Let me start at the very beginning. So, how did I actually come to be couchsurfer? Well, I’ve always had an adventurous streak and I’ve always loved to travel. Those who know me often say I have a case of compulsive wanderlust.
It is this desire to gravitate towards the unknown and steer away from the dreary mundane that shaped me into an inveterate globetrotter.
It was on one such spontaneous expedition that I first came across the travel phenomena of ‘Couch Surfing’. I was in Iceland in 2015, looking for alternate accommodation as most hotels were fully booked and the ones that remained were rather expensive. It was during this search that I came across the CouchSurfing app. It was quite a revelation. I found details of a person living in Reykjavik; we connected and clicked instantly through our love for travel and adventure. And soon, I had made a lifelong friend. A connection that was initiated out of the necessity of finding lodging had turned into a genuine, real friendship.
Couchsurfing is a global community of travellers and hosts. It is a hospitality exchange service where you can become a member and post your 'couch' (any place in your hosuse, really) as a place for people to stay at. Or your can look for similar 'couches' in other countries/cities. You can access it via an app or the website.
"The way Couchsurfing connects to a traveler's soul is really sensational. It contributes invaluably to make the world smaller, connected and beautiful by bringing people together. In India, we are purely in love with Couchsurfing unconditionally." pic.twitter.com/ie800GTd1d— Couchsurfing (@Couchsurfing) May 17, 2021
I had a wonderful Couchsurfing experience in Costa Rica. Known to be one of the happiest countries in the world, Costa Rica is truly a wanderer’s paradise.
Before my visit to Costa Rica, I had put up a post on San Jose’s Couchsurfing page that I would be visiting Costa Rica and would love to stay with someone. I got many requests from people who were willing to host me but I decided to stay with Kathy. I really liked her profile and we shared many similar interests. She mentioned that she had holidays and that she could show me around the country and that was a big plus. Kathy was 28 and worked for a sports agency company. Interestingly she was also a big fan of football and we both supported the same club.
We spoke a lot before I arrived and we instantly connected well when we met and it felt like I have known her for long. On the first day itself she showed me around the city and took me to her favourite restaurant. She was living with her family and they were very welcoming. Her mom made some delicious gallo pinto and they made sure that I felt at home. I got to learn a lot about Costa Rica from them and also got an insight on how the day to day life looks like for the local people.
After we left San Jose, we visited national parks, enjoyed cultural festivals and interacted with locals. In fact, I barely spent anything on the entire trip! My friend introduced me to her friends and we all went on a camping trip. We visited offbeat destinations and hidden treasures that I would have never got a chance to see as a tourist. It was truly an once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. On this trip, I made several friends, from diverse economic, social and cultural backgrounds.
My trip to Costa Rica taught me an important life lesson - happiness is not something you can buy. You don’t need to have the most expensive things to be happy; rather happiness can be found in life’s simplest pleasures. After meeting so many incredible people, I now understand why Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries in the world. I truly hope to visit this country and the friends I made here soon again.
Surprisingly, Couchsurfing has been useful even in the remotest of places. I was travelling to Afghanistan from Tajikistan, in a region where you must be accompanied by a local guide. You are not allowed to travel in that region of the country without a guide.
From Tajikistan, it was difficult to arrange for a guide in Afghanistan as it was the winter season and there are generally no tourists around that time. I was actually the first one to travel to that region in two months. I checked the Couchsuring app as a last resort and I found an account of a person that happened to live there. His name was Saidbek and he was 28 years old. He had mentioned on his profile that he was a guide and on his profile he had few reviews from people that had met him. He had also taken people for hiking around the stunning mountains in that region which unfortunately wasn’t possible then because of the winters. We exchanged a few messages and he said he was free to show me around.
Saidbek received me at the entry point into Afghanistan from Tajikistan and even assisted me with the immigration formalities. We soon began chatting and found our common love for Bollywood. Throughout my journey, we had endless discussions about Hindi films. Saidbek was always fascinated about the outside world and chose to be a guide after he finished his studies. He said since he himself couldn’t get out, he would like to get to know the world from his own village. Being a guide enabled him to meet people from all around the world. And the experiences that he shared with me were quite amazing.
