04 Jul CouchSurfing
So I guess sometimes I just write shit and don’t really explain it. It is part of my whole Zen thing. Letting people interpret ramblings as they may. But regardless, some rambles deserve more detail than a head nod (especially ones that have increased the quality of my life so much), as such, for those who do not know what CouchSurfing is, have never done it, or find it completely creepy – let me drop some Buddha like insight on the subject. And by Buddha, I mean beer bellied, unemployed guy who babbles.
CouchSurfing.org is a website that is basically a social network specifically aimed at connecting people around the world who are interested in travel and cultural exchange. It doesn’t cost anything and you can be committed or as uncommitted as you want – kind of like the perfect relationship. You sign up and set up a profile similar to other sites like Facebook.com, Badoo.com, Match.com etc., where you have friends, connections and pictures, except CouchSurfing is travel oriented and relies on a system of people leaving references for other people. These references make CouchSurfing a bit different than other social networks by trying to create a system of credibility. This reference system essentially enables people who look at your profile to get a brief look at your character based on what others have said about you to decide if you are a trustworthy, denizen of society or a total scumbag.
“Turner is a fun loving, party animal who likes to dance in short shorts to 80s rock n roll. He stayed with us and cooked us delicious, toast in the mornings and enchanted us with his knowledge of collectible porcelain cats. Don’t hesitate to host him.”
Now you are probably thinking – well that is great Turner, but why do I care what other people are saying [a reference] about Turner on his profile? Good question – you care because you are potentially going to meet me for drinks, a tour of the city which I am located in, or even stay at my house when you are visiting. On CouchSurfing you search for people based on location and certain parameters. So let’s say you were going to go Berlin next week for a business conference but don’t want to hang out with all the other dentists attending your conference and talk about gingivitis the whole time – so you go to Couchsurfing.org and search for people in Berlin who are available to meet for coffee or drinks. You check out their profile and see if they sound like someone you would want to be friends with (or at least interesting enough to share a drink) and if so, you can send them a message to see if they are available to meet up to talk about mutual interests (e.g. porcelain cat collecting), travel (e.g. best places to see in Europe), culture (e.g. how Australians can eat vegemite), etc. and so forth.
The Real Magic
Now if you are more on the adventurous side, you can also search for people who can host you at their home. This can really vary – from apartments to villas to mattresses in a hallway. I have stayed in places ranging from an old couch in a college dorm during Oktoberfest in Germany, to staying in a two-story Penthouse apartment of a diplomat in Estonia to staying in an old Soviet apartment with a family in Moldova – where the parents spoke no English. The accommodation situation can really be anything, but the experience of connecting with locals when travelling instead of staying in isolated hotels or youth hostels full of drunken degenerates (ie – me 30% of the time) – really can turn an interesting vacation into the experience of a lifetime. Often you will get to hang out with your host’s friends, attend local social events you probably never would have experienced, or connect with a person from a different culture (and not order them from a catalog).
Why do people host foreigners or choose stay with total strangers? Well as stated, it is a good way to connect with locals and have a richer travel experience. It doesn’t cost anything and can save you money when traveling. But one of the main reasons people do it is to “pay it forward” and help others along the way – and those karma bucks can come in handy when you a dirty, scoundrel most of the time.