A couple of weeks back, I met a girl on the Internet. She said she was American, and was coming to visit Nairobi. We met up, had dinner and she spent the night. She left early the next morning, and I have never seen her again. I met her on Couchsurfing.
From the outside, Couchsurfing is a social website. A website designed to connect travelers with people willing to host for free and vice versa. As a host, you put up your ‘couch’ on the website, couch here loosely meaning wherever the guest will sleep, be it an actual couch, mattress, your floor, guestroom etc. You also put up a description of yourself and your preferences/rules eg no smoking in the house, your preferred gender, how many days guests can crash etc, it’s pretty detailed. As a traveller, you search for couches in your destination town, look for a profile that matches your requirements (both couch and host) and you send a message introducing yourself and asking to crash the couch in question. It’s all free.
From the inside, Couchsurfing allows you to experience the difference between tourism and travel. Couchsurfing gives you the opportunity to interact with real people in your destination. Not to sound lofty, but Couchsurfing is one way to make travel, however simple, a spiritual exercise. Granted, sometimes meeting someone on the Internet sets expectations that aren’t met, but it’s part of the fun. Hotels and hostels are the same everywhere, only differing in standards, but people everywhere are not the same, and that’s exciting.
These past 3 months back home in Nairobi, I travelled via Couchsurfing. From my guests (I didn’t at first make it completely clear to my parents that these were strangers from the Internet) I got to see Ethiopia and the Oromo from a girl that spent weeks with them in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I got to see how you can get robbed in Berlin yet sleep at the Kenya Railways Museum completely untouched or bothered. I heard about hilarious ‘NGO’ workers in Israel who spend their time growing and smoking marijuana. I also heard how easily you can fake flight documents in order to get a much needed VISA. I travelled yet I was always home.
As a kind of safety feature, it’s custom on Couchsurfing to leave a reference after your experience with a guest/host. This reference can be seen by everyone, since no profile is closed within the website (unless you choose to which then makes it hard for you to find a host/guest). Very rarely, you will find some negative references. Usually they are extremely funny, you’ll see things like ‘he brought a stranger to my house and had sex on the kitchen floor’. Most though are mild, like ‘this person is dirty’. There are strict rules against unwanted hitting on members, but you know guys, it sometimes happens. Among the few complaints, I am yet to see a guy complaining that a girl host/guest hit on him 🙂
Anyway, a few hours back, I got a call that I might be traveling on Sunday. I look forward to the adventure of meeting kind strangers and trusting humanity the way you do in new environs.
If I don’t travel on Sunday for whatever reason, well at least I have this to remind me of my high right now.
Ps, my travel philosophy is currently heavily influenced by tomsbiketrip.com