#1871| Broke Student’s Guide to Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing_logo

The last time I blogged about couchsurfing in Salzburg, I got a lot of feedback from you guys concerned with safety issues, or relating horror stories you’ve heard from friends.. but I really do believe that everyone should try it at least once, and if not when you’re young, then when? So I’ve taken into account your emails, my own experience, and things I’ve heard from talking to other couchsurfers to compile this post on what couchsurfing is about, what to expect, and how to maximize your chances of having a good CS experience.

Couchwhat?

Couchsurfing is an online community that allows people to host other travelers for free based on goodwill. Despite the name, I’ve never had to actually sleep on a couch before – most of my couchhosts had extra rooms or beds, for which I’m grateful. What it is not is a free hostel – which means it’s not somewhere you just turn up at to sleep and then run off doing your own thing. Your host is not obliged to give you food and clean up for you (though most are really happy to have a meal together), and it’s a community based network where you make new friends and exchange stories and experiences from your own culture. Noone’s going to deny that a free bed is its main draw, but more than that, it’s a fantastic way to make friends with people from all over the world and understand more about other cultures.

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Do I need to pay to get my account verified?

I know the CS website says it ups your reliability and likelihood of getting a host, but I didn’t get a verified membership account and i’ve been surfing fine. It’s really up to you though. I feel like it’s more important to put thought into your profile so that when you send people couch requests they know you’re a legitimate person and not some creep.

Do I have to host to surf?

No, but it’s good to have some experience in both hosting and surfing I guess. As students though, the likelihood that you’ll have space to host someone isn’t very high, and I suppose most people understand that..

So I really don’t have to pay?

Nope, but I always make it a habit to buy my host a round of drinks or cook him/her a meal.

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How does it work?

You decide where you want to go, then start looking for a host in that country early. I find that with different cultures your search period differs too – with London, hosts appreciated knowing early if you’re coming but with Italy, my hosts were all super chill bros and were like please! Ask me again in two months! I cannot plan my life so far in the future just yet! It’s cute.

Do not cut and paste couch requests – people hate that. Your message to a potential host should show that you’ve read their profile and are interested in staying with them specifically because of xxx reason. (I told one of my hosts that I really liked cats and he had two so I really hoped he could host me and he was like AHA! COME.)

When someone replies you, confirm it early and then remind them again closer to the date so they don’t forget you’re coming. It helps to arrange a place and time to meet because most of them have jobs or may not be at home when you land in the country, etc etc. Also, some hosts are cool with giving you keys but for most of them you’ll have to work around their schedules – it’s never been a major issue though.

Isn’t it unsafe?

I can understand where the concern is coming from, but yolo, am i right. Lots of getting to know a new city or country comes from understanding and hanging out with the locals, and CS is a ready made pool of locals waiting to befriend you! Still, there are things you should look out for in a potential host..

Choosing a host

1. Check their reviews.
Always go for someone with reviews – the more the better. I almost never send requests to people with even one negative review, and if they have no reviews at all or seem even vaguely dodgy.. forget it.

2. Read between the lines.
The thing with Couchsurfing is, when you leave someone a review, that review shows up on your profile. Ie. Under your own profile it will display the exact review you wrote for another person, be they good or bad. Lots of couch surfers won’t want an association with a bad review to show up on their profile because reviews can’t be deleted (makes sense, or else everyone will just delete all the bad comments to make themselves look good), or out of fear that someone will leave them a bad one in return and hurt their credibility.

Which is why I say, read between the lines. Couchsurfers can be very sneaky and extremely politically correct. For example, “This person was pretty busy and worked late everyday so i didn’t get to spend time with him, but he seemed really nice” might mean “It was difficult to contact him and this made getting back to the apartment hard sometimes.” “He has a couple of other roommates, which was a surprise” might mean “He didn’t tell us we would be staying with a whole bunch of people we don’t know.” “He didn’t speak much english, but he was really helpful” might mean “WE CAN’T EVEN COMMUNICATE DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE INDICATED INTERMEDIATE PROFICIENCY IN ENGLISH ON HIS PROFILE.” Like i said, read the reviews carefully to pick out anything you might take contention with.

3. Talk to them properly before showing up
Send them a message. Get a vibe from them before deciding on whether or not to stay with them. If you talk to them a few times before actually going to the country, you’ll get a rough idea of how easy it is to communicate with them and if you’re going to be comfortable sleeping in this person’s home.

What if I don’t want to surf, but I dont mind meeting new people?

