On the Marvels of Couchsurfing (with a nod to AirBnB)

dinner

Couchsurfing restores my faith in humanity. Let’s just start with that. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Couchsurfing is an online community of like-minded folks willing to offer a couch or mattress or floor to a fellow traveler. It’s a sharing thing. There’s an elaborate reference and identity verification system for each person’s profile, so with some common sense and courtesy, it offers world travelers (such as myself) an inexpensive way to see places and a much friendlier experience of foreign parts.

In Prague and Berlin, I used AirBnB – which I consider the paid form of Couchsurfing. People who have an extra room in their house or apartment rent it out for (typically) less than hostel/hotel rates, and you usually get the benefit of kitchen access and some interaction with a local. I used AirBnB in Vienna and Frankfurt two years ago, and I had a great experience. This go around, it was a bit less awesome.

My hosts in Prague were friendly, though not really welcoming or helpful in terms of what to see and do. This left me feeling rather lonely in the days before Natalie arrived – since I really didn’t have anyone to talk to and got hit with a heavier dose of culture shock than I was anticipating. In Berlin, the guy Natalie and I stayed with was nice, but weird. And we didn’t discover until the second night that he was actually renting out his room and sleeping in the kitchen… which was awkward and inconvenient.

In Budapest and Cophenhagen, however, I was traveling alone and opted to use Couchsurfing. I’d had great experiences on my road trip last summer – when I stayed with a house full of Canadian undergrads for my conference outside Toronto. And let me tell ya, having a local host who feeds you and actually wants to hang out makes a huge difference when traveling far from home.

It can have its drawbacks, though, when you aren’t paying for a place to sleep. My host in Budapest had some unexpected changes in plans, and I ended up with an hour’s notice to pack up and depart Monday morning (five hours before my flight). So that wasn’t awesome. But Judit fed me when I arrived, helped me get around town, told me what to see, and invited me to watch a Woody Allen movie with her on Saturday night. So I’m not really complaining. It was just a rough start to my Monday.

Copenhagen turned out to be unexpectedly awesome. My host was an Italian guy living in a five bedroom house in the city (that his company pays for), who hosts a lot of couchsurfers… just ’cause? I’m not really sure what his deal is. He’s really busy, working in construction management, and he was gone from 8:00/8:30 am until usually 8:00 or 9:00 at night, so I didn’t see him much. But Denmark is SO expensive, and my original host canceled on me sort of last minute (another hazard of relying on the kindness of strangers), so I was really happy for a place to crash. He also cooked me dinner, and it although it was just a simple omelette, it was gorgeous and delicious. (Apparently he paid his way through school working as a porter in a five star hotel, so he attends to presentation).

As it turned out, the room was great, and he was also hosting two Austrian girls that I befriended and who made the trip so much more fun – especially since Laura lived in Australia for a year, so she has a combined German/Australian accent which is beyond delightful. We teamed up for the two days we were all on town, and as a result, I’ve got a slew of great pictures from Copenhagen (though the ones of me aren’t on Flickr) and a couple of new friends abroad.

The past few days especially, I’ve realized that I don’t think I want to do this alone anymore. Traveling is great, and seeing far off places is wonderful, but it’s so much nicer to have someone to share it with. I got surprisingly lonesome on this trip, and it’s a pretty big downer to be walking around an amazing European city feeling sad and lonely.

So who’s up for the Berlin marathon 2015? (Or I’ll take other destination suggestions, so long as it’s flat!)

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