On Homestays and Couchsurfing

One couchsurfing experience had us sharing homemade Yokohaman comfort food with a wonderful Japanese family.

Follow the adventure: The Tokyo Toddler

Sometimes people think we’re nuts. Like when we said we wouldn’t be staying in hotels during our Japan trip. Instead, we’d be staying in the homes of strangers.

There’s a method to our madness though, and homestays proved to be a great way for us to travel as a family.

When Jodie and I travel, our preference has always been to leverage hostels or, when possible, stay with friends. Since we view paid accommodation primarily as a place to sleep and keep our stuff, we don’t feel a need to pay high dollar for a place we’re hardly going to see. We prefer the vibe of a hostel, with its funkiness and many nationalities—but always with a private room, instead of a dorm. A couple wants their privacy, after all.


But now our family of two is a family of three, and it made sense to look at some fresh options for accommodation. While researching our trip, Jodie came across the Airbnb and Couchsurfing communities. Immediately we knew we’d found people who had a similar mindset. We focused on doing couchsurfing. Jodie looked over lots of people in the cities we wanted to visit, searching for what sounded like compatible personalities and, above all, a willingness to have a wee child in their midst.

It worked, too. From a bachelor in Tokyo, to an expat couple in Kobe, to families in Yokohama and Kyoto, we couchsurfed 2 of our 3 weeks in Japan. For our middle week, where we were in Matsumoto for Jodie’s Suzuki Method World Convention, we stayed in a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn.

Here are things we learned about couchsurfing—and why we’ll be doing lots more on future trips.

Couchsurfing is an opportunity to see a place from the perspective of people’s ordinary lives. Our hosts were regular workaday folks. We got to see Japan from their standpoint, and share a bit of a regular day.

  • See how people live. It’s fun to see the sights, but it’s also fascinating to see how other people live day-to-day in other places. Our couchsurfing experiences with 6 different hosts showed us 6 different perspectives on living in Japan. Some hosts were Japanese, some were expats. Through all of them we got to learn more about Japan and what it’s like to live and travel there.
  • It’s comfortable and affordable. Couchsurfing is a great way to save on travel costs, but the biggest knock against it is people who play cheapskate and do nothing in return for their stay. We tried to do things for each of our hosts, such as treating them to dinner, buying flowers, or helping with chores. Each place we stayed at was also safe and cozy, and felt indeed like being right at home. Our hosts also would help us with anything from ideas on getting around, to using the washing machine, or where to buy diapers.
  • We could introduce Connor to different people and experiences, helping him understand more about being flexible in life and in travel. This last point is the most important to us. Some of our hosts had children, and they also viewed couchsurfing as a way to introduce their children to other cultures and people. We viewed it as a way to show Connor some of the world’s diversity, and the commonalities and courtesies that are universal. It was also an opportunity to show him how we try to be open to new experiences, and flexible in different situations.

Couchsurfing opened up a new and different range of travel experiences for our wee family. It’s something we will definitely be doing again, but not only as guests. Now that we’re home, we also plan to be hosts.

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