Traveling on your own is daunting for most. Many people I have spoken to and shared my plans with tell me that they wouldn’t be able to do the same. They say they would get lonely, that they prefer to share their travel experiences etc. The truth is however, that although you are technically traveling by yourself, you are very rarely alone, unless of course you want to be. In hostels people are very friendly and open to meeting other travelers. You can strike up a conversation in your dorm or common area or kitchen or bar, and suddenly you’ve got a new friend or friends to hang out with, sight see with, and maybe even continue traveling with. But there is also another way, one that lets you meet locals and therefore have a totally different experience. It’s Couch Surfing.
I know some of you will know what Couch Surfing is, and might even be quite involved in it. For those that aren’t, this is a quick overview – CS is a social network for travelers seeking a place to stay and locals who are willing to host travelers on their couch/spare bed/floor. No money is involved, it’s a cultural exchange, allowing travelers to get to know locals in a way they otherwise wouldn’t and locals to meet people from all over the world.
I first heard about CS many years ago, and I have always been interested in the concept. It wasn’t until 2012 however that I finally signed up. Like other social networking sites you create a profile that other users can see. The information in your profile includes a personal description, your interests, values and the types of people you enjoy hanging out with. Having a detailed profile means you are more likely to be accepted as a Couch Surfer. There are also features such as feedback and reviews and a verification process to ensure safety. But ultimately, you use Couch Surfing with the belief and optimism that people are good and welcoming and interesting and generous.
Although I have been a member for over a year it wasn’t until I got to Mexico that I actually couch surfed for the first time. In Sydney I wasn’t in a position to offer a couch to travelers, but I did attend a couple of CS events and met some great people through them. I tried to find a couch in Boston but it seems to be much harder to get a reply in the States. In Mexico though, the community is very active and it seems like a good place to get into it!
My first host in Mexico, Nic, is hugely active in Couch Surfing. He loves hosting people and barely ever has his place to himself. I was his 150th surfer! Staying with Nic was a fantastic introduction to Couch Surfing as well as Mexico – he showed me around Guadalajara, cooked for me, took me to a Mexican wrestling match and of course invited me into his home and made me feel as though it was my own.
I have stayed with several other people since then, each one a very different experience. There was the Argentinian yoga instructor who took me along on a photo shoot, a Belgian teacher who does amazing things with vegetables, and my current surfing experience staying with a fantastic group of young Mexicans in a particularly fun share house. People also organise events and trips and its an easy way to meet other travelers as well as locals. For me it’s also a great way to really immerse myself in Spanish.
I wanted to write this post to give a bit of context to future posts about Mexico, as Couch Surfing has been and will be central to the experience. So far I have had nothing but totally positive experiences and hope it to remain that way.
Are you interested in Couchsurfing? Do you think it’s a good idea? Do you have any experience with it?