Apr 11, 2015

Travel on budget: My take on Couchsurfing

Photo by Globotreks.com
I had never seen it coming, in the middle of my chaotic arrangements prior to moving to UAE, that my few-years-old couchsurfing account would be one of the main factors for making it easier for me to enjoy it out there in the desert. Ras al Khaimah, the place I’m living in, is one of those lazy towns with moderate infrastructure, a few malls here and there, a fraction of the amount of cars/people you’d see in Dubai, and a whole lot of senior westerners and young expats, who thought it’s best to move to such a town, away from the extravaganza of Dubai, its horrible traffic and its insanely high real estate prices.

I might be mistaken to assume the whole world knows what couchsurfing is. Here’s a summary, as found on the website’s about section:
We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect. 
Travel the world
With Couchsurfing, you can stay with locals in every country on earth. Travel like a local, stay in someone's home and experience the world in a way money can't buy. 
Rediscover your city
There's a community of Couchsurfers near you. Many cities have weekly language exchanges, dance classes, hikes and dinners. Make new friends. 
Become a host
Give back and open your home to travelers. Learn about a new culture first-hand or practice a language. Make the world a little smaller; a little friendlier.
Did I mention it's also FREE?

The note I found at my door right after Piet and Jorien left my place.
In short, couchsurfing is your ticket to travelling the world without a single weary thought of how much you’d have to spend in motels. All it takes is basic ethics, common decency, some manners and big ass smile wherever you step foot at.

It wasn't long after I signed my rental contract that I got my first couchsurfing request in the emirates, it was Cyrill from Switzerland, the guy who’s taking a year off to finalize some pending projects and to discover himself by travelling to that part of the world, completely alone.

As an absolute introvert who made his way through this busy world that always manages to push you into spotlight with so many drawbacks and psychological repercussions, couchsurfing was absolutely one of the very few things that I ever did in my life, that provided me with the suitable environment to step out of my comfort zone, and see the whole world in that tiny spot I call my couch, all while helping me break down some of the ice that built up over the years, and giving me the superpower of being able to fully finish a conversation with somebody I never met before without that usually-awkward feeling. And for that, I’m nothing but thankful.

Cyrill upon leaving the apartment a while ago.
Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Morocco, France, Egypt, Belgium, Slovakia, Greece, Netherlands, and the list goes on. I've visited more countries in a few months than I could ever manage to visit in a year or two, and it just leave me in a huge awe. My house is a relatively large studio, which confines both my privacy/freedom and that of anybody I'm hosting. It's why I always tell I'm hosting for one night only, but always, always, end up offering them to stay another night.

What's even more heartwarming is their gifts. Anything from chocolate bars to airline pins, from turkish delights to a piece of handwriting on my door, it all feels so damn worth.

Hernani Cardoso showing me the path he'll be taking after leaving my place
To my surprise though, and after all that time and all the friends I have made, I realized one thing: I have never been a surfer myself before. I knew it's a totally different thing, I knew being a good host myself, with all the benefits that come with it, is not even nearly the same thing as being a surfer. However though, the world has its own way of matching things together, always. One day I found myself having to go to Dubai to shoot a concert that won't end before midnight, when there's obviously no buses to take me back to my place. I called out for all my friends and acquaintances over there but there was not a single confirmation. I was so close to either letting go of that concert or having to spend a fortune on taxis. It wasn't long before it hit me, and the next day I was couchsurfing at Fabien's place in Dubai, the French pilot who's recently joined CS. Funny enough, just like it was my first time surfing, it was his first time hosting!

They are cycling the world, sightseeing, travelling on low/zero budget, a family trying to enjoy their time together, seeing the world through a different perspective, talking to total strangers, renting a car around, they all manage to leave me in awe. There's so many times I wished I could just leave it all and be like Hernani, the 54-yr old Portuguese cyclist who sold everything he owned and decided he wanted to return a bicycle to his friend in china. Or like Konstantinos, the 50-something yr old greek cyclist, who got fed up of it all and decided to cycle to India. Or that Polish girl, K, who thought one day to leave everything that was providing her peace and comfort and hit the road around this part of the world. Or probably that family who constantly looks out for the cheapest tickets, and with full trust in the world, they just land there. The stories are endless, and I can't wait to see who's to step foot in my place in the future, and what kind of magic they have to their stories.

Couchsurfing in a way is a sort of a befriending machine, they step in your house total strangers, next thing you know you’re hugging your friends goodbye, not knowing when’s the time to meet again, nor even where.

All in all, I can't but feel utterly happy to know that, people, somewhere over there, are working hard to make this happen, to break all borders, to incorporate some positiveness in this world by making it easy for people to travel, make new friends, exchange experiences and inadvertently book yourself a place you're welcome, in the country of this or that couchsurfer, something you can't find anywhere else.

Here's to couchsurfing, and all you surfers and hosts out there.