Imagine travelling the world. See timeless landmarks, enjoy the weather and eat the local delicacies to your heart’s content. And for all of your wanderings, no matter which city, no matter which continent, you won’t have to spend a dime for your hotel.
Instead, you can stay at a real home of a local, or at least someone who has been living in your city of destination long enough, and who has his own place to share. You can save lots of money in the process and you can meet instant friends who, if their schedule permit it, can give you a tour from a different but truthful perspective.
Accommodations range from the somewhat luxurious condo units and rooms to couches and simple mattresses. Sometimes, people don’t have a place to share but are willing to welcome you in their cities with a hot cup of coffee.
But no matter the offer, it’s the thought that counts.
Of all these so-called networks, the most popular and most trusted is CouchSurfing.
Since 2004, it has served as a major link to travelers from about 230 countries and territories who are either short on their budget, or who simply want to hook-up with instant friends in an unfamiliar place.There are also others like it, such as HospitaliClub but most of its members seemed to have forgotten they ever signed up.
I got to know about CouchSurfing through a common friