The Case For Couchsurfing What, How and Why

Travellers share their experiences staying with locals and opening up their homes to strangers from around the globe.
The Case For Couchsurfing What, How and Why

It was Halloween in 2015, and the people in Italy were out celebrating. While looking out the window, Rittika Modwel, a freelance events manager from Delhi, found herself in a fix. She had a sprained back, an empty itinerary and only one day left in Milan.

As this was her first solo trip, she didnt want to miss out on seeing the city. The next morning, as a brainwave struck, she messaged a few members on the couchsurfing website at about 6.30am, asking to meet up. In only about 3 hours, she got responses from all three locals from Milan, who agreed to show her around. The first arrived at the doorstep of her B&ampB on a vespa, with an extra helmet for her. She was shown around the city centre and they had breakfast together.

Member numero duo and she grabbed coffee while he showed her which souvenir shops are a hit and miss. And third was an Italian dream. They had a late lunchwine and pizzaand they walked around a street gallery, before he dropped her off to the airport.

It was a really great experience to see the place from the eyes of a local, Modwel said. It didnt hurt that he was cute either, she added.

Couchsurfing is a service that lets a community of travellers connect, meet each other, stay at a locals place, or open up their home to othersfor no cost.A community-driven platform, both couchsurfers and their hosts leave reviews for each other, and similar to the concept of AirBnBs, they must verify themselves.Unlike a hotel, there are no check-in or check-out timings. After you sign up for the service, you can find members in a city who are accepting guests and contact them with your travel dates.

The members are from everywhere, from a small village in Italy to Mumbai city, and so you can travel to a city where you know no one, and stay at a locals home.

For people who are used to staying at luxurious hotels, it can be hard to explain the appeal behind couchsurfing. In fact, the concept asks us to defy everything we have always been trained not toto trust strangers.

Jaita Guha, aged 42, a marketing professional in Mumbai, said, You have to trust your instincts. While choosing a host, there are enough profiles to choose from, and you can read reviews and make a decision.

But it isnt just couchsurfers who are taking a risk hosts who open up their homes take a massive leap of faith as well. People who have been using the platform for while having difference advices to offer. One host suggests meeting a potential couchsurfer at a caf first before committing to hosting them, while a well-versed couchsurfer advises on checking into a hostel first and then meeting the host. The common advice from everyone though is to thoroughly read through references.

If you are hesitant about hosting someone or just simply lack that kind of space, you can choose to just show people around your city, or help give them local insight. The first person I showed around was from South Africa. I took him for a meal around town, and we went to Marine Drive. Another traveller I met wanted to have a thali meal, and went out. She gifted me a box of chocolates in return, said Guha.

So how backbreaking is couchsurfing really Not all that much. From what we hear, the couch in couchsurfing is only a blanket phrase (pun intended). Hosts offer whatever spare space they canit could be a couch or a mattress, but also, spare rooms.

For Sharmistha Chaudhuri, 31, who has done her fair share of couchsurfing, the experiences have usually been more than pleasant. I havent actually ever had a couch. I have had proper bedrooms and once, even a whole apartment to myself in Paris. Its been great, said the Delhi-based editor.

Couchsurfing is a great route to take for the budget-traveller. But that is not the only reason people take it. Mulchand Dedhia, a 33-year-old entrepreneur who has hosted and couchsurfed with over 50 people, feels strongly about this. It isnt all about people coming and staying for free. Thats not the best way of looking at it, said the Mumbai resident. It helps you become a local when youre travellingyou can see the local neighbourhoods, eat authentic food, meet your hosts friends.

On the flipside, hosts find it culturally enriching to meet travellers too. Although couchsurfers arent required to pay for their stay, small gestures go a long way with hosts. Modwel, after her Italian escapade, hosted several people in Delhi. Everyone who came brought a lot to the table. Someone knew juggling and tried to teach it to us, there was a French guy who was extremely sweet and babysat my doghe even insisted on cooking me and my flatmates a 4-course French meal Others have had travellers leave them notes, bring them souvenirs or snacks from their city.

The guests are mostly backpackers from abroadfrom Israel, France, Spainvery few Indians couchsurf within the country itself. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Indian men on the platform who are from the same city messaging to catch upI dont reply to them, shared Modwel.

Dedhia has found couchsurfing to be a great way to meet interesting people, from someone who cycled all the way from Manali to Kanyakumari to a man who, following the lead of Vernes book, was travelling around the world in 80 days. As Dedhia stays with his parents, the experience has been an eye-opener for them too. This has given my parents perspective too. Initially, they were skeptical, but now my mom looks forward to cooking lavish meals for the guests because she loves feeding people.

For Chaudhuri, hosting in India has also been a way to show off her local culture. Her most memorable experience involves food. Once, she was hosting someone from Spain whod never tasted Indian food before. She insisted on taking him to a nearby restaurant, and giving him an introduction to the cuisinewhich of course, began with butter chicken. After the meal, he said that I cant believe Ive never had this in my life. Thank you.

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