Here’s the scenario. You’ve just taken overnight bus journey into a new Country. Its 6am, it is still dark, and many of the locals don’t speak English. You don’t have any local currency and the battery on your mobile phone is running low. You have arranged to meet a local person you’ve never met before, outside the KFC, opposite the bus station. You meet, get in his car and he drives you out of town to his house, were you stay for two days. This is surely every parent’s nightmare!?
Well .. that was my scenario a few weeks ago, as I went Couch Surfing for the first time on my own, and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. What is Couch Surfing?
Couch Surfing is another social media network and an online global, hospitality exchange site, originating in the USA, its aim is to connect like minded people, in different countries, allowing people to stay (surf) with others for free.
How do I join? Joining is easy and free. Like most social media sites, you sign up with an email address, and create a profile. You can choose to then pay to be verified. This costs $25 and allows the partners of Couch Surf International Inc. to verify your profile and address (information is posted out to you). This is good for added security.
How much does it cost? Its free to surf (stay) with hosts. Sometimes its nice if you bring a token from your country to say thanks (I have postcards), cook for or buy your host a drink, but there is no obligation.
Is it safe? Nothing is 100% safe in this World, there are risks, but we all need to take them. I always swore I’d never couch surf, not on my own, and never with a guy as a host. In November 2013, I hosted a few American Travellers at my home in New Zealand.
Hosting, as well as surfing poses the same risks, you could be letting a raving lunatic into your home, they could steal from you or wreck your home. However, I had a great experience of being a host, and really enjoyed showing new people around my previous home city.
Safety tips As a girl, I always feel that we have to be more cautious when travelling solo (some males will argue this point), but here are some tips for the first time couch surfer:
1. Go with your gut instinct, if things don’t feel right, don’t go there. I had a number of offers from men saying that they had a nice double bed we could share!
2. Don’t reveal too much about your travel plans, like flight numbers and the exact time you’ll be in the country.
3. Arrange to meet in an open, busy place, in daylight if possible.
4. Read through the persons profile and references. You can also contact the people who previously stayed with your host.
5. If you don’t feel like staying, just meet up for a drink, coffee or hang out, or meet at a Couch Surfing event to see how you feel.
6. Before you stay, get as much info as possible, and pass this on to someone. In my case I got a name (including a Facebook account), phone number and address. I also took a screen shot of my location on Google maps and sent it to my mum. I updated her everyday I was there, with a quick message on Facebook.
My experience of Couch surfing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
So after arriving at 6am in the dark, and getting starred at by a number of creepy men hanging around the bus station, I suddenly felt very apprehensive. I walked to the meeting point, and didn’t see anyone that looked like my host, so I wandered back to the bus station, in the hope of finding WiFi to send my host a message. I had my trusted Lonely Planet out to look for a hostel as a back up, and was envisaging the headlines ‘backpacker missing in Malaysia after Couch Surfing’. Reverting to something I felt safe doing (being in a hostel) felt like the best plan. 45 minutes passed and I had pretty much talked myself out of Couch Surfing, until Koo, my host rang me. He had been waiting for over an hour, so I bite the bullet and went for it. I’m glad I did.
My experience was incredible. Koo had a lovely home, with a spare room, double bed with a fan. He had a noticeboard with letters and messages from those who had stayed there previously. There were information leaflets in the room, as well as maps. He gave me a clean towel. It was better than a hostel.
On my two days there, I did and saw so many amazing things, more than I would have done on my own. Koo took me to meet some of his friends, took me on a rainforest walk to find a waterfall, many markets, and local spots not in the guidebook. He drove me everywhere, and even walked me to the train station at 6.30am to catch my train to the airport.
I had such a humbling experience, and felt very welcome in a new city. I enjoyed hearing about his past, travels and sharing stories. This experience has really opened my eyes to a new, more homely way of travelling. If you feel that couch surfing, or hosting others is for you, you can sign up here.
Have you couch surfed before? Hosted someone? How were your experiences. I’d love to gear from you.