The Wonderful World of Couchsurfing
We were introduced to the concept of “couchsurfing” by two wonderful Norwegian friends we met while we spent a month in Thailand. Our friends recounted their adventures island hopping in the Caribbean where they gushed about adventures to secluded islands, barbecues on the beach and drinking copious amounts of rum with locals. When we asked how they could afford to travel through a normally expensive part of the world they said they couchsurfed for free.
I was intrigued by the concept.
While the prospect of staying for free was attractive given we are independent budget travellers, the biggest appeal for us came from the stories about the intimate human experiences they had had and the secret local spots they got to see.
As we found out after our own experiences couchsurfing later on in our trip, it is so much more than just a free place crash.
Want to give it a try? Sign up for free here – Couchsurfing.com
Surfing the crap out of this couch
What Exactly Is Couchsurfing?
The whole concept of couchsurfing is not a new one. Travellers have been connecting friends and acquaintances with places to crash around the world for ages but the internet has absolutely revolutionized this network. Since it’s inception in 2003, the couchsurfing.org membership has grown to upwards of 5.5 million people. In simplest terms, you create a profile and then search for hosts in the city you’re planning to visit and submit a request. Surfers and hosts come from all walks of life. The idea at its core is essentially to foster genuine human connections around the world. After your stay the host and surfer each leave a reference for each other which shows up on your profile so that you can make sure the person you are getting will be a good fit.
Couchsurfing is awesome
Our First Experience Couchsurfing
We didn’t secure our first ‘couch’ until we hit up wonderful Wellington, New Zealand. After 5 weeks housesitting in Auckland and then 2 weeks in a camper van, I was starving for a little outside human connection and was still experiencing a little bit of reverse culture shock at our reintroduction into Western society.
Asia is such a social place, there are tons of other travellers and locals are almost always very eager to get to know you. I guess I had forgotten the weird look people back home give you when you wave and say hello on the street. In any case, there were a handful of reasons we hadn’t made a lot local connections up to this point, but we were eager to get some local perspective and I figured at this point couchsurfing was going to be just the ticket.
Ross was pretty reluctant at first, so I was pretty attuned to the importance of making the right connection off the bat. I scoured the couch profiles intently looking for the perfect introduction, ‘this is going to be a good experience dammit’!
The process of setting up a surf can be pretty time consuming and sometimes frustrating (particularly if you’re on a tight timeframe and you don’t get a response), but thankfully I made the connection well in advance and we heard back from my #1 pick. So we were all set up when we arrived in Wellington and dropped off our van at the rental place.
Now the process of getting to our new home was not nearly as painless as I had hoped I had planned (let’s just say navigation is just not my strong suit) but when we arrived, frozen and weary we were welcomed so warmly by a wonderful family. That night we shared a beautiful home cooked meal with our hosts and a few other surfers from France and Latvia. We all happily helped with the preparation and clean-up and every one of us brought something to contribute to the meal. After we played ‘Cards Against Humanity’ and let me tell you there is no cultural icebreaker like trying to explain and translate “Stephen Hawking Talking Dirty”.
Our hosts were busy young working parents with two children under the age of four and I was intrigued that they had hosted HUNDREDS of surfers over the years. She explained to me how she had explored much of Europe through couchsurfing and how they loved having new faces in the home since they weren’t able to get out much and how they thought it was good for the kids. And it was seriously remarkable how fearless and sweetly curious the children were with the strangers in their home. The eldest was nearly fluent in German thanks in part to the surfers who had stayed there!
Why We Now Love It
Couchsurfing in Fiji
In our travels I’ve often found myself immensely frustrated by the seemingly inescapable commercialization of travel & tourism. But couchsurfing has helped me to recapture one of the most beautiful aspects of travel for me and that’s in the human connection. The recognition of our shared joys and struggles and that kindness and generosity and characterize the vast majority of the world.
Since Wellington, we’ve couchsurfed in four different countries, made incredible new friends and had some unforgettable experiences. One of my favourite things about couchsurfing is the way it blows your mind open to alternative ways of thinking and living. I feel truly privileged to have met the people we have.
Couchsurfing in Vanuatu
We’ve seen penguins in Melbourne, slathered on mud in Fiji, learned to make handwoven palm leaf mats in Vanuatu, eaten a few delicious meals comprised of the ‘spoils’ of dumpster diving, listened to arguments through walls and prepared countless Canadian meals (stirfry anyone? sorry maple syrup is a little tough to come by in this part of the world). We’ve had people entrust us with keys to their car & home, look after their children and even attended a wake celebration.
It ain’t always pretty or luxurious but it’s the way people live, and you really can’t beat it when it comes to having an authentic local experience, generous cultural exchange and realizing how similar our joys and struggles as humans are. To have perfect strangers open up their private sanctuaries to you is an overwhelmingly heart-warming and inspiring experience you just can’t help but gush about.
So there you go, another tool in your arsenal for making long-term travel a reality!
Want to give it a try? Sign up for free here – Couchsurfing.com
Alyse & Ross
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