Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Couchsurfing: The Good, The Fun and the Smelly

My first real solo travel experience was also coincidentally my first CouchSurfing experience. I joined after it was suggested by a friend and with only one reference on my profile (from said friend) I searched for hosts at my destination: Stockholm, Sweden. I had no idea what to expect, but I spoke with two people before I arrived and offered to bring them presents as a thank you.

The first person I met was Sarah, a Scottish woman who spoke fluent Swedish. She was about my age and asked for vodka and a hockey player (me being Canadian and all). I brought her a bottle of vodka, a stuffed moose and a keychain with a hockey player on it. She was pleased. In exchange, I received a small mattress on the floor of her living room, where I camped out for 3 nights.
I also met Anders, who could not host me, but made me dinner and showed me around his city.

That all sounds really simple, but it was a very deep experience to me: we knew hardly anything about each other, yet I was welcomed into their homes and fed. It took an exceptional amount of trust and humanity - me to trust them and them to trust me. Though we were only in each other's presences a few days, we are still in contact to this day. That's a testimonial to the power of CouchSurfing.

When I arrived back in Montreal, I opened my doors to many people. My husband and I continue to host and we both continue to CouchSurf solo (we've never actually done it together).

So here are our stories. It has always been good, some people are more fun than others and some are just smelly.

Our first guest was from England and was very well traveled. She stayed with us for seven days. Seven days can be a really long time when you don't know someone. It could be hell if they're not good guests, but she was absolutely great and we enjoyed her company. I can't say I was the best host at the time since it was minus 18 Celsius and I was working long hours late at night, but she is a very cool person. I met up with her the last time I was in London. I recommend her to all my friends who are visiting her city. We definitely lucked out with her!

We had one couple who were very strange. They arrived very late at night and left early the next morning, so we didn't really get to know them, but I learned a few things from them. One, it's important to explain how things in my apartment work, even if it's late at night. For example, when one person is in the shower and someone turns on the water in the kitchen, the person in the shower gets burned with hot water. I was the person in the shower at the time. Grrrr!
Then it seems like they didn't know where the garbage was and didn't bother to ask, so they left their bag of garbage on my kitchen table. Those ones were weird, but again, they only stayed the night so I can't complain too much.

In general people are clean, but extended backpacking can make anyone stinky. The stinkiest one we had was a young one with really cheap shoes. You know the type. Those cheap shoes that just stink. This girl's feet were SO BAD and I didn't know how to tell her. Surely she must also know?!
What made it worse was I was pregnant at the time, which gave me a heightened sense of smell. I can tell you, I never threw up while pregnant. I didn't even throw up during labour, but this girl's feet had me gagging! When she went into the shower each morning, I Febrezed all her stuff and sprayed inside her shoes. I washed all the floors as quickly as possible before she got out. I think she only stayed three nights, but it was almost three nights too long.

Otherwise, CouchSurfing is a lot of fun. You get to see a city in a way you would never get to otherwise. You get insider's tips on where to go and what to avoid. Sometimes you get a free tour. Sometimes you get a free ride. And sometimes it's as simple as having company when you're homesick and tired of traveling.
I'll put up with some stinky feet in order to keep those special friendships that last a lifetime.


What have your Couchsurfing experiences been like? Feel free to link to your posts about CSing in the comments and share the love!




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