I totally get that. You want to make friends with strangers without the commitment of actually having to stay with them if things go south? No problem. Couchsurfing is full of forums where people arrange meetings/ outings/ meals with one another. Generally they meet up in a big group monthly, so it’s not a one on one thing. You can always join one of those and just show up and hang out, and leave anytime if you decide that you’re not comfortable.


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Hanging out with other couchsurfers in Rome

Have you ever had any bad experiences on couchsurfing?
Thankfully, most of my couchsurfing experiences were positive. The thing about being a girl is, though, that if you’re traveling alone your couch requests will get accepted very easily, but you need to filter out the creeps. One guy pulled out on me LAST MINUTE once he realized that I would be coming with my boyfriend, even though I’d specified two people in my request (maybe he thought I was coming with another girl or something). Another guy messaged me incessantly even though I said I wouldn’t be free to host him and eventually asked me to be his girlfriend two months later without even meeting me once. I once had a host who was completely uncontactable and nearly left me stranded with my luggage all alone in the middle of the night in a train station. He turned up one and a half hours later.

On the other hand, from what I hear, it’s considerably harder for a guy’s couchrequest to be accepted, but they have to deal with less creeps. It’s a trade off, I guess. What I’m saying is, it’s not some sort of idyllic dream where you run off to stay with a super nice host who ends up being your best friend and long distance pen pal or something. There are weirdos. There are weirdos all over the internet. But when it works out, it works out well, and there are really great experiences to be gleaned with every new thing you try. Just be discerning, and have common sense when trying it out!

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Alright, that’s all I have for now. I hope I’ve answered your questions adequately, and if you have any more questions drop me an ask or comment in the box below. If you have any couchsurfing experiences, good or bad, feel free to share as well!

x
♥jem

#1870| Closet Candy

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If you havent already realized from my instagram feed, I’m back in sunny Singapore where the weather and I are on cautious grounds and where life is once again, busy and somewhat fulfilling. I’m far from done with my blogposts from Europe (upcoming: top five free travel apps, broke student’s guide to rome, broke student’s guide to couchsurfing, etc), but I guess we’ll just have to backdate those, eh? One thing I’ve tried to export from my seven months in Europe: napping. Or at least, the general idea of taking things easy even when there’s a lot going on. It’s doing well so far, but we’ll just have to wait for crunch time to see..

Anyway, since I’ve touched down approximately a week ago, I’ve been up to a lot, like finally reuniting with ban-mian again. Ha ha, I kid. I think. Things I’m honestly thankful for, though, did happen, like heading straight for a staycation with the lit gang to catch up and say our teary goodbyes to Lex who’s headed to Paris for six months. This life!

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Who knew Singapore had more than one infinity pool, right? We had a night in the gorgeous Naumi hotel (were they going for Naomi or Now-me? Noone knows.) and I lived my kimono dreams again in my new Jemma dress from Earlgreyparty. This is the second time a retail store has named a dress after me and I’m putting that straight into my resume. It’s currently sold out (also going on my resume), but you can and should join the waiting list for it.

I also headed straight back to the salon after getting back to Singapore because hey, seven months without touching up one’s hair is no joke. Back to the ombre life for me and all that, albeit unintentionally. After a requisite number of tsks, the team at Jean Yip whipped my hair back into a more presentable state. Thank heavens.

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I’ll talk about their treatments in more detail soon, but for now just know that my hair game is strong. Quiet gold, a more subtle ombre (which for some reason I keep insisting on keeping), and hair so soft it feels like a halo. Nothing makes a girl feel like royalty quite as much as a good blow dry does. I went back again within the week for a blast of treatment and styling for this year’s HSS Dinner and Dance, where Drea and I were invited to judge at their beauty pageant.

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Lovingly dressed by Ted Baker Singapore once again. Is this what a long term long distance relationship feels like? Returning to an old lover after half a year? Honestly, baby, if we’re talking Ted Baker, you can have multiple flings or a marriage and I still wouldn’t mind. I’m channelling a very Wednesday Adams look here which possibly I ruined by smiling too much.

