Rest assure, I’m not a millionaire!
After all, I grew up in Toronto, one of the most expensive cities (in my opinion) and went to university which means debt is following me around the world (thanks OSAP!).
My first year in Korea I discovered something that changed my life.
It’s called Couchsurfing (http://www.couchsurfing.org), a very simple concept which I can’t say I have never thought about, but 80% of the world believes it would never work.
The 20% who do believe in the kindness of strangers have opened up their doors to fellow travellers in their cities, giving them a place to stay, either on the couch, floor or if you are really lucky, and extra room! Oh ya, it’s all for free! .. um, sort of.
I have mentioned couchsurfing in a number of my blog entries because it is a huge part of my travelling experience. Through CS, you are immediately connected to others in the city you are visiting. They might be locals or expats willing to host you, or travellers like yourself who are just passing through and want to share their experiences.
There are numerous travel sites out there for people who just want to meet others that are also travelling at the same time in the same place. But what makes CS different is the concept of having a globally connected network, where you don’t just leave after an encounter. It’s basically the travellers equivalent to Facebook, where each person has a profile and instead of a ‘wall’ you can leave references, which others can read to get a feeling of this person.
It’s a wonderful system in a world where kindness is underrated. It has made me fall in love with people and the world as a whole. I look forward to meeting CSers because they inspire me, to travel more, and in different ways. You hear about the people trying to cycle their way from Europe to Asia, or those who lead a nomadic way of life for years around the world. Well, through CS I have been able to meet people like this who give you more of a will to keep on with your adventures.
I have surfed in over 10 countries – Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Canada, Thailand, Cambodia and Taiwan. But I have met up with surfers in almost every country I have visited in the past 2 and a half years.
The locals are always willing to tell you the places to eat, and even take you there. They will know the best shops in town to rent a motorbike at a cheap rate, or even how to get to your next destination on a bus that Lonely Planet hasn’t discovered yet.
The expats are able to explain cultural taboos, know the locations of the the best watering holes in town, and even hook you up with a CS host at your next destination.
The perks of CS aren’t from just being a surfer.
Since March of 2008 I have hosted over 40 CSers in Seoul and Busan. These guests came from all over the world – USA, China, UK, France, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Estonia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Austria, India, Italy and Canada.
Being a host you are able to show your guest your perspective of your city. For me, it’s just like hosting a friend from home. You can also connect with other CS hosts in your city by hosting events, which those travelling through are also able to attend.
The connection of all these people is usually instant, since as a couch surfer the passion for travel is an instant topic of conversation.
Of course the good never comes without the bad, and there are times when you come across the random encounter of a greedy guest who is simply trying to take advantage of this system.
With CS reaching over one million members this year, more and more people are joining this system of travelling for the wrong reasons, such as to save money and travel longer. Unfortunately I have had encounters with people like this personally (luckily I haven’t hosted any) but if you are an experienced CSer, you will be able to sniff people like this from a mile away.
Being a traveller though you know that sometimes you just gotta shake off the bad, and keep on going. CS is a wonderful way of life, you can’t let a few bad experiences taint an awesome lifestyle. So many of my memorable moments from my travels have been due to CSers that I have met and hung out with – such as new years eve in Beijing wigging out, the full moon party in Thailand, and camping at mudfest to name a few. In the end, I have created wonderful friendships from people around the world! Now that is priceless!
And the sort of free part..
well, nothing in life is ever free. It’s all about karma. If you are a good host who is willing to invest your time and energy to make someone’s trip memorable, chances are you are going to get the same treatment where you go.
As for me, I’ve yet to experience anything negative through CS and I’m hoping this is because I’m an awesome host!