Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Couchsurfing is a website where generous people offer their couches for travelers to stay on. In exchange, ideally, these same travelers would offer their couch for other travelers when they are not traveling. In other words, it is a network of people willing to share their couches with people who do not live in the same city.

To me, it is a fantastic idea, one that merges cultures while saving the traveler money. I personally think the world is too big and too fascinating to not be traveled, and everyone, everywhere, no matter their race or religion should be given this opportunity. Money is something that can stand in the way, but not having to pay for accommodation helps. Additionally, you can learn a lot more from someone who lives in the city than from other travelers at a hostel.

I have personally participated in couchsurfing 3 times, but do not use it to its full benefits and advantages.

The first time I took part in it was in May of 2010. I was going to a friend’s wedding in the New York City area and wanted to save a little money on accommodation. I feel slightly guilty as I was really just looking for a place to stay, which isn't what couchsurfing is all about. I already had friends staying in New York, so didn't need my host to show me around or spend time with me. He of course, was more than welcome, minus the wedding.

The way it worked was I just searched through profiles of people living in and around New York City. People describe themselves on their profiles, as well as their experiences couchsurfing, what their couch (or spare room, or mattress) is like and anything else that may be relevant to making a stranger feel welcome and safe in this person’s home. There are also references from other people so you can have an idea of what an experience with them might be like.

As I mentioned, NYC was my first experience with this website. That means, all of my references were just friends I had made while traveling, not through couchsurfing. That probably means they aren't as credible, which may make it more difficult to find someone willing to allow you to stay. I sent out many requests and it seemed like a hopeless cause until someone finally told me they could probably host me but they were really busy and likely couldn't show me around. That was fine, as I already knew people who would be there. I did invite my host to the Yankee game I secured tickets to, but he kindly refused (not a baseball fan and incredibly busy).

The experience had me sleeping in my sleeping bag on the floor, but it was overall a good first experience. It wasn't too awkward and it didn't sour me from the site.

In January and February of 2012 I revisited the idea of couchsurfing traveling, this time with no friends in the countries I was heading to and a desire to experience a bit of culture. Having a specific plan of what I wanted to do helped me. My reason for visiting was to see hockey (as you have already read about in a couple previous posts). So when I searched for couches I searched for someone who mentioned hockey in their profiles.

I didn't end up finding exactly what I was looking for in Prague, but I did find a very gracious set of hosts who went above and beyond what they could to make my stay comfortable. Two of them were from the USA and the third was from Ireland. They were all teaching ESL at a university. I didn't get to share or understand the Czech culture as much as with a Czech host, but it was nice to be able to relate with people who have experience in a city but also are familiar with your culture. The three girls slept in a large room while I slept in the living room on their couch. It was pretty comfy. When I first arrived they all made me feel like I had known them for years. Nothing felt awkward despite the setting of sharing a home with a complete stranger.

One of them misinformed me about the game times and it ended up that there was not a game in Prague during my stay. To her credit, she worked hard to make sure I got to see a game from researching what city close by there was a game being played and how to get there by bus. She made sure I was fed and helped me spend as little money in the country as I could.

Finland was probably my best experience, not to discredit the girls I stayed with in Prague or the guy in New York. It was just the one that I arranged for the best experience. I did a search for couches near the city I wanted to fly into with hockey in their profile. I finally heard back from one who was a student and enjoyed his hockey. In fact, he had tickets already to a game in Helsinki. Plus, he was Finnish so I was able to get more of a culture experience as well.

This also was not awkward in the slightest. My host was able to pick me up at the airport and he gave up his bed for me to sleep in while he slept on the floor in his living room. He let me hang out in his apartment while he went to class and we talked a lot about our shared interest of hockey. He brought me along when he went out with friends and we saw a couple of hockey games. He was also able to explain to me different rivalries and compare some of the Finnish rules to the NHL ones I am so used to.

How could I fully use couchsurfing to my benefit? Well, I could try hosting people. I find myself too busy with the teaching to actually do that. When I am not busy, I am traveling myself. I could also participate in group events. I am a member of the Kuwait group and they do meet regularly, but I do not participate myself.