I first learned about couch surfing from friends while I was in high school. At the time the concept seemed truly bizarre and a little scary. It wasn’t until I was sitting down and planning my own backpacking adventure through Asia that the idea surfaced in my life again. I must also stress how attractive the prospect suddenly becomes when you cost out accommodation for some of the more expensive countries, in my case that was Japan.
Today we are 2 weeks short of the anniversary the start of that trip and I have experienced both sides of the couch conversation for myself; and this is what I want to share with you today.
What is it really?
Short answer – for the couch surfer it is (1) free accommodation and the value of a (2) friendly local face who you can query about the area you are visiting. For the host it becomes (1) an avenue to channel the goodwill and wish to give back to the broader traveling community as well as (2) a way to make new connections and friends while staying in one place.
Long answer – Couch surfing is one facet of the global traveling community, which functions because of a shared compassion and love of traveling. It brings those who are mobile together with those currently stationary and allows the ongoing connection creation and sharing from around the world.
I’m not letting a stranger into my house!
While I will admit that you won’t know this person before you meet really, here are two points you should think about:
Firstly, the platform incorporates profiles and reviews, which allows you to not only learn a bit about the other person but also gives a glimpse into their time with other hosts/surfers. This means you can get an outline of the person you will meet, as well as potential things you have in common. Reviews also function well when you want to take some feedback on how you are as a host or surfer.
The second point, and I cannot stress this enough, is the value of connecting with a local face when you travel or a foreign face when you can’t travel. Traveling revolves around people and places, and one big part of is (hint, it’s the people part) is fundamentally about meeting faces you don’t know. Couch surfing delivers on this with the added bonus of a structured way of meeting and the benefits I put out above.
My experiences of the couch
In my backpacking trip in 2015 I was fortunate enough to couch surf in Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand. In each country, I stayed with two different hosts or more, and without exception every single set of memories made are solid gold in my travel journal. From staying with a single mom and volunteering at her son’s school for a day (Taiwanese 6 year olds are to die for cute ^^), to meeting a love interest that carried on past the trip, to being given space to catch my travel-breath and just park on the couch watching Gotham episodes for a day – not a single host left me regretting my time with them.
I enjoyed it so much, that upon my return to South Africa I made sure to put up my profile as a host as well. In the past 8 months I’ve hosted travelers from Bulgaria, France, New Zealand, South Africa and more. But, in this area I must admit there are some lessons to learn. As a host the game was a bit different and you may see a few tips come in handy:
- Single travelers tend to require more attention and energy.
- Some extra ingredients on the first night helps, as some guests arrive too late to get their own food – But these were some of my best dishes cooked it turned out.
- As you are inviting others into your personal space (unless your place is quite big), you will need to be a bit more comfortable with others around in your normal quiet times.
So what is my point
Looking back there is a counter intuitive insight into how couch surfing has impacted my life. Although the initial benefit of local contacts and cost savings drew me to the community, it has in fact been the hosting experiences that have been most valuable in my life. Returning to working life after my travels was hard, being stationary and feeling trapped played on my mind a lot. Couch surfing brought me relief from this, it allowed me to experience South Africa in small bits through others’ eyes and broke the clouds of despair that sometimes started gathering in my heart.
There is a lot of power and benefit in doing well for others, perhaps the biggest part of which is what it does for you when you are able to provide something of value to another.
This month I will move to Singapore and I am trying hard to secure an affordable apartment that allows me to have my orange couch (see picture in my Why I like moving post) with me. So if you are ever in Singapore and require a host, I hope you may find me on the application/website under Orange Couch ZA 😉
This is part of my A to Z Challenge 2016, click the button at the bottom of the site for more information if you like.