“Life only begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?” That’s usually the first reaction I get when others ask me about it.
For those who are unfamiliar, couchsurfing typically involves two parties – a willing host with a spare couch or bed, and a guest (a.k.a surfer) who doesn’t mind sleeping at a stranger’s place.
The process is fairly simple, find a host through popular sites like Couchsurfing.org or BeWelcome.org, make contact, and if the stars seem to align, stay over. Of course in reality you’ll end up reading tons of profiles, analyse the safety and suitability of your host/guest, before crossing your toes hoping nothing goes wrong. But get it right and you get a lot more than just free accommodation; you’ll discover a whole new way of traveling and maybe some lifelong friends.
Although I’ve only surfed on a couple of occasions and have yet to host anyone other than really close friends, I dare say that it is safe (edit: maybe I’ll do a post on things to look out for) and that I’ve had tons of great experiences. Here are some of them:
Experienced real local, Felix – Berlin, Germany
The best thing about couchsurfing is that other than the usual tourist must-dos, you get to experience living like a local.
I will always remember this incident when a friend of my host suddenly came up to us while we were in a club and said, “guys we got to go, trust me.” I thought we were in trouble but turns out that he found a random ‘unofficial’ party at the nearby metro. Makeshift DJ table, portable sound system, convenience store booze and all.
Those 2hrs were the perfect end to one of my favourite cities in Europe.
Met interesting people, Oliver – Shanghai, China
Meet Oliver, his girlfriend Mariya (now wife), and their cat Napolean. He is French and does awesome work as a freelance designer.
It was my very first couchsurfing experience and couldn’t have asked for a better host to ease me into the way of things. Back then I was still trying to keep up with the obligatory crazy touristic schedule and oddly enough, it was his homemade chinese dumplings that made me realize that I should probably slow down.
The family portrait probably sums it up in an Adam’s family kind of way – different, dysfunctional, yet heartwarming.
Rediscovered my home (Singapore), Begzsuran – Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
I stayed with Begz’s family in their traditional Mongolian ger located in one of the suburbs some 3yrs ago. Other than their warm hospitality, what struck me then was their curiosity. Every night without fail, they would catch me off guard by bombarding me with questions about Singapore over dinner.
They got me questioning how much I knew about my own country. And this ignited the desire to rediscover Singapore again after coming home.
And if you are lucky enough to host someone next time, I’m sure you’ll be ‘forced’ to learn more about your own country. ( :
Believed in humanity, Dmitry – Vladivostok, Russia
In a land where language was a big issue, the train departed early with all my belongings just as I returned from 打包-ing (trans: buying takeaway) dinner.
I remember running along the tracks, jumping onto an open cabin, and having a minor scuffle with the train conductor before being pushed off the train. Screwed with no money.
Thanks to the random stranger who paid for half my new ticket, and the hot water boiler on the train that curbed my hunger pangs, I finally arrived at Vladivostok.
My host Dmitry was really awesome. He went out of his way to help me, driving to the different train depots to search for my stuff. Thanks to him, I got everything back (less a lighter), discovered an old famous lighthouse, and believed in humanity again.