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I walked a lot in the past. You wonder what that has to do with Couchsurfing? Walking on the Camino Santiago in Spain I shared a room with people every day and got used to it, everyone does. Once used to not having privacy there was no need to retreat anymore. I felt comfortable being with new people and connected easily.
It even felt weird to wake up alone for the first time after weeks of sharing with strangers. Hosting Couchsurfers therefore came to my mind as an experiment to find out if sharing my home with strangers has the same impact. It had, but there was more to it. Here are some of my reasons to be on Couchsurfing and to keep hosting people.
For contagious Confidence
Already dark, cold and other than expected I found no shelter in the small village in France in winter 2014. I knocked on a random door. An elderly couple opened and after they tried to call a refuge, they offered me to sleep on the floor in one of their rooms. They made dinner and breakfast and before I left they gave me a candle as a symbol for the light in dark moments.
People like them helped me to build confidence by letting me see a general kindness and goodwill in strangers. I had nothing to give. They didn’t have a reason to help. They forever changed the way I perceive the world and perception became reality. They acted as role models and taught me how things could be done. Their attitude is contagious and I believe it spreads and will slowly, but ultimately change how people treat each other.
This also reminds me of my mother’s friend. She is not a typical host but decided to accommodate Couchsurfers, because her daughter traveled to Australia for a year and therefore her daughter’s room was empty. The idea was to help travelers because her daughter might need help as well while she is away from home. To treat people the way you would like to be treated by them.
There is maybe no immediate response to kindness towards strangers, but someone has to begin to get a response at all. And who, if not we? At least we are here reading about kindness because we got an idea already.
For endless Opportunities
In my first six weeks of hosting Couchsurfers, I had three Taiwanese guests. I traveled to Norway with one of them. Ada and I slept in a tent, hitchhiked, walked and lived on cereals with protein powder for two weeks. We were strangers when we made that plan. It was possible because we corresponded on this simple way of life. I regard it as a gift to get to know the right person at the right moment for that kind of trip. Follow this link to read more about Norway!
From Norway I took a flight to Taiwan to meet Yu, my actual first Couchsurfer, and Aeon another surfer of mine who joined us on this journey. Yu and Aeon never met before, but came to pick me up at the airport together. While traveling the Island and staying at their friends places, they were feeding me Taiwanese food and made me fall in love with their country.
When I hosted Olivier from French Guyana, the country of his origin was unknown to me. I had to look it up on the map. I found out that it is located in South America, but actually belongs to France and even their currency is Euro. Olivier is a chocolate producer living in the Amazon rainforest. Nowadays he calls me from time to time to tell me that they are waiting for my visit.
We can expect nothing in return for providing a couch. People might not have a place to stay when we visit their country and that’s fine. However in the long run there is a global network of friends and more opportunities than we could possibly take.
Couchsurfing as reverse Traveling
Couchsurfing is reverse traveling in a way. Some guests bring food or sweets from foreign countries. For example Julie, who had lessons in Salzburg, already stayed the sixth time with me. She is a musician, originally from Switzerland, and travels a lot. Each time she came from a different place and brings a small gift and so I got to try Swiss chocolate, Dutch cheese, Belgian beer and Portuguese pastel de nata.
Guests often offer to cook and eat together. These dinners allow me to try different food and learn how to prepare these dishes while saving money at the same time. I now know how to prepare Korean Bibimbap, Spanish Tortilla, Argentine stew, Venezuelan Arepas and many more. Trying food and meeting people from different countries are some of the main reasons for me to travel.
For precious Gifts
Years ago I was looking for an old suitcase on flea markets. They were expensive considering they are useless. Maddie, a Couchsurfer from Germany had a small leather suitcase and didn’t want to carry it anymore. My idea of buying one was long forgotten at the time. Yet getting it suddenly and from someone special makes it the most beautiful suitcase I could own.
I had a Taiwanese guest who asked me to write my address on a postcard. I received the card three month later with great surprise. I also hosted travelers carrying a bag of key chains, bracelets and other souvenirs for their hosts to choose from. Besides these obvious gifts, people can inspire, motivate, energize and share their knowledge which is something that money can’t buy.
As said before there is nothing to expect for hosting people through Couchsurfing. I think we can never expect anything when giving, otherwise it would be a trade instead.
However hosting costs little and the returns are often priceless. I don’t care about money, but about shared things gaining value and beauty and about the opportunities appearing out of nowhere.
For Learning and Teaching
At the time when Julian and Lucia, a couple from Uruguay, were staying at my place, I tried to learn Adobe After Effects to animate the Logo of this website. I gave up after two hours. When I told Julian about my attempt it turned out that his profession is animation designer. He spent two hours producing the Intro saving me a lot of time or money.
To learn a language we have to speak them. I learnt french for five years, but only became fluent years later walking for five weeks with a French guy that spoke no English. Now I travel less and Couchsurfing became the solution to learn and practice languages. People use Couchsurfing to interact with locals. Therefore hosting can be even more beneficial than visiting a country where your language of choice is spoken.
For a different Perspective
Salzburg was not where I wanted to live until I reached the ago of 25. It changed when I worked as a bike taxi tour guide and later as a receptionist. Travelers gave me a different perspective. They told me how beautiful the city is. I started seeing with their eyes and noticed many things I have not seen before. These job were not forever. Nowadays I have the same kind of encounters in a more liberal context by hosting through Couchsurfing.
Once two surfers from Colombia brought a flyer about free student concerts. It turned out that these concerts happen every other day. The university where they take place is two minutes walking from my apartment. I lived here for years without knowing. It is not only me showing my guests around, but also them opening my eyes for the opportunities and details of the city.
Couchsurfing for the Flow
I am sure we all know how things happen while traveling. They happen, because we let them happen. It is not as easy to let them flow while working, studying and following routines at home. The roads become narrower. Couchsurfers broaden them for me. They travel for different reasons, with different backgrounds and thoughts. My days become more unpredictable, which makes me go with the flow more often.
For social Dynamics
To become more social we have to engage. We have to face as many situations as possible. The situations we meet while sharing our personal space are many and varied. It might sound tiring, but after a while I stopped pressuring myself. Stopped thinking I have to meet my guests expectations. Began to relax. Most people expect nothing other than to meet a nice person, a bed and help if necessary.
It is easy to keep myself busy. I am never bored and sometimes I am unavailable for everyone. By giving up my space I make myself available, all the time. It is crowded anyway so everyone can pass by and I always pick up the phone. When I am around I sometimes pass by my friends places with my guests and that’s how people not only get to know me, but get to make more widespread connections.
The same happens when hosting several solo travelers at the same time. You suddenly have common friends with someone you just met. When I received a request from Jenny, a Taiwanese living in Vienna, I found out that she had already hosted four people that I hosted as well. Also more and more often I find travelers in the public trips on Couchsurfing, that hosted the same people as i did. The world becomes smaller and the connections tighter.
If someone asked in June 2016, why I am on Couchsurfing, the answers were short and clear. Today they are too many reasons and there are more coming up with each encounter. I think I can say, that Couchsurfing for me became a life changing experience and a huge positive impact. On Leaving the Comfort Zone you will find more articles about my experiences in the future.