We’ve just hosted our first Couch Surfer!
We’ve just opened our door to a random stranger we met on the internet and invited her to sleep on our couch.
I know, I know…How dare we????? What if she was an axe murderer, or worse, a vegetable eater You never know what kind of people are out there, after all.
It was not luck that Paris and Iris (our couch surfing guests) are bubbly, chatty and painfully nice. We actually know a lot about them prior to their arrival. We know that Paris interviewed Wong Lee Hom when she was 22 (BIG consideration in taking her as our guest) and that she lied to her mum and went traveling at the tender age of 19 (our kind of girl).
CouchSurfing.com is the website for a travel community that has been around for some time. At its essence, CouchSurfing links travelers up to locals in the countries they are visiting – Locals who are willing and able to provide said travelers with a couch (and in some cases a bed or a room) to sleep on. These travelers are then encouraged (not mandated) to “Pay it Forward” and host other travelers when they get back to their home countries. Over the years, CouchSurfing evolved to include other activities such as meet ups for meals and beers, and even launching of expeditions.
So, while at its core, CouchSurfing is a portal for people looking for a free place to crash in a foreign land, it is actually a fantastic medium for people who share a common interest in travel “off the beaten path” to link up and meet. Anyone who would sign up with CouchSurfing are probably already those that have a desire to interact and exchange with people from different backgrounds. I cannot imagine any traveler, no matter how poor would put up with staying in the home of someone they do not want to meet after a hard day’s travel.
And to address the safety issue, all members are required to fill in a VERY detailed personal profile before they are allowed to participate in the activities within the community. The personal profiles on CouchSurfing are intentionally detailed, and designed to provide a good sense of a member’s personality. Apart from this, anyone who lied in their profile could be caught out by references that they have from other members who had interacted with them before – sort of like a brutally honest version of “testimonials” from Friendster (think “stinky feet” and “loud snores”)
This time round, although Jo and I didn’t get to spend much time together with Paris and Iris, we found that we had quite a lot in common. We had our fair share of those “Same Same but Different” moments. Most importantly, we got to talk to them about Chengdu where we are bound for next. They were in Chengdu two years back and were able to clue us in to lots of hidden “wonders” in Chengdu and made some recommendations that were not in our Lonely Planet guidebooks.
All along, Jo and I have a preference of staying in hostels, as opposed to hotels when we travel. Beside the differential in price between the two, we feel… Starbucks-ed in hotels. Most international hotel chains spend so much time, money and effort to standardize their services that you do not really feel like you’re in a foreign land at all. It’s a very sanitized way of traveling, and to me, it feels like it defeats the purpose of traveling. Hostels have a more personal element to them. In hostels, we have a higher chance of interacting with other tourists and even local hostel owners who are, more often than not, more personable and “earthier” than hotel staff. CouchSurfing brings this experience to a higher level because it allows us to literally live, eat and shit with the locals. The converse is true when we are hosting. It is an intimate experience and really does a lot to foster understanding across cultures.
Lifted straight from the CouchSurfing website:
“CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding. The idea being that if you stay with a local, you’ll connect more authentically and gain a better understanding of the culture and have a more enriched experience.”
And their Mission Statement is to create:
“A world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter.”
I couldn’t have said it better.