And then in the following week – caught up with old friends and new, finalized my timetable for the new semester, attended the K.blu swim Resort 2014 launch, caught the Juventus FC vs Singapore Selection game, spent time with family, and threw my boyfriend an elaborate surprise birthday party with the help of talented individuals I need to dedicate a post to soon. Like I said, pretty productive week. But overwhelmingly I feel an increasing sense of rightness, as if all is well and other philosophical cliched BS. There was a point in time I worried slightly about coming back and falling into the fabled Exchange Hangover, where I spend my whole life back home trying to live up to the epic adventures that consumed my seven months abroad, but that fear has long dissipated with my falling back in sync with my old life and routines. And more and more frequently, even as I jot down plans for country hopping and short getaways, I think to myself: I’m always leaving, but I will always be glad to come home.

x
♥jem

#1869| House Porn: Pitti Penthouse, Firenze

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imagesPitti Penthouse, Florence.

Of all the places I’ve stayed in, Pitti Penthouse was by far the most luxurious. I dont think i’ve even been in a hotel i could claim to love as much as i did the Pitti.. and yes, that’s what it’s called. The Pitti Penthouse, like in olden english times where you give your house names. Oh, just taking my carriage back to The Red Turret. The House over the Moors. Dont mind me.

The pictures dont even properly capture how vast the space is. Fully airconditioned of course, in a building with a lift – crucial, when you’re traveling with two backbreaking luggages – and not one, but two terraces, one per level. I felt like I couldn’t even decide where I’d rather spend my morning and evenings, indoors or outdoors. I would actually wake up early to hop outdoors with my laptop, check my email, and relish in the knowledge that ohay, just casually checking my mail on my terrace with milk and cookies and an amazing view… because when else, right? And if you know me you know that it takes a lot to get me up early and out of bed.

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The master bedroom is situated upstairs, with it’s own walk in wardrobe (!!! squeal !!!) and another terrace, but honestly – the place could easily fit six people. And the entire place dripped with taste, art pieces at every corner and interior decor designed to impress. I had a good time playing at hostess to.. myself, tinkering around in the fully equipped kitchen to whip out a dinner of steak and chips. It all felt very fancy, eating at the huge dining table with paintings staring you down. There are even dining location options – you can have your meal indoors or outdoors, either way there’s a whole fancy set up for you to take advantage of. It’s the kind of place you live in, i think, not just pass through. I found myself taking notes. Dreams of a glamorous future and all that.

It wasn’t just that the place was gorgeous. It so perfectly created the illusion of a type of lifestyle you’d want to subscribe to. For three days I was the type of person to throw dinner parties. To lounge in a terrace with a book. To appreciate art. To have the happiest point in my day be coming back to my house after a long day out. To walk into a room and think to myself, this is my empire. I’m not even going to apologize for the melodramatics..

Lets move on to the more conventional things one looks for in a house. A great view? An elevator? While others doodled images of bungalows in school, my dream was always to live in a penthouse – but maybe that’s just me. All that aside though, one factor that’s universal has to be location. Pitti Penthouse was right in the center of town – and waking up to views like the Forte Belvedere hills and the Piazza Pitti is no laughing matter. It’s right next to the famous Ponte Vecchio and walking distance from basically everything in Florence – sure, Firenze is a small city, but not having to take a single bus or train the entire time we were there sure sweetened the deal. Besides, walking back to the penthouse most nights afforded us some of the most amazing views..

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Collectively now – sigh.

When Marusca contacted me and invited us to stay in the Pitti Penthouse, I browsed reviews and pictures online and thought to myself this is probably too good to be true, and it isn’t that often i’ll admit i’m wrong, but oh boy. How glad i am to be wrong. This place was, if anything, better than anything i could have expected. I can’t imagine staying anywhere else if I come back to Florence – and I would recommend it to families, couples, groups of friends… but even if you’re traveling alone or in a smaller group, one thing I liked so much about Marusca was her sense of style, which shows up so clearly in the Pitti Penthouse and other apartments she owns. I had a quick hop over to her other property listings and they were all centered around the city, immaculately designed, and filtered based on how many people it could accommodate. They had studios for singles, couples, friends, and so on – and of course my favorite will always be the Pitti Penthouse, but if you’re looking for something on a slightly smaller scale, any of her apartments are guaranteed to make Firenze utterly memorable. Leaving her apartment, I turned and gushed to her:

“Your place is so beautiful!”
And she looked at me and drawled
“Isn’t it, though?”

Italians. I love it.

Thank you so much for your hospitality, Marusca and Daniele!

For the rest of you – you can check out the Pitti Penthouse here.
For the rest of the husband/wife duo’s listings, refer to the following:
Marusca’s houses
Daniele’s houses

You know. If you’re headed to Florence and you’re keen on living a dream.

x
♥jem

#1868| The Broke Student’s Guide to Budapest

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Top and Skirt: H&M Budapest | Black Backpack: Yesstyle.com | Sunnies: Primark

imagesBudapest, Hungary.

