Would you take your kids to a stranger’s house to stay for a few days? Neither would I. CouchSurfing is not about staying with strangers; it is about staying with trusted people from your network, even if you might not have met them before. What I like about CouchSurfing is that people who register on the site build up their trustworthiness by becoming involved in the site, through hosting, surfing, and interacting with others. What I like about family CouchSurfing is that it gives my kids the opportunity to see how kids live in different places, instead of seeing a generic hotel or hostel room.
When we decided to visit Madrid, I searched for a family to host us there, and made a request through the CouchSurfing website. Antonio and Carmen have three young kids, and they had several good reviews from other people who had stayed with them, so I made a direct request to them to see we could stay there. We had several emails back and forth, and Antonio seemed very welcoming and eager to practice his English.
Now, I will be honest. Antonio and Carmen lived much further outside of Madrid than I expected, and the cab ride from the airport was much longer and more expensive than I thought it would be, but those were things I probably should have figured out on my own by doing a bit more research before arriving. Once we arrived, though, we found a really warm household willing to open their home and show us about how a Spanish family lives. Carmen met us there and immediately started speaking Spanish (Antonio had warned me that he was the only one in the family who spoke English). I might have understood 1/3 of it. She didn’t seem able to speak slower, and she didn’t understand my feeble attempts at Spanish, so it was a bit difficult, but we managed to make it through the morning, and in the afternoon we communicated through food, as she taught me how to make a Spanish tortilla. You can read a bit more about our time with their family here.
The rest of our week in Madrid was lovely. We were thrilled to be able to meet with Calla and Magnolia’s first-grade teacher (and first Spanish teacher), who now lives in Madrid, for a tour of an Edward Hopper exhibit, and later for dinner. We sped through the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums and hopped on and off the tourist bus for shopping and ice cream as needed. After two whirlwind days in Madrid, we rented a car for the next couchsurfing adventures in Spain.
I had found another willing host through CouchSurfing.org’s Family Welcome Group. Here you can post your itinerary and see if any hosts volunteer to host you along the way. Maria contacted me from her “unknown part of Spain” (her words!) north of Madrid, and asked if we’d like to come see it. Maria’s kids were older, but it seemed like such a nice offer, and I do like to see things off the beaten path, so we said yes. And we were so glad we did!
went to the oldest church in Spain, built in 661,
toured a 100-year old water-powered flour mill,
heard monks chanting,
climbed a church tower,
and picnicked by the ruins of an old monastery. We learned so much, and had so much fun, we almost didn’t want to leave! This, to us, was what CouchSurfing is all about: experiencing a culture in a way we never could have on our own.
If you are thinking about CouchSurfing with your family, I recommend registering on CouchSurfing.org and joining the Family Welcome Group right away, so that you can get to know other CSers and build up your profile so that people will be willing to host you when you’re ready to surf. And when you’re ready to surf, be sure to read host profiles carefully to see if you’ll really be compatible. And finally, when you’ve lined up your host family, communicate with them and make sure everyone knows what to expect.
I really think our CouchSurfing hosts went above and beyond with their generosity, and I hope that we can pay it forward to our next family surfers when we get home and have a couch* to offer again.
*We never actually stayed on a couch. Beds and inflatable mattresses were the norm. This is usually indicated in a host’s profile.