What is couchsurfing, you might ask? It is when someone who doesn’t usually live with you sleeps on your couch, usually for free. This can be formalised, using a website where you can arrange to surf the couches of people in other cities and countries, for free: www.couchsurfing.com. The idea of this usually freaks people out, at first. What if the surfer or host is a psycho? What if they steal your stuff? There is a reference system, whereby people can say if a surfer or host is good or not. It’s not fool-proof but it helps. There is also the argument that a person is not going to travel halfway around the world to steal your TV. The thing that really keeps people safe is that most people in the world are not bad people! I think we forget that, after being bombarded with constant media scaremongering.
Anyway, I have hosted something like 900 surfers (I don’t count), and I’m not dead yet. I’ve lost some small stuff, but I don’t know if that’s carelessness, surfers, flatmates, drinking buddies or the cat. There are occasional surfers who don’t fit in so well, but they’re gone usually within 4 days, and the next awesome surfer helps you forget. I have never left a negative reference.
But this story is not about the dud surfers – it’s about the awesome ones. The ones that have changed my life, and the way I think about things, and given me memories and stories that will last a lifetime, even though I commonly forget their names and faces as soon as they leave the house 🙂
Couchsurfing is almost impossible to fail. To do couchsurfing, you have to be:
- Honest, else you will get a negative reference for stealing, and no longer be part of the community
- Brave – more so for surfers, who approach a stranger and ask for a couch, then come into my territory, where I have all the benefits of familiarity, assets and support structures (and, in my house, actual weapons and combat training) and trust that I’m not going to use it against them
- Generous – more so for hosts, as there are always some small costs of utilities and consumables like toilet paper. We don’t have to feed the surfers, but sometimes we will share anyway. Surfers are expected to share some time with their hosts, and though they don’t have to they will commonly enough cook meals to share or leave small gifts or help around the house
- Social – you have to be, to want to share time and stories together, to get to know each other and enjoy the variety of people you will meet.
And when you have all these excellent qualities of humanity, and add to that the excitement of meeting a new person, where you put on your best face (this is not a manipulation, it’s just how people are – we want people to like us) and share the things and people you love, you get to experience humanity at it’s best so often you don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet another.
Back in Jan 2008 I was rather detached from my world. I had just had to move from my apartment, my long term relationship was on it’s last legs, my kids were in their teens, gaining their independence of me, I had lost my passion for medieval re-enactment and was only just starting in circus, and my job was boring. I realised I could drop it all and travel. Thinking that I would never be rich, I thought I’d aim for a point somewhere around Turkey and walk out in a spiral, sleeping under bridges, since 20 year olds can do it, and I’m tougher than that. That’s when I remembered seeing something about couchsurfing, and I looked up the website. I was instantly hooked – what an amazing and perfect way to travel! I asked the Ruski if we could host, and he accepted (I don’t think he even checked anything I sent him). We both still remember our first surfer: a professional beat-boxer from California, who did a private performance for us and our friends in my living room. He’s still in touch, when he comes to NZ. We have hosted ever since.
Couchsurfers saved me. When I finally told the boyfriend to move all his stuff out they gave me the distraction and reason I needed to not become distressed or lonely. I moved on quickly with my multiple instant interesting light friends. They are mostly light, unless they stick around for a while (some have, and become closer friends), but that’s OK. It’s nice to see a friendly face at such times. I know there are many people in the world who couchsurf so they have company and companionship. Everyone wins.
I have so many stories involving couchsurfers! I’ll follow up this intro blog with philosophy, funnies, ideas and inspirations all of the category “things I have learnt from couchsurfers”.
Have a look at this related post https://anacrusisblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/life-is-a-journey-not-a-competition/ – I got my appreciation for the difference between travellers and tourists from couchsurfers. Some come tearing into a country with 2-3 weeks to tick off a list of must sees and must dos, stay in hostels or hotels with people who speak the same language as themselves, jump on a bus with a bunch of other tourists, spend the time with a camera in front of their face separate and protected from the threats and challenges of unfamiliarity and uncertainty. My parents travel like this. My Dad doesn’t like Russia because his pocket was picked in St Petersburg.
Some enter a country with the idea of meeting the people who live there, staying for an extended time and commonly getting a job and homebase to explore from so they can really get an appreciation for what it is like to be a part of this community. They deliberately put themselves into situations where they are not in full control, and do not have familiarity, taking side trips following promising signs, staying or travelling with people of different cultures and languages, trying things (activities, foods, challenges) that have not previously been vetted by a professional guide. They may see the tourist spots, but they commonly find the best moments are when they let the locals share what they like about their home. These are travellers, and they understand the journey is about quality, not quantity. I have met some amazing travellers through couchsurfing.