I know, I know. I’m finally getting round to blogging about my three week long duffel-packing (like backpacking, but with a .. duffel?) across Europe. I’ve got so much backlog I don’t even want to think about it, but whatever.

Anyway, on request, here’s my Broke Student’s Guide to Budapest. Something you guys should know, first off, is that Budapest isn’t really a place you actually need a broke student’s guide for. It’s insanely cheap, cost of living is low, and it’s basically the only place within Europe I know of that a student can spend less than 10k on an exchange semester. That said, I landed in Budapest with only a hundred euros in my wallet for four days for expenditure, transport, and accommodation, so I’d like to think i did pretty good budget wise. So for those of you who are looking to do budapest for under a hundred euros.. here we go.

OVERALL VIBES

Budapest reminded me a bit of Bangkok, cheap, fun, and also a little dingy at points. Still, if you’re headed to Eastern Europe there’s no excuse not to hit it. It’s right along the line down from Prague through Slovakia, and it’s nicknamed the Little Paris of Europe because it’s gives you that Parisian vibe at a much cheaper price tag.

MONEY MATTERS

Hungary’s currency is the Hufflepuff.
Okay, I know it’s officially the Forint, but when you abbreviate that to HUF you’re really just asking for it. I made the mistake of changing my Euros to Hufflepuffs in Germany, which I later realized was a pretty stupid move. Changing your money in Budapest itself is far, far better. You have to be sure to avoid dubious money changers that charge ridiculous commission (just ask before you hand over any cash), and make sure you dont change money at the airport itself, but otherwise it’s a much better rate you’ll be getting. If you’re scared of scams, there are ATMS all over Budapest. The exchange rate is, once again, better than what you’d get if you changed your money outside of Hungary.

For reference, one Euro is approximately 310 Hufflepuffs.

TRANSPORT

Unlike in Germany, they check for tickets in all the Metro stops so you can’t get around that. It’s cheap though, like the equivalent of 1.50Euros per trip which is half what you’d pay in Germany. However, they dont really check for trams and buses, so while i’m not advocating a dishonest lifestyle of fare-skipping, i’m also just putting this fact out there…………..

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ACCOMMODATION

I was stupid enough to book my hostel on the rights dates in the wrong month, so when I turned up tired and hungover from Slovakia, the topless male receptionists (weather issues, dont even ask) at Carpe Noctem Vitae very kindly told me that I didn’t show up for my booking one month earlier, and that they were full for the next week or so. Bah.

I had to book a last minute place in a nearby hostel, and I ended up at Amazing Hostel Budapest. I know, i know, ha ha. But it turned out pretty good, actually. It only cost me the equivalent of 9 euros a night, it was in an incredibly convenient location, and it was recently renovated. Come to think of it, it was more like renting a room in a private apartment, with a slightly clueless but kinda cute ‘receptionist’ sitting in the living room. Definitely recommended.


Amazing Hostel
VII district, Dohany utca 22-24
1st floor 6, Door bell:13
Budapest, Hungary
Tel: +36309382821

For those of you who’d rather have a more exciting nightlife experience, my original hostel is branded a ‘party hostel’ where they bring you out to a different party every night. What it means is you’ll get a far more exciting experience, but you probably also have to expect noisy and drunk people coming into the dorm room at 2am. You decide whichever option rocks your boat.


Carpe Noctem Vitae
1067
Budapest, Szobi Utca 5
Doorbell 13

FOOD

Food in Budapest is also, extremely cheap. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try all the places here, but when I was in the process of instagramming the city plenty of people who stay or have studied in Budapest left recommendations, so I’m just gonna share them here.


Drum Cafe
Try the: Langosh
Highly raved about by all my friends who’ve been there.
Dob utca 2
Budapest, Hungary
1074
11:00am – 11:00pm
+36 20 540 7422

Ruszwurm
Oldest confectionary in Budapest.
9am-8pm (spring-fall) 10 am-7pm (winter)
Szentháromság u. 7., 1014 Budapest, Hungary

Fisherman’s Bastion
Somewhere you can get coffee or a meal with apparently amazing views of Budapest. However, pro tip: going up to enjoy the view is free after 10pm, and you dont even have to buy a drink anymore. Heh heh.
1014 Budapest, Szentháromság tér 5, Ungheria
+36 1 458 3030

Okay you know what? Just read this article. Ok moving on..

