I truly believe it’s important to travel with a purpose rather than wander aimlessly from place to place. And I have put this belief into practice. Whether it was motorbiking across Vietnam, trekking the Himalayas, hitchhiking in Thailand, cycling across Tasmania, or CouchSurfing North America, I’ve always tried to add meaning to my travels and create challenges that push me beyond my comfort zone.
As I adventured, it always crossed my mind what it’d be like to travel through people rather than bobbing from one destination to the next.
CouchSurfing had been on my mind for several months before I tried it. I was set to attend a wedding on the West Coast of USA, so decided that I would fly to the East Coast of Canada and CouchSurf my way to the wedding.
Little did I know that this trip would turn into a 20,000km hitchhike and CouchSurfing adventure across the ENTIRE continent of North America. I started in Montreal, Canada and headed West to Vancouver. Once I hit the West Coast, I headed down to Los Angeles and then cut back East, finishing my trip in New York City.
In just 6 months, I CouchSurfed with over 50 hosts of different ages, backgrounds, sexualities, hobbies, religions and life views. It’s been the most enriching travel experience to date. The following three-part article shares my insights and lessons learned so that YOU can do the same.
For all those CouchSurfing rookies out there, what’s all the fuss about?
CouchSurfing is an online community of about 7 million people spanning 97,000 cities across 217 countries. The basic premise of CouchSurfing is to connect locals (Hosts) with travellers (Surfers). After creating a profile, a surfer can send requests to stay on a host’s couch for a specified amount of days. Surfers gets to experience life like a local for a few days, while hosts get to experience different cultures from the comfort of his or her own home – it’s really that simple!
Part 1: 5 Benefits of CouchSurfing
- Live Like a Local
There’s no better way of getting to know a place than actually living life like a local for a few days. This is the perfect time to scrap your Lonely Planet and place faith in your host’s hands. Hosts have already done the research and know their town like the back of their hand. They will show you the hidden gems, and if you’re lucky, they will introduce you to special aspects of their life. You might meet their family, cook and eat together, or maybe try some of their hobbies. All of this combined will allow you to make a genuine connection with the place you’re visiting, while also creating a lasting relationship with your host.
- People Will Open Your Mind
To give you a few examples, in just over 50 CouchSurfs, I’ve had the pleasure of staying with a war veteran, energy healer, writer, Mormon, vet, business analyst, soap maker, spiritual teacher, social worker, lawyer, Reiki Master, school teacher, farmer, Priest, marathon enthusiast (he’d completed 28!!!), transvestite and two nudists.
If I hadn’t used CouchSurfing, when on earth would these people have entered my life? It’s these trusting, open-minded, and unique individuals who will teach you invaluable lessons and fresh perspectives on life. They will help move you to new realms by juggling your mind in ways you could’ve never imagined. Above all, they’ll help you gain clarity in life by showing you what you do want to become, and more profoundly, what you don’t want to become.
- It’s Free
I don’t want to dwell on this point much but CouchSurfing is technically free. Yes, you will save money on accommodation. But please remember: A CouchSurfing experience extends FAR beyond a menial motive to save money. CouchSurfing is a reciprocal learning experience and all about cultural exchange. Don’t abuse the CouchSurfing system for a free ride. Instead, take the initiative and make the experience memorable for both you and your host.
- The Utter Randomness of Experience
You really can’t anticipate what’s going to happen, and I think it’s pretty damn beautiful like that. Hosts have taken me kayaking, taught me soap making, ukulele, fire spinning, and salsa dancing. I’ve been on a 20km trail run, borrowed a Mini Cooper to explore the Prairies in Canada, and stayed at a CouchSurfer’s house without meeting them in person. I also famously got naked and CouchSurfed with a nudist, and on a separate occasion, surfed on two wooden crates in a caravan park in Tofino.
I can assure you, your experiences while CouchSurfing will be anything but mundane. Your hosts will challenge you and often require you to step away from what’s comfortable. Needless to say, many of these experiences that you create will become the stories that you’ll tell your great grandkids many years from now.
- Meaningful Connections
Despite Western society’s huge focus on technology and social media, CouchSurfing is ironically a good example of an online platform that leverages technology in such a way that brings back traditional face-to-face human encounters.
Unlike an interaction on social media, a CouchSurf experience brings people together, in what is a very intimate and personal environment – the host’s home. Every host’s home tells a detailed personal story, and I’ve often had many hosts open up to me and discuss very personal issues that I think wouldn’t be spoken in a more neutral environment. It’s these very dynamics that set up a beautiful opportunity for a meaningful connection to blossom. I’ve become very close with many of my CouchSurfing Hosts that will continue to become very good friends in the future.
I really believe there are enough beautiful experiences out there for everyone. In my opinion, CouchSurfing is a great platform for increasing the likelihood and frequency of these great memorable experiences occurring.
If there’s one lesson clear from my CouchSurfing experience it’s that like attracts like. People want to be around other happy, adventurous, forward-looking souls. It’s not a one-way street; it’s reciprocal. What you get from CouchSurfing is directly proportional to the effort you put in.