Random Observation/Comment #150: Everyone I tell about this couchsurfing-business always says something along the lines of “that’s pretty damn sketchy.” While I was a skeptic in the beginning, I have only heard good things about this social network (although, some of the bad news may have never been posted because the bodies were never found). Regardless of my instincts, I randomly met someone online that lived in the London major area and spoke with her for a few weeks. We did the facebook-thing and shared a few emails outside of couchsurfing. I think this blog made her a little less scared of the situation. I didn’t actually stay at her place because I had already rented rooms and she had some student-ing to do, but I think it would have worked out well if she were on vacation. I’m glad it went as well as it did.
What is couchsurfing and why does everyone say it’s dodgy? Couchsurfing is a social network where you maintain a profile of: 1) Your personal interests and 2) the couch that you might be able to offer for someone to sleep on (for free). It specifically offers travelers a method of searching for couches in major cities to either stay at this place, or just to grab a cup of coffee with them and chat about pop-culture and politics (what-have-you). The basis of this system is on blind trust. There are probably dangerous people using and abusing this system, but the “vouch for” and other means of contact should clarify the person’s intentions. It may sound silly, but real people that are concerned wouldn’t mind taking a picture with today’s newspaper. I’d definitely do some skype-ing or at least a bit of a background check before trusting someone to stay at your place.
I actually know a frequent couchsurfer and couchsurfing-hoster who has met plenty of young college students traveling for a few weeks on vacation. He once lived in Tokyo for a full week and didn’t have to pay a yen towards rent. Of course he treated the host to meals and drinks, but he saved loads of money and experienced the party-life of a local. The local specialties and different party scenes with familiars, seems much safer than randomly going to gai-jin bars and starting conversations. This was for the solo-traveler, which I guess is a little different than traveling with friends (I need to find some of those “traveling friends”).
This couchsurfer has also hosted students in his house and forced his brother to show them around The City. This brother was kind enough to take time away from his busy college schedule to have a few drinks with some Japanese people (And I’m sure the younger brother owes him a few favors for taking these people off of his hands (ehem)). From this community, the locals became more local and the foreigners really experienced the life of a local. It seems to work well. It was a handful of these examples that gave me confidence in the system.
Although there was an absence of an extended visit, my host’s kindness was rewarded with a few drinks and some insightful conversation. She showed me some hidden treasures getting lost – I mean, participating in the secret tour of Camden Town – and slowly introduced me to London culture. She was like my personal tour guide with a brain filled with cultural contrasts that I couldn’t help but slowly pick. Her answers were honest and the conversations were intriguing.
If not for a free stay, I would highly suggest couchsurfing for that local perspective. It’s interesting how these locals ignore tourist attractions, yet maintain a love for their city. There must be something hidden, and the best way for that closer look is through interaction.
Be safe and good luck. I hope you find a good buddy – I certainly did.
~See Lemons Couchsurf