Technically speaking, Couchsurfing is a web-based hospitality platform where locals host travellers without charging them money or asking for anything in return, but as a traveller, it is much more than just a free stay. It is a kind of sharing that changes your outlook towards many aspects of life, directly or indirectly. It changed mine as well, it made me realise –
1) Life is not only about earning money or making a living – At times I was hosted by students who were living minimally, by people who earned just what was sufficient to survive or even by super busy professionals, and yet they opened their doors, shared their meals and spared their precious time. “One can never have enough reasons or excess of time, money or material to share; it is more a matter of mindset and will”.
2) Strangers would often welcome me way more than I can anticipate – What I expected was a couch to sleep and a roof over my head, but what I received was unparalleled hospitality, right from the moment my hosts received me until our goodbye hug. Handing over the keys to your home, to a stranger from a distant country, in an era where learning to trust is the most difficult task, makes this world a better place, slowly but effectively. “Strangers are the friends one hasn’t met yet”. Couchsurfing taught me the art of embracing strangers.
3) It is the most authentic way to travel – I got to know the places, lives and cultures in the most original way possible. With all the insider’s tips, I skipped the touristy traps, visited the non-commercialised attractions, went out eating and drinking where the locals did, not only saw the culture but lived it for a few days, exchanged food and languages. It is exploring at its best.
4) I will never be alone, even on my SOLO Trips – This platform is not only about surfing and hosting but meeting locals and travellers as well. The CS’ers who couldn’t host, offered or acknowledged my request, to join over a drink / dinner or to show around their town. There are Couchsurfing meetup events in almost every city and also an option on the website to find other travellers who are in the town. Last but not the least there are few crazy CS’ers who cannot host you, cannot meet you but still always remain in touch, sometimes giving you directions in real time and hoping to meet someday in some part of the world. Travelling Solo is just a way to say that you’re taking this trip alone to socialise.
5) It’s an opportunity to travel even when you are not travelling – Taking a trip isn’t the only way to travel, we also travel when the world visits us. The opportunity to experience another culture, language and food and the excitement to show your city, make them taste your food, take them out to Indian villages etc. in return, is such a beautiful alternative way to exchange lives even when you’re home. Probably this was the reason I was hosted with so much hospitality. My dad’s in a wheelchair and therefore my parents cannot travel at all, it gives them so much joy to welcome people from different countries and know about their side of the world.
6) I will always meet the most open minded people – Travellers, in general, are broad minded and love freedom. Couchsurfers are the individuals further refined out of the general travel community, which makes interacting with them so much of an enriching experience which helps me break the stupid and hypocritical social behavioural norms about gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation and nationality.
I started travelling 4 years ago and have surfed in 18 countries with 35 people belonging to 15 nationalities, met 48 people belonging to 17 nationalities while on the road and hosted 11 people from 9 countries in my home. The effect these interactions had on my life is a bit difficult to describe in words, but one thing I am sure about is, Travelling and Couchsurfing will impact your life intensely. They take you from the place where you’ve grown up and push you sometimes to the remotest corners of this planet, only to bring you out from your protective covering, surprise you, shake you and change you forever.
“People back home find it difficult to understand why I travel so often and what do I do alone on my trips. I feel they’re correct; it isn’t something that either I can explain in words or they can understand sitting at home”.