This Is Not a Postcard

Tales of 2 people on 3 continents

Sleeping around

I realized recently when we were visiting with my sister Rachel and brother-in-law Edward in Bangkok that many of you are not familiar with “couch surfing”. James and I are enthusiastic participants in this new-ish travel phenomenon, and we have had some great experiences with CS hosts on this trip and hope to have many more.

Couch surfing is a means by which people (both hosts and guests) around the world can connect with each other and meet up. It’s essentially a vast online community of friendly individuals (nearly 3 million in all) who like meeting people from other places, either while they are at home or while they are traveling.

The idea is that many folks have a couch (or a mattress, or a bedroom) to spare at home and enjoy sharing information about their countries and cultures with guests. And many travelers are much happier staying in people’s homes than staying in hostels or hotels. No money or payment is exchanged at any point.

To be a couch surfer, you first create an online profile at this site: http://www.couchsurfing.org/

You can see our profile by clicking here: http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/spmarcus/

As you can see, there are various ways that you can give people a sense of who you are and what sort of hosting arrangement you can offer, if any. Many people on CS cannot offer people a place to stay, but are happy to meet travelers for coffee or a drink or just to show them around town. The CS site is a bit similar to Facebook in that you can indicate that certain people are your friends, and you can also write on people’s walls to say thank you for hosting me, or thank you for being a good guest. You can also write something negative on someone’s wall if things didn’t work out for some reason, but that seems to be very rare. CS-ers come in all shapes and sizes, it’s not just young people. There are even families on there who travel with their kids.

James channeling his inner Bob Dylan on Lamma Island, Hong Kong, where we stayed with a CS host

James channeling his inner Bob Dylan on car-free Lamma Island, Hong Kong, where we stayed with a British CS host

I think what people find most strange about the whole arrangement is that you are staying in the home of someone that you don’t know. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem strange to me at all. You can pretty easily tell from the profiles that your potential host/guest is someone who seems nice, interesting and responsible. Usually I look for people with whom we have things in common.

For example, I just arranged to stay with a lovely woman in Helsinki, Finland who is completing her masters degree in environmental economics. I told her in my request that James also has a degree in this field. She was pretty excited to meet us! She actually attended the most recent United Nations climate negotiations in Mexico. When she got back to me to say that we could stay with her, she sent me the link to her blog from that trip: http://enterculture.org/?cat=5. Cool, right?

So far, James and I have been lucky enough to stay with CS hosts in Bangalore, India, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Thailand, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were all wonderful experiences. The apartment in Bangkok that we stayed in was particularly lovely – we had own own giant bedroom in a spacious apartment, and free access to their pool and rooftop garden.

Florian & Cillia, our CS hosts in Bangkok. They are both French and have been living in Thailand for about a year.

Florian & Cillia, our CS hosts in Bangkok. They are both French and have been living in Thailand for about a year.

To “pay” people back, we have made them special meals or taken them out to dinner, done odd jobs around the house (James is especially handy), given them little gifts. But they really don’t expect that. The people who have hosted us have been environmental activists, bankers, teachers, hotel industry professionals, factory managers. Some of them are natives of the places where they now live, others are not. James and I got a chance to host someone for about a week in Athens before we left who was in town for a Wilderness First Responder course at OU and it was a really wonderful experience as well.

Here’s a fun story: When I was looking for CS hosts in Phnom Penh, I came across the profile of a guy who seemed very nice who was willing to show people around. As I was writing him a message about when we would be arriving, I noticed that I knew one of his friends: a Thai woman that I had worked with at OU! Turns out this CS guy named Bruce actually worked at OU too as a residence hall director and we actually had met before! No wonder he looked nice to me. Bruce has just opened a restaurant in Cambodia and he invited us for a meal there when we arrived. He also brought us along to a birthday party on a boat that cruised along on the Mekong river. It was great connecting with someone from Athens so far away from home.

Bruce (center) with his partner Dara and James in Phnom Penh

Bruce (center) with his partner Dara and James in Phnom Penh

We are getting ready to stay with two more CS hosts here in Japan over the next week, in Kyoto and Osaka. The guy in Kyoto actually keeps a whole furnished house there just for CS guests! Apparently he lives elsewhere with this family. How ’bout them apples? Seems he’s rather wealthy and has had many, many extraordinary CS experiences abroad during his own travels and this is his way of giving back.

So, all in all couch surfing is wonderful because it allows you to connect much more intimately with the places you are visiting, it lessens the costs of travel, it gives you access to a real home instead of just a room, and it creates many new friendships. We absolutely love it and we recommend it to all of you! Why not just offer to meet someone for coffee or a drink for starters? You can always say no to any request, no questions asked.

I have recently uploaded lots more pictures on Flickr, including many from Japan. There are some fun ones in there of Laura and I practicing our calligraphy and ikebana skills. Oh, and I recently made some lovely postcards at a Japanese paper making workshop that will be sent out today to 3 lucky recipients. Who knows what you’ll receive when you request yours?

Love and hugs to you all!

Handmade postcards, Sonia Marcus originals

Handmade postcards, Sonia Marcus originals

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2 Comments»

  Cordelia de Rojas wrote @

I love the CS idea but had been a bit apprensive. Thanks for your post on the topic; I think this is something I’d love to do both during my travels and eventually host when we have a bit more space. Can’t wait to hear more about Japan! xx

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