Couchsurfing

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I rely a lot on my history with Couchsurfing to find me the best travel experience anywhere in the world.  Couchsurfing is the website hub for a global community of travellers.  The central idea is that you can stay with a local resident for free.  You might be on a couch, the floor, a bed or even a tent in their backyard.  It’s as different as the hosts and guests are different.  The reason I was drawn to the group was to have a chance to meet and live with people from as many different countries and cultures as I can possibly manage.  I first heard about it when I was travelling in Turkey, when I met an Australian guy in Cannakale.  He had just spent three months travelling from Germany to Turkey through four countries and couchsurfed every night.  He would do a search on nearby towns for a someone who was able to host him and would then travel to the first person who responded on the site.  I loved the idea and when I got back to Australia I started hosting people.

 

Instant hat party

Instant hat party; My house in Perth, Australia

 

I’ve had innumerable amazing, beautiful and always enlightening experiences with the people that have stayed with me.  I’ve now been a member of the Couchsurfing global community for over three years and in that time I’ve hosted more than one hundred and fifty people from a wide variety of countries: From Canada to Vietnam, from Taiwan to Jamaica, from England to China, from Ireland to Estonia, from New Zealand to Germany, from South Africa to Malaysia and from America to Finland.

 

Relaxing Russians

Relaxing Russians; Ekaterinburg, Russia

 

So if you want a way to feel like you’re travelling when you’re busy working, you know where to go.  I love the experience of having these people staying with me all the time, it keeps giving you the global experience that is normally only available when you’re travelling.

It doesn’t stop with hosting though…in my time in Perth I met and invited to my home for parties people from Armenia, Italy, France, Serbia, Iceland, Pakistan, Croatia and many others.  When I say ‘global community’ I really mean it.  Perth has a thriving local couchsurfing community.  Every two weeks there is a meeting in a pub in the middle of the city for all the travellers and locals to meet, talk and enjoy each other’s company.

 

Marrying Cute German Beer

Marrying Cute German Beer; Perth, Australia

 

We’ve had local people who have heard about it come along to find out who these crazy people are; in under a month they’re hosting their first surfers.  We also have travelers arrive at the meetup with their backpacks hoping to find someone who can host them.  They always do.  The community is extremely open to everyone who is open to this one crazy idea; I will let a virtual stranger from another country stay in my home.

So how can this be safe? ….I hear you asking in disbelief.  Of course, any community can have the worst people try to abuse it.  However, the answer is in the reference system that applies to everyone with a profile on the website.  You make your profile giving as much information about yourself as you can so prospective hosts and surfers will know what kind of person you are.  After someone surfs with you, or you surf with them, you can both leave references for each other.  If someone does something bad, you can tell the rest of the community what they did.  They cannot remove your reference, so it is completely free for you to tell the truth.  If someone gets a negative reference, it becomes very hard for them to have another surfer or find another host.  If they get three negative references, their profile gets a red tag at the top warning about this.  The community protects itself from those people who behave badly.  I’ve now met over one thousand couchsurfers from around the world and only ever met two people like this.  One is no longer a part of the community and the other has three negative references.  That’s 0.001%.  You don’t get such good odds meeting people in your local pub.

 

Santarchy Fun

Santarchy Fun; Perth, Australia

 

I’ve now also surfed with (stayed with) many people across Russia and China now.  There is no doubt in my mind that I can visit the most foreign and remote countries and find some couchsurfers who will welcome me and make my stay unforgettable.  Many of the people I’ve met are now good friends of mine; next year I will travel to a wedding in South Africa of a particularly amazing couple that I had the good fortune to meet in sunny Perth….

 

Sharing the Total Eclipse; Shanghai, China

Sharing the Total Eclipse; Shanghai, China

 

and if you’re worried about your family at home, there’s a special sign for people who are happy to host families travelling or if you are only happy with people who know you have a 14 month old child.  Couchsurfers are the quality kind of good people you will want your family to share their time with.

So how does it work exactly?  When I’m hosting, I normally ask guests to bring music, to share cooking with me, to sit with a bottle of good wine and talk into the night about our lives, the world and the communities we come from.  Every host is different and will ask for different things, but the only idea you need remember is: How do I be a good guest?  The answer is: How would you behave staying with a close friend?

 

Taiwanese Rodeo Action; El Caballo, Australia

Taiwanese Rodeo Action; El Caballo, Australia

 

Help around the house, take them out, share your time freely and take pleasure in the experience.  Some hosts wont let you do anything, but you can always leave a small present when you leave.  I normally carry little souvenirs from Australia to remind my hosts they have a reason to come and visit my country.  Above all, talk to your host often…the chances are you will have something in common and be able to share your love with your new friend from another part of the global community we live in today.  Does it get any better than that?

 

The peg goblin strikes again!

The evil peg goblin strikes again! Perth, Australia

 

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