those nights) ≈$7/day

I certainly could've done without the surprise $40 train tickets for the short trip across the border into Bulgaria yesterday.

***

The contrast between Romania from Hungary was immediately noticeable in the supermarkets. It was pretty depressing for us to be paying more in Romania for everything food and baby related, with a substantially limited selection by comparison.

Believe it or not, Hungary was certainly a cheaper country for us to travel within, with better value at the supermarket and significantly less depressing architecture (city views of crumbling concrete bloc apartments aren't high on the lists of many).

The majority of folks encountered seem to think that traveling from Hungary to Romania is like traveling back in time 20 years. I hoping that Bulgaria will bring us back in line with the 21st century.

Turkey

Craig | travelvice.com

December 23rd, 2008

Continuing the tradition of noting my spending while CouchSurfing in Eastern Europe on this page, here are some new stats:

Bulgaria: $238.72, 27 nights (≈$9/day, all 27 spent with CS hosts)

***

We moved around Bulgaria quite a bit, properly experiencing about 10 different city locations during our month there (although a few of those were on day trips), but cooked a lot less (often times getting fed by our hosts quite well). We found that the supermarket selection of Hungary returned in Bulgaria, but with generally the same (often spendy) prices found in Romania.

What's really amazing is that's with supporting Aidric, which accounts for a tremendous amount of our costs. Without him, a mere $5/day is a totally realistic figure for traveling Eastern Europe.

Syria

Craig | travelvice.com

March 11th, 2009

Out of Turkey and into Syria! Here are the stats:

Turkey: $450.92, 78 nights (≈$5.80/day, 100% CouchSufing with hosts)

The United States

elguapo

March 11th, 2009

Nothing short of amazing…Thanks for the update.

Syria

Craig | travelvice.com

March 13th, 2009

I totally agree — and you're welcome. ;)

Jordan

Craig | travelvice.com

April 3rd, 2009

The stats for Syria & Lebanon:

The worst part of my time in Syria were the border formalities. Not only were the wait times extreme, but you get hit with both arrival and departure payments.

A 14-day Syrian visa costs US$16. A 3-day Syrian transit visa costs $16. There's no escaping it. Additionally, a 500 Syrian pound departure fee for overland exits is levied at the border. That's about $11 per departure.

I entered and exited Syria twice, so just getting in and out of the country, without including the transportation, cost me $54. Ugh.

Syria: $103.92, 15 nights (≈$7/day, excluding entry/exit fees, 100% CouchSufing with hosts)

****

Lebanon charges 25,000 Lebanese pounds (about US$17) for a 15-day visa.

Thanks to the generosity of my host, my bus ride out of Beirut (US$9.30) constituted about a third of my meager spending in the curious country.

Lebanon: $26.70, 8 nights (≈$3.30/day, excluding visa fees, 100% CouchSufing)

The United Kingdom

Ned

March 23rd, 2010

This is quite spectacular and reassuring. I know you have this down to a fine art, but an article like this just proves that Couchsurfing works. I'm about to try to ride said wave for a couple of months - I just hope I can get it as right as you seem to have done!

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