CouchSurfers Unite

by JP Morgan on May 29, 2011 has 2.7 million members around the world.

That is a lot of couches.

Upon joining, despite whether you have actually surfed someone’s couch or not, you are officially a couchsurfer. You’re one of them.

And well, I guess I’m one of them too.

I actually joined many years ago when the site was just starting out. Evidently this gives me a bit of “couch cred”. (OK, I made the “couch cred” part up. It’s not that cheesy.)

They are budget travellers of course. Most not because they have to be – but because they want to be.

At anytime, as a couchsurfer, you may be either surfing yourself or hosting other surfers.

“CouchSurfer” is such a funny name. When my host was in the other room, I couldn’t help but stand on his couch and give a quick “surfs up” hand sign to the bookshelf who just stood there staring at me unimpressed.

These people not only host you on their couch, they act as your excited and helpful tour guides in their home cities. They even try to feed you a bit if you let them.

As an outsider, you would think that a host hosts and treats you well so that he or she can build up some credit to then cash in on other peoples couches. This might be partly the case, but actually the reward for hosting is more immediate.

For people like me (or ‘us’) who enjoy meeting and talking with people from different countries, if they don’t have the time or money to go travelling, they can have it almost as good by having the travellers come to them.

“I can travel the world without leaving my home,” remarked my host George.

I shared that this is essentially why I live in London. It’s like travelling the world while staying in the same city.

I learned most of this stuff on Saturday night at a small gathering of Linz’s top-ranked couchsurfers who George had invited over to meet me.

There were two Lithuanian girls, one with blue eyes who studies psychology and sings and plays the guitar and the other who walks on glass in the main square for income and who lives for almost free in a property George inherited from his gandparents. These two ladies taught me a lot about Lithuanian women and hitchhiking in Europe, both topics I found quite interesting. The guitar player’s boyfriend was from Linz. he was friendly, but didn’t talk much, for he was busy with his iPhone and it reminded me of how I must look during social time with friends I too often take for granted. (I’m working on it!)

Earlier that day George had taken me to a classical piano recital of a couchsrufing friend of his who came from Mexico to study musical childhood education in Linz. She had come to his small couchsurfing party as well and had brought her friend from Turkmenistan with her too.

Everyone spoke English except for the Turkmen girl and everyone spoke German except for me. So we alternated languages throughout the evening, translating after high points of laughter for the late enjoyment of myself or the Turkmen girl.

There was also a photographer there, who told me he no longer takes photos for high society clients because “a few of them are OK, but mostly I can’t stand to be around them”. I discovered he loves Berlin as much as I do and so we excitedly traded favourite cafe’s and shared our longing to return there.

The blue eyed Lithuanian played the guitar and sang with an soft voice, George, shifting between alto and soprano, sang over her with a church trained choir voice, and the rest of us tapped glasses with spoons and joined in for the few bits of the refrains we knew the words to.

We talked about the good and the bad of the European Union, the quirks and political beliefs of Austrian people, what to put on your sign to get people to pick you up when hitchhiking, teaching music to kids in Mexico, who’d done the longest non-stop train or bus journey and the couchsurfing parties happening around the world, including the one this Thursday in Vienna with over 500 couchsurfers scheduled to attend. We topped the evening off with a toast with some peculiar red alcohol that the couple had brought with them from Poland in a small unmarked bottle.

At 2am the last couchsurfers left George and myself to clean up piles of pistachio shells and empty glasses and I was very happy because the few hours I spent speaking and singing with such curious, passionate, open and adventurous people, was worth coming to Austria for.

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