Have you ever heard of couchsurfing ?
Well couchsurfing is something you should know about if you happen to be on my blog.
It’s this little amazing thing that let’s you meet people from all walks of life, all around the world in a generosity based community. The idea is to share.
Share what you ask ?
The time, the space and the stories.
It is a minimalistic social network that allows people to make profiles that cater to a traveller’s lifestyle. Then, through that profile you put up, people can send you requests to meet up for coffee or to stay at your place for a specific amount of time when they are passing through your location.
Let strangers stay at my place !!!?
I already know what you are thinking, and no, it is not like AirBnB. You let them stay for free. Just for the sheer pleasure of meeting other people, and that, maybe one day, they give you the same courtesy back. Or another member of the community might.
It is backed by a great system of references and a tightly knit community. When someone agrees to host somebody else, you can leave a reference after. Generally positive, you can write whatever you want. Even if extremely negative.
So the system filters itself.
Say you are a female solo backpacker, life teaches you quite early to always be carefull so this might not sound as tempting in terms of security as other drifing hippies born with different genitalia might think. Well, you just try to surf with people that have a certain quantity of references for hosting women, and whom have their identity verified by the site.
The site has been around for some time, has groups like last minutes places to crash, emergency contacts if you are stuck in a city and need help with anything outside of the police’s reach etc. Built around respectable community members and ambassadors it is safe, reliable and makes you meet like minded people or just offer a simple place to crash to get some karma points in life.
I had some of my best adventures through couchsurfing, or at random and turned out my adventuring friends were also members.
It has many critics, like everything in life. But before putting it on a pedestal, couchsurfing is merely a tool to meet people. Security 101 still applies, and so does common sense.
It’s a great moment to check this amazing community out, they just revamped the whole website. http://www.couchsurfing.com
Here are a few examples of the amazing people I met, hosting, surfing or just on the road. . .
Allan sent me a request a bit in advance, we had many things in common and he was French. He was aiming to see not only Montreal, my city at the time, but also travel to Alaska to see the great northern wild on the west coast and go to Detroit see how the communities organized themselves. A very interesting guy, bent on changing from his corporate life to a more human oriented path. He wanted to create a small company or organization to build something more permanent centered on helping and binding people together. We had amazing conversations him and my former roomate.
After his trip, his flight left from Montreal too, he made sure to send me a message so we could grab a beer and I still long to go visit him in Bordeaux , his new home, and see how his project advances.
When I crossed Canada, I did so with my friend Anny.
We did not mind hitchhiking, but such a long distance would pose a problem. So we made contact with a German who placed an ad on craigslist saying he was heading to Alaska by car, and had spots in his car. Met him in Ottawa and had the craziest of trips through Ontario, sleeping in a tent outside, alongside the transcanadian highway. In public bathrooms etc. Turns out he was a CS member too and we had the most amazing chats and deliriums. We ended up surfing in Regina, Saskatchewan with a guy called Nicholas who hosted me, Markus, Anny and a great guy, Brenden, we picked on the road headed to Calgary. He hosted us on short notice, in his super tiny apartment, we played cards, went for a midnight walk and the next morning we were gone.
In Calagary we dropped Brenden, and picked Alexandra, another German, who was rallying Banff from Calgary and needed a ride for the short trip. We stopped in Canmore as Brenden gave us his employee card from a big sports goods chain store to buy a ton of products we needed, especially Markus for crossing Canada. Alexandra had just bought a super expensive tent there and we told her to return it and we’d buy it again but with the almost 35% discount.
On the way we stopped to a small lake in between Canmore and Banff, and went for a freezing dipping. What I said as a joke turned out to be a super fun and simple experience of going for a swim, on a whim, the rockies surrounding us.
At night we dropped Alexandra to her couchsurfing host and set up to sleep in the car that night. The next day we hiked to the top of Mount Lady MacDonald, a very steep trail in the Rockies.
I met later on with Alexandra in Germany. She was back, but moved to Munich. Such a small world. We went out for Glühwein, had a blast, and have yet to do it again when I get back in Munich in January.
I set off to go to Berlin for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall. Having a friend in Berlin, but following a short comming, I decided to surf instead. Leaving seeing my friend as a possibility but not a necessity. I sent a request to Jennifer. Jennifer was promt to answer and super interested in having me. She had over 200 good references. Basically, a seasoned surfer or host. She was hosting me at another member’s place. Holger.
In fact she was living there for a bit of time just to wrap her head around finishing her Ph.D dissertation on education. Holger was also doing his Ph.D. A German engineer and an American education specialist. When I arrived, I felt welcomed instantly. My two quirky hosts were in fact the first time I surfed alone, by myself. Quickly, another surfer joined us, and then a friend of Jennifer’s, Roger, flew from Switzerland for the occasion too. We ended up being quite a gang. Mock races in Berlin, Glühwein, Light-painting, seeing the balloons go up in the sky as the ghost wall flew away, we had a great time. We even went tube sliding in the middle of Berlin on artificial snow. It was great.
We will try to meet again for New Year’s 2015 or King’s day in Amsterdam.
Part 2 here