The Financial Impact of CouchSurfing
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.