About five years ago, a very good friend of mine told me about this wonderful trip she was about to take: Six months across Asia, mostly couchsurfing. Naturally, I worried about her safety, but wished her the best. Six months passed and everything went without a hitch as my curiosity grew. My preconceptions of the ‘dangerous world’ were thrown into question. Although I already had an account, it was time to actually give couchsurfing a try.
[For those of you who are not part of the 5.5 million strong membership, here is a brief. Couchsurfing is a community of people who are curious of travelers from all over the world and offer their home, (or sometimes, literally their couch) as accommodation, free of charge. The idea is that the host will get an enriching experience from meeting a new person and in turn, the ‘surfer’ will get to meet a local as a cultural exchange. The terms are completely arranged person to person. Many serve as hosts while in their home country, and are surfers while abroad.]
My first year in Korea, I had a lot more free time, so I actively updated my profile, but only got a couple requests since I was not in a particularly exciting part of the country (sorry Daejeon). Nothing ever worked out. My attempts at trying to get a host while visiting other cities nearby (especially Seoul) also proved fruitless. While I often thought about trying it abroad, I never did for various reasons. Part of me was still fearful, and another part of me simply didn’t want to deal with all the planning involved.
When I decided to go back to Japan for a fourth time (where I learned an important lesson), I decided this was the perfect place to give it a try. Sidney made arrangements with our host, but our limited internet access made the logistics of meeting up a bit tricky. Due to miscommunication, we were waiting for each other in different places but eventually did meet up, if 20 minutes late.
Things I loved about Couch Surfing
Hosts like Yasuharu can be outright wonderful. The amount of trust given to complete strangers is pretty mind boggling, but refreshing. We spend both of our nights up late just talking and learning from each other. Sometimes, in a foreign country, you have a lot questions you are dying to ask but can’t simply blurt them out to a stranger. I found this setup perfect for that situation. As far as the cultural exchange goes, I think couchsurfing delivered.
What didn’t I like about Couch Surfing
It can be a logistic hassle at first. You have to keep in contact for a long time to know where to meet, talk about rules, and days they are available, etc. For people who don’t get a lot of vacation, you might not have all of the time or patience for this. There are also potential dangers, but from what I’ve heard, the extreme cases are incredibly rare.
Should you try it?
My mind changes a lot in the moment about what I want to do next, and staying in someone’s house is not entirely flexible. As much as I would like to be out all night on a whim, it would be incredibly rude to barge in at 2am. Furthermore, if I know what I want to see or do, I might not want to couchsurf because I don’t want to abuse of my host’s generosity and simply use his/her place as a free hotel. However, if I have more time, I think I will definitely give it another shot to live with a local, even if it’s for a short time.
Oh yeah, so what did we do?
Yasuharu had work, but took us to a Japanese style bar called an ‘Izakaya’ at night. In these, you eat a lot of small finger foods while having drinks with friends, but generally don’t mingle with strangers as you might in a western bar. We then went to a place that sold skewers which were super delicious, if small. I can’t believe I forgot to take pictures of them! Izakayas are actually nearly identical to Korean style pubs, but the food portions were a lot smaller. Next time, I will make sure to eat at least a little before since this chubby blogger, was still a little hungry! Our host also brought another Japanese friend who happened to be fluent in Korean. She spend some time studying in the RoK and hit it off great with Sidney.
Some people have reported that CS is not what it used to be and that abuse of the system is widespread (and have very valid concerns), but I don’t want to approach it with a negative attitude. I think if I give it an honest shot, I might learn to love it. While I have my concerns about being a host, I think I will definitely surf again. Overall, I had a great first experience and it is one I surely recommend.