I have realised that my idea of travelling isn’t one that has me visit the most popular tourist sights in a whirlwind tour of a city or town where I leave with a surface deep knowledge, appreciation and memory of that city. What I have realised over the last few months is that I am happiest travelling when I am meeting people, local
people and learning about their city through their eyes. I am happiest when I am getting lost in a small, underrated part of a city that has bigger and more well-known attractions to offer.
So when I set off on my journey I went with the intention of using the couch surfing website in order to see a different side of the places I wanted visit. Upon telling others of my plan I was faced with a varied array of responses. Some were positive like “wow that’s such a great idea, I wish I could do that” some were non-committal like “hmm that’s kind of cool” and some were shocked and discouraging like the customs officer in San Francisco airport who interrogated me on whether I had in fact thought about what is going to happen when I wake up in the morning in a bath full of blood stained ice missing my vital organs and feeling pretty stupid.
Well, although I was faced with that particular response a moment before I was to meet my first couch surfing host, I decided to go with my loud and confident gut instinct that said, “hey you never know until you try!” Of course I can understand the hesitation and the scepticism over a website that brings strangers together in the confines of their homes that are usually not privy to the safe and watchful eye of the public like when you arrange to meet someone at a café or bar, but I like to think that a project such as Couch Surfing tends to attract like minded people. I like to think that everyone uses the website for the same reasons that I do, to meet, to learn and to help others on their quest to see the world and expand their minds. Unfortunately, of course, like anything conducted via that seemingly limitless World Wide Web that we love to hate, there are going to be people who are not of like mind (or sound mind!) and who abuse the project.
It is unfortunate also that the consequence of travelling alone as a young woman is that I put myself in a targeted position of vulnerability no matter how much I feel that I’m channelling Beyonce on the inside. Of course men also face certain risks when travelling but for women it is just a whole different world. I feel I have to be extremely judgemental about who I talk to or agree to meet with on Couch Surfing. Do they show themselves half-naked in any of their profile pictures? Do they have any strange comments on their profile? Do they look like they think they are gods gift to women? Do they use xos and winky faces when commenting about women they have couch surfed with? Do they offer to share their bed with me? What age are they? And lastly, do they have a creepy “I’m going to knock you unconscious, tie you up and hide you in my secret basement” kind of face? These are all very important questions I ask myself when agreeing to surf someone’s couch.
Being a young woman on one of these sites I have had many propositions from various men asking me if I want to stay with them where they will take me here and there and buy me this and that and if I want I don’t even have to wear clothes. Most of these men are old enough to be my father. And in response, I politely decline, “No thank you kind sir, I don’t quite feel like being an unsolved murder mystery today”. I have even had one young man try to come on to me within five minutes of meeting (literally five minutes!) I was meant to couch surf with him and he agreed to meet me at the train station near his house, which to my surprise meant somehow to him that we were on a date. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t there to sleep in his bed and he couldn’t get his head around the fact that I wasn’t interested in him! Needless to stay I checked myself in to a hostel that night.
Despite a few strange incidences, for the most part my Couch Surfing experiences have been above and beyond amazing. The people I have met have taught me so much and have shown me that there are many truly genuine people out there, no matter where you place yourself. It’s just a matter of being aware, being smart and trusting your instincts. The majority of people on the site are genuine couch surfers through and through and want nothing more than to learn and share their travel experiences. So I have compiled a list of tips for new comers to the site, I highly recommend using it on your travels even just to meet for a coffee with someone, it’s a project that opens up so many doors and brings new ideas, people and experiences in to your life.
1. Start off by just using the site to meet other travellers, sign up, create a profile and start meeting! I love using the site this way, as especially when you are traveling alone, it’s so nice to meet someone for a coffee or to see some of the sights together. I have made many great friends this way.
2. Don’t stay with someone unless they are a person you would stay with at home. For me I wouldn’t stay with an unknown 45 year old man who lives on his own in my own country so I wont do it half way across the world. I’m sure lots of these men are lovely, normal people but you have to look out for yourself!
3. If their profile pictures are all of them posing topless and doing a muscle man photo shoot, they are probably using Couch Surfing as a dating site. If that’s what you’re in to, go for it, if not, next profile!
4. If they write, “clothing optional” on their profile, probably not a good choice.
5. If they write, “shared sleeping surface” or “can sleep up to four people in my bed” again, probably not a good choice.
6. It’s best to look for families or couples; I find it feels a little safer; I also try to stay with women if possible.
7. If they offer a room to yourself and not just a couch they are probably true surfers! After all, if they have a spare room they have the option of renting it to you but they are offering it for free, I think these people tend to be genuinely interested in cultural exchange.
8. Go to a couch surfing meeting! They happen in cities and towns everywhere, usually once or twice a week at the same place and it’s a great place to meet new people, people who you may want to stay with later on. It feels a bit more comfortable if you have met the person already. And there are usually so many people there; you are bound to make new friends.
Overall I always recommend Couch Surfing to others as something they should look in to when travelling. I have had many unforgettable experiences and I have made so many new friends, I have also met some people I don’t wish to meet again but that is the beauty of Couch Surfing. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. So go dip your toes in the water and start surfing! ¡viva new stories from the couch!
*Photos below of my Couch Surfing experiences
Couch surfing shared dinner
Showing off the kiwi pav
Shared CS dinner
Dinner with friends
New foods to try.
Making pesto with CS in Italy
Pizza share with CS family
New friends in Spain.
CS cooking event
Couch Surfing Desserts