Since I started traveling alone, couchsurfing has been my best discovery. Not only does it save a ton of money and allow me to travel more, it also has enabled me to meet some of the most sincere people in my life. That said, for every ten amazing hosts I’ve surfed with, there’s one weirdo. I’d count myself very lucky as I haven’t met with any danger, but well, that’s the sharing economy for you.
- The obvious cost savings. When in Europe, the average hostel dorm bed costs 10 euros. 10 euros saved can make a huge difference, especially in the cheaper Eastern European cities where 10 euros is usually more than what I spend in a day lol. And I usually don’t just get a bed, sometimes, its a whole room, sometimes, its a couch in a very nice room. But basically, it’s a space in a quiet house, with a local, and I really appreciate that I get a really good night’s sleep. Some hosts have even offered me their whole apartment when they are traveling. You definitely see the best of people through couchsurfing. Besides accommodation, hosts often hang out with me if they are free. And they know the cheap and local spots for good food.
- The people. I can’t choose a favourite couchsurfing experience, because most are really uniquely memorable. There was Gabriele in Cagliari, picking me up from the airport and spending an entire 4 days with me, partying with me til 8am and introducing me to his friends. There was Ismael in Valencia, who happily suffered a parking ticket to bring me to collect my marathon stuff, drive me to the marathon start line at 7am on a Sunday and brought me on a beer/tapas whirlwind night. There was Javier in Zaragoza, who was adamant in making me try as many tapas at 100 Montaditos, and hung out with me til 2am walking around town talking about deep life issues. There was David in Porto, who fell in love with me and created some crazy memories of hanky panky in a park, who almost made me miss my flight because we were so engrossed with each other, and got me into a taxi to catch my plane 10 minutes before it took off. There was Cetin in Adiyaman, my favourite city in Turkey. I stayed with his family for over 2 weeks after my phone got stolen, and we made out at the top of the Karapinar mountain, with a shooting star in the background. We went on a road trip to Urfa, on a school trip to Ankara, and hung out at his favourite cafe Bahcesaray everyday, playing backgammon and smoking shisha til my lungs hurt. I attended his students’ high school graduation party and brought his mum to hospital with him, visited his family farm 15 min out of town, and stayed up til 5am to mark exam scripts with him. There was Reza in Tehran, who helped me get my Iranian visa despite not having health insurance, who brought me to the top of a mountain one night, and always welcomed me with awesome food. There was Lazar in Belgrade, who despite being a poor student, treated me to the most delicious and huge 2.50 euro burger, who woke up early at 6 am to let me in and chatted with me for hours before he went back to bed. There was Arise in Hualien, a student who was working two part time jobs but still managed to find time to host me and bring me to a night market where we ate like crazy people. The list is endless, but after couchsurfing, the pretty sights and touristic spots really become secondary. This is what makes me feel so alive, to be part of the life of someone in another part of the world for a few days.
- The cooking. I always try to cook for my hosts, as I feel its the best way for me to reciprocate their kindness. Since I can’t cook at home in Singapore, it’s really a treat for me to indulge in my hobbies. I can get creative and make a great meal out of whatever they have in their kitchens. And to see their look of delight when the meal is served, I feel like I should be thankful that they let me cook.
- The other surfers who I bump into. Sometimes, my hosts have more than just me staying at their place, and when that happens, it’s usually great fun. I get to meet fellow travelers who might become travel buddies for the next leg of my trip, or we just have a good time sharing stories since there is a high chance that we all love to travel. There were the two Iraqi photographers at Kashan, who were cold at first but we warmed up to each other really nicely over the few days we spent together. I never had to feel self conscious of taking so many photos as they took as many, or even more than I did lol. And middle easterners are really the most friendly people I’ve met. The two of them made sure I was fine on the bus to Isfahan, and we still keep in contact nowadays. There was Ivo and Viktor in Isfahan, the two characters who made my Iran trip one of my favourites. Ivo, a Dutch whom I met at a party at my host’s friend’s house, first struck me as rather cute. We talked about life, our goals, and bonded over shisha. I teased him for being short for a Dutch, he teased me for being short. The sexual tension between us was impalpable, but that night, on a persian carpet, he gave me the best I ever experienced. He was so relaxed, so chill and that was probably why it was so good. I was so glad to meet up with him again in Shirax for a few days, and would do anything to see him again. Viktor, a Ukranian who was traveling the world on 1000euros for a year, was my inspiration. We had great conversations about stuff I can’t even remember about now, but for someone younger than me, we clicked on all levels and he gave me the “nothing is impossible” feeling everytime he told me about his hitch hiking and stay-for-free adventures.
- Nothing brings out sexism more than couchsurfing. I admit, as an Asian girl, I find hosts alot more easily than any guy would. While that is to my advantage, and I sometimes play it up, it is a sad reminder of this very backward mindset that still exists in our modern times. Of course, there is this notion that girls who couchsurf with men are asking for sex. Well, I won’t deny that that happened a few times, but it was always mutual. There is nothing wrong for a single girl wanting to have sex if she wants to, so to all those judging, you can say what you want. All I know is I had extremely good memories, and would do them (pun intended) all over again if I could.
- The pushy guys. Some hosts don’t know when to stop when it comes to sex. It was just twice for me, in Turkey. I had to kiss a host to get his wifi password even though I didn’t want to, in order to leave and avoid having sex with him. You can say I was asking for it, and I agree that couchsurfing is dangerous in this sense. To say that I am sure I’ll be able to get out of the situation unharmed is untrue, but that’s just me. I believe I take calculated risks, staying only with hosts who have a significant number of good references. But sometimes, shit happens.
- The goodbyes. After having to say goodbye to my hosts so many times, I’d have thought that it would get easier. But it never does, especially when I know that we will probably never see each other again, although we say we will try. One of the slogans for couchsurfing is “there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet”, or something along those lines. I can’t agree more, and when you spend 24 hours together for a few days, it’s hard to accept that you will never see these friends again, that you have to be content with the deep but transient relationships you’ve formed with these people. Immer weiter would be appropriate here, I guess.