Over two hundred thousand cities, millions of users, countless positive experiences and “friends you have not met yet”. Couchsurfing is a great tool for a sensible and responsible tourist.
A platform that allows you to connect with people from all over the world. In the microscale – a unique opportunity to really get to know the local culture and residents, see how they live, where they shop, how they spend their time after work and where they meet with friends on a Saturday. What are they like? What is important to them?
MEMORY #1 TRUST: HONG KONG
I am writing these words in Hong Kong, at the home of French hosts, whom I met thanks to couchsurfing over two years ago. We were strangers who quickly hit it off. Dozens of common topics and hundreds of hours spent together during conversations quickly created an invisible bond between us. When we met in July 2016, I was stunned by how quickly they trusted me. And as always, I could not refrain from asking the same questions. Would I do the same? Would I trust a person in such an unconditional way? Today, the answer would be yes. Couchsurfing reminded me how important the trust and responsibility for what others offer us is.
MEMORY #2 LOCAL CUSTOMS: TABRIZ, IRAN
We are sitting on the carpet around a tablecloth filled with food. There is no table or chairs. In Iran, you eat while sitting, and dishes are placed on an oilcloth or tablecloth. There are a dozen or so people in the room. Communication barrier is not a problem. We are using body language to talk about volleyball, hidden nooks of the local bazaar, which I was shown this morning, and the amazing hospitality I receive from the Iranians every day. It is busy and nice. I have been struggling with a runny nose for a few days, and at some point my nose has enough. I sneeze. Suddenly, everybody gets quiet and awkwardly looks from one side to the other, avoiding looking at my red nose. At that time, I did not know that sneezing and cleaning the nose is frowned upon in Iran. I have made a faux pas. Luckily, Iranian hospitality has no limits and can forgive a lot. However, I cannot move past my cultural ignorance. I have promised myself that next time I will be better prepared. And indeed, for the following months I take off my shoes when walking into Indonesian, Taiwanese and Japanese homes, I take a traditional Indonesian shower without a whimper (i.e. pouring a bucket of cold water on oneself), I do not use toilet paper in some regions of China, as well as I adjust my plans to my hosts’.
MEMORY #3 UNDERSTAND AND SEE MORE: LOMBOK, INDONESIA
Things look the same in Lombok, where I have placed myself in my host’s hands. D. is the kindest person I have ever encountered. When we meet, it turned out that my Indonesian visa would expire in one day. D. without a word spends hours with me in the immigration office, helping and supporting me all the time. I am living with her sister, I. Form the very beginning I feel like a family member. After a few days we go to the eastern part of the island that is very rarely visited by tourists. D. opened a school for children from underprivileged families there. She created a place where children can be children. They learn and play there. Together, we practice English and Indonesian words. I resign from sunbathing without much regret and blend in with Indonesian everyday life, which is difficult but authentic. Can you repay for the chance to look into somebody’s life? How to thank? I always have the impression that what I offer – my time, my own cooked meal and hours of talk, may not be enough. Having in mind the hospitality of many hosts, even those who initially thought about couchsurfing as free accommodation will realize that this cultural exchange offers much more. And instead of financial gain, there is respect, trust and gratitude. Couchsurfing is sharing of who we are – in exchange for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are also new friends you did not know before. Sounds like a good deal, right?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A keen traveller, Spanish philologist and sociologist by education. Since 2015, she has been travelling in the spirit of the slow travel. She presents her impressions on her blog: kasiavictor.com/pl/.