COUCHSURFING as an idea really appealed to me and I wanted to try it out for some time. For those who don’t know, Couchsurfing is a Mobile Application/Website which connects travelers from around the world as a Host or as a Surfer. A Host accepts a Surfer’s request to stay at his/her home without any monetary gain and vice versa. But it transcends beyond the sustainable traveling option as one get to meet and connect with like-minded travel enthusiasts from across the globe.
Before my trip to Central Asia, I tried to use it on my past solo travels with strange and unsuccessful results beginning with Netherlands. I just blindly sent multiple requests and got accepted by a guy, upon scrutinising his profile I realised he runs some sort of a nudist homestay! I tried again on my next trip to France but most people came up with excuses. In USA, I received a similar response but at least one guy accepted my request but he lives quite far from the city centre and is an Uber driver. Well, you can do the maths! I almost had my first Couchsurfing experience in Turkey when a guy accepted my request but declined at the last moment due to genuine reasons.
My First Couchsurfing Experience
Finally, I had my first Couchsurfing experience in Uzbekistan. It was a bit scary initially but ultimately truly rewarding. I reached my host’s city at night via train. He guided the taxi driver to reach a neutral place. The driver got confused and took me to some remote location and I called my host again to sort out the issue. I was perplexed since nor did the driver or the host can understand English which led to my imaginations run wild! After a couple more phone calls, we finally reached the designated place as guided by my host. He graciously received me and seems quite happy with the fact that I will be his first guest from India. We met at a square and walked on to his place. We were communicating via actions and expressions. On the way, we were joined by his friends who were in high spirits. One person from the group knew little English who served as a translator between us. A drunk translator! The path to my host’s place was poorly lit and even pitch-dark at some places. After walking for a few minutes, we reached a big door. It was dark outside. My host shushed everyone and slowly we entered the place thanks to our mobiles’ flashlight. In my head, I was having all sorts of thoughts. Whose place is this? If this is his place, why are we entering like a thief? What I got myself into? What excuse should I give to leave? Is there a hostel nearby? Upon entering, I scanned the place and it felt like I come to my relative’s home with big verandah in Punjab. I saw some foreigners sitting at a corner. A couple from Germany and Two Cyclists from England. After conversing with them, I came to know that this is, in fact, an art gallery run by our host. There are some empty small rooms in the gallery which work as a couch for Couchsurfers around the world. Since it is not allowed to spend a night at the gallery, hence we need to be discreet while entering at night. My doubts were still not fully erased. We all sat at a rectangular table joined by our host’s friends and fellow couchsurfers, In my mind, I keep on thinking “Police gonna barged through the main gate anytime now”. But soon all my doubts/fears were diminished as we start talking. We had some fun/interesting conversations till late in the night while drinking Vodka/Tea and munching on Indians snacks (Courtesy by me). They all loved Indian snacks 🙂 Particularly, The German couple who are sorely missing Indian snacks from their trip to India. The 20-something couple has been traveling around the world for more than a year via Hitchhiking and English bikers have cycled all the way from England to Uzbekistan and their last stop will be China. Their travel stories filled my heart with great optimism. In the morning, we get ready before tourists flocked in. My host let me glimpse into his unique diary noting details of every couchsurfer he hosted like name, country of origin and their journey to Uzbekistan. Even though we don’t understand each other’s language. Surprisingly, we somehow able to understand each other’s nuances. He came across as an earnest and hospitable person. His heart is in the right place. At night, we all had dinner together at a Local restaurant before I bid them adieu. It was only one night stay but the experience gave me great confidence and hope. What started as a scary experience ended with a transformative experience. Thereon, I wanted to use only Couchsurfing for accommodation! On the same trip, I got a chance to use it again, when I stayed with a Local Family in a Kyrgyz Village. Followed by my stay with Gabit in Kazakhstan. All my Couchsurfing experiences till now have been unique and truly fulfilling.
Lack of enough references on my profile is one of the reasons behind my initial Couchsurfing struggle. It is a bit difficult to find your first host. I compiled below some of the points to help first-time Couchsurfers:
DOs & DON’Ts of Couchsurfing
Don’t add a random picture as your profile picture. How can you expect someone to let you stay at his/her home if they don’t even know your face? Just use your basic common sense.
Complete your profile. Try to be as expressive as possible while writing your profile. I see lots of half-filled or almost empty profiles. It just won’t work.
If you are new to Couchsurfing, I would strongly recommend adding your social media links. This will surely give your host extra comfort and could be a deciding factor.
Get verified. Currently, they are offering Lifetime verification at $60. It will add authenticity to your profile. Also, with a verified account you can send unlimited messages.
Check references of a host before sending a request and more importantly, read them (positive and negative). It will give you an idea about what sort of person he/she is. References are like reviews which can be given by Surfers(people you hosted), Hosts(people who hosted you) and personal(given by friends).
There will be new hosts too with no or fewer references. So that doesn’t mean they’re not genuine. Check out their social media profiles which will give you a fair idea about a person.
Don’t blindly sent out requests. Read the profile of a host first and see if your interests are similar. No point staying at a person’s home if you have nothing in common to talk about.
Send personalised messages for Request To Stay. Don’t send copy paste messages. Write about your travel plans and your mutual interests. Be polite and grateful.
Okay, so your request has been accepted. Great! Coordinate with your host about your time of arrival. Don’t leave your host hanging.
Respect your host’s space and be flexible. Try to help out your host in daily chores. You can also bring some souvenir from your country. I’m sure your host would appreciate that.
Lastly, Do not hesitate to leave the place if you see a red flag and do leave a reference(positive or negative) to help future surfers.