I also learned about local Afghan culture from him, and discovered that Afghans are very warm folk. Although he could not host me at his house because there was no space for another person, I still had the chance to meet his father who was extremely kind and ordered some Kabuli pulao from his shop. He too was fond of Bollywood movies, and was a big Mithun Chakraborty fan.
After spending some time in the village, I had a completely different view about Afghanistan. In all my travels they were the warmest people I had met. Despite all the difficulties they were suffering from, they were happy with what they had.
Saidbek and I explored the Wakhan Valley, located in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan. It is undoubtedly one of the most pristine and naturally scenic places on earth. A two-way trip to the valley cost USD 700 in a taxi but he took me in his own car. It was during my trip to the valley that he acquainted me with the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz nomads, who have settled in this region for centuries. He introduced me to some of the nomad families, who were shepherds and lived in tents. I got an amazing opportunity to experience their simple yet unique lifestyle. As I learnt to adapt to a minimalistic lifestyle, I got a new perspective on life. I also visited other unconventional places in the country, which would not have been possible without my guide. This trip completely changed my perception of Afghanistan.
My experiences with CouchSurfing have been life-altering, to say the least. I’ve learned about diverse cultures and traditions, made local life-long friends, discovered offbeat destinations, gained perspective, appreciated the little things and even found myself along the way – all while saving money. I believe CouchSurfing is a great way rediscover ourselves. It helps us develop new skills and pick up new hobbies, as we interact and live with different people, in different cultural, social and economic settings around the world. As we meet various people, we not only learn interesting things about and from them but also uncover previously unknown facts about ourselves. CouchSurfing reveals our valued attributes that would otherwise remain hidden by the daily grind of life.
Tips on CouchSurfing
Like with all things, there’s good and there’s bad. CouchSurfing is an overall amazing experience, but some people can also have bad experiences. This is because there is a certain element of risk associated with it. Since you have never met the host before, there is a possibility he/she may not meet your expectations. There may be occasions where you may not get along you’re your host during your stay. Moreover, there is a safety factor, especially for girls, that needs to be considered.
The CouchSurfing app helps you find the right host that fits you. It shares tips, teaches you how to deal with all kinds of people and also prepares you for any untoward occasion.
Before deciding to stay with someone or to host someone, CouchSurfing recommends that you thoroughly research and read all the reviews regarding the other person. If someone does not have good credentials/reviews, it is best not to stay with them or host them.
Check the information about an individual that they have shared on their profile to get a fair idea of their personality. This can help you decide if they are a good match for you and if you can stay with them.
Although it is advisable to avoid people without references, it is also worth noting that all of us start without references. The CouchSurfing app is easily accessible on both mobile and laptop.
How to be a CouchSurfer
It’s really simple and easy. Sign up on the website. Start with writing a clear CouchSurfing request. Tell your prospective hosts when you plan to arrive, how long you plan to stay, and why you'd like to meet them.
Next, find a host with a shared interest. Read his/her profile to check reviews/ratings and then look for interests you share or skills you’d like to learn about. For a pleasant experience, think if you and your host would be a good fit and if you have common topics to talk about, stories to share or activities you could do together.
Once a host has accepted your request, communicate with him/her to figure out the logistics.
Now, feel free to get local tips from your host about any topic related to your stay; your host should be happy to help.
It's a good idea to carry some gifts as a token of appreciation for your stay. Giving a small gift (maybe something from your hometown) shows your appreciation and makes a good first impression.
As a CouchSurfer, it is important to respect house rules. Communicate with your host, especially if you have any change in plans.
Before your departure, it is polite to clean up. Don’t forget to leave a reference/ review for your host. This not only helps them but it is your way of giving back to the entire couch surfing community.
Lastly, keep in touch with your host as you continue on your couch surfing adventure and make new yet lasting relations.
The author is a travel blogger and a photographer behind the blog, World in my BackPack.