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FREE THINGS TO DO

As with most cities in Europe, there are a whole bunch of free walking tours offered in Budapest. I know it sounds a bit touristic and blah, but even if you’re not a history buff a lot of these tours can be really really interesting and a great way to get to know the city – otherwise, after awhile all the cities start to blend into each other in terms of architecture and style. How free walking tours work is, you join the tour, and if you like it, you can tip them at the end, no obligations (though you really should…). I did the three hour long Communist Walking Tour under Free Budapest Walking Tours, and it was super interesting and didn’t actually involve much.. walking.


Communist Walk
Starts daily at 3:30pm
Meeting point: Vörösmarty square (at the lion fountain)
End point: Ruins Bar

http://www.triptobudapest.hu

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Something else that I really enjoyed was just walking down the Danube River at night. Everyone’s out and about, the place is bustling, and if you’re lucky, you might catch people spontaneously bursting into dance.

It was pretty amazing.

TOURISTY THINGS YOU DONT HAVE TO SPEND MUCH MONEY ON

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A very instagrammable gelato rose is available near the St. Steven’s Basilica at this little shop called, uhh, Gelarto Rosa. It’s not just pretty and gimmicky though, the gelato really is good. My favorite was this Lavender flavored thingy, but i’m sure they’re all as good. It will cost you about 400-600 Hufflepuffs, depending on how many scoops you want. The pretty waitresses dont hurt either.


Gelarto Rosa
Szent Istvan ter 3,
Budapest 1051, Hungary
+36 70 383 1071

Another thing that is apparently super fun and low budget (because you just spend as much as you want on drinks) is Ruin Bar Hopping – Budapest is famous for its Ruin Bars, and they’re all very distinctive and quirky in their own way. Join a free Ruin Bar tour – just enquire at your hostel front desk.

SHOPPING

Budapest doesn’t really have much in the way of shops, but there’s a pretty decent cluster of chain brands like Zara, H&M, and so on in the city center. For some reason, it seems cheaper if you pay in euro.. but that might just be because i got a shitty exchange rate. Either way, shopping isn’t really what i’d go to Budapest to do. However, if you’re in for something a bit quirkier..

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BUDAPEST FLEA MARKETS are a pretty big thing. This is the biggest which also means it’s the best, ha ha insert inappropriate joke here, and it’s called the Ecseri Flohmarkt. Best visited on weekends, obviously, but I went on a weekday when it was partially open and scored a vintage film camera for 10EUR. You have to cab there because it’s so inaccessible but whatever, cabs in Budapest are cheap.

There are another two flea markets that are supposedly worth visiting. You can read this blogpost to get a better idea of what to expect, since i didn’t visit the other two.

THE STAR OF THE TRIP

Seriously though, if you can only do one thing in Budapest…

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Because honestly? You can get architecture, attractions, and dare i say it? – history – elsewhere. But you can never get a Budapest Bath anywhere but here.

The Szechenyi Baths were the highlight of my trip. I bought my tickets the day before at a tourist shop to avoid the queue, and it cost me aboutttt 17-20 euros, i dont remember. I got the full day ticket with a locker cabin because you get a mini room to store your stuff and change which is much better than a tiny locker, i think. On the day itself i ended up adding a massage to the package at the front desk for 15EUR because #princess. It was the best day.

It was just a really well timed thing, you know? Budapest was my third stop in a three week long journey, I was tired, my back was aching, and i just kinda needed a break from endless sights and castles. The Szechenyi baths were beautiful, and consist over twenty different mineral baths of varying temperatures. It sounded perfect.

I basically spent 7 hours in the baths from early afternoon to sunset, and was lucky enough to be there on a day they also held a night pool party. It was awesome and my skin felt amazing afterwards, and I feel like i would journey all the way back to Budapest just for another spa day.. so much cheaper than an actual spa anywhere else too. If you go to Budapest and don’t do this after reading this post, I cant even… I just cant. You can’t sit with us.

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Alright, so that about winds up Budapest for me. One last thing I did most nights was catch the World Cup games in bars and massive public screenings, but while that was super fun, it also isnt applicable to you unless you’re reading this in 2018 or something. Ah well. You know how this goes – leave a comment below if you have anything to add, but otherwise, I hope this was useful to you! I really enjoyed Budapest, so if youre headed there, I sincerely hope you do too :)

x
♥jem