Ten things I learned from a month of couch surfing

One thing I learned is that temporary homes can be just as comforting and welcoming as a home with your name on the bills. 

Don Petersen/AP/File
Greg Buster, left, of Franklin County, helps his son Robert Buster, move his belongings into a moving van in Salem, Va.

The month of December started off a little rough for me. After the condo I was supposed to move into got sold unexpectedly, I found myself a car-less 29-year-old woman with a month of temporary homelessness in between the end of one lease and the beginning of another. The only solution that made sense financially was for me to couch surf until I could move into my new place. 

After about 10 days of couch surfing and questioning my sanity, something changed. While it was a hassle at first, I decided to alter my negative attitude and embrace this month with open arms as a learning experience. As I began to project positive energy, I started to have fun with the experience! From St. Thomas to Florida to Chicago to Oregon, here are 10 things I learned from couch surfing for a month:

Find a host with a similar sleeping schedule.

We all know that we don't sleep as well as we do when we're in our own bed, so if you're maintaining a job while couch surfing like I was, your sleep schedule will be disrupted. The last thing you'll want is to crash on a couch that will only allow you to get four hours of sleep before you're disrupted by your host packing their lunch in the morning or throwing a party late into the night. If you have plenty of couches to choose from, try to pick hosts that have similar work and sleep schedules as yours.

Barter your skills.

You can offer to pitch in for utilities or rent, or you can save your money and utilize your skills as currency. If you're a good cook, offer to cook dinner for your host. If you like to clean, surprise them with a clean kitchen or bathroom to come home to. If you have friends with pets going on vacation, offer to house and pet sit! Did you know the average cost per night for a kennel is $20-$30? They will gladly give you the keys to their house if you're willing to do it for free.

Before you pick a place to stay, do your research.

Is the couch infested with bed bugs? Probably something you'll want to find out before you crash on it. Does your host keep zero food in the house? Bring some ramen just to be safe. Are there cockroaches in the water supply? Finding out after drinking from the tap is not ideal. This might just be an island problem, but this actually happened with one of my hosts! Still, their view was killer. I witnessed some of the most beautiful sunsets while couch surfing on St. Thomas. The shot above was taken from my friend's yacht.

Plan your stays in advance.

Three days is a pretty solid amount of time to crash on a friend's couch. If you plan on surfing for an extended amount of time such as a month, try to plan for two or three couches per week. Find out if your host plans on having any other visitors and if they have access to public transportation, as well as what amenities they have at their place (wifi, AC, on-site laundry, beach access, etc).

Pick couches of friends of the opposite sex.

As a woman, I found I got a lot more offers of couches to crash on from my guy friends than from my ladies. I'm not sure whether or not this rings true for male couch surfers, but as a result, I often limited my same-sex stays to one night only, because it made those nights feel like a sleepover or a girls' night. I have some pretty incredible friends, so this rule didn’t need to be strictly enforced the entire time I surfed, but it was an interesting thing to note.


I'm not talking about beer, although you stocking up your host's fridge with alcohol is always appreciated. In this case, that last "B" stands for "bed." Not all couches are created equal and not all friends will even have a couch to offer. Since your sleep cycle will be disrupted, having a consistent surface to sleep on might help with the transition from host to host, and help you avoid having to sleep on the floor. At one point in the month I was camping on a beach and it was not comfortable! Having even a twin air mattress to snooze on would have made a huge difference.

You might also want to bring your own blanket and pillow. I'm very picky about the pillow I use, so my $12 Beautyrest pillow from Walmart goes everywhere with me, even if it's just an overnight stay. I lived mostly in the Caribbean while I couch surfed, so it was safe to assume most of my hosts would have extra bedding and sheets.All I needed was my pillow.

Be respectful.

This should go without saying but you should always thank someone for opening up a place in their home to you. Make sure you are respectful to them -- any other members of the household -- and their house rules. You're not there to throw a party (unless they ask you to) or to be practicing on your drums in the wee hours of the morning. You are there to sleep and shower, period.

Keep your social calendar full.

This might sound crazy, because chances are, if you're couch surfing it's because you're broke. However, the last thing you want to do is be a homebody in a house that is not yours. Try to only be there to sleep, maybe have a meal with your host, and then find activities away from the home to give them their space. I personally focused on budget-friendly activities that were happening for the holidays, like an ugly sweater party at a local bar, BBQs and pot-lucks, and lots and lots of beach days (island living isn't so bad in the winter!). Netflix was also a favorite activity of mine since most of my hosts had an account, but just be prepared to watch their favorite shows, not your own.

Keep a positive attitude.

This was a challenge for me for the first few days. It's easy to get stuck in your head and beat yourself up for reaching the point of (even temporary) homelessness. When I was going through those feelings, I jokingly told a friend "I'm going to be homeless next month!" She told me she didn't see it like that, and that it was just a temporary situation, which made me realize this was all about perspective.

I wasn't couch surfing because I'd failed at life, sometimes life throws you a curveball to keep things interesting. Imagine how dry this post would be if I never had the opportunity to surf! Silver lining!

Home is where the heart is.

Temporary homes can be just as comforting and welcoming as the concept of a physical home with your name on the bills. I had moments of giggling while sipping glasses of wine with my hosts, watching Netflix, exchanging stories about life, or cooking a meal together that made me feel like I wasn't just a bum sleeping on the couch. I felt a part of a temporary family in a temporary home. I was the roommate, the sister, or the woman of the house, and I thoroughly enjoyed every stay.

My heart is so full of gratitude for the friends, family (and in some cases complete strangers!) who showed kindness and helped me get through my month of couch surfing. I learned to trust my gut and have faith that, while the universe has its way of testing us, everything will work out in the end. Trust the path it pushes you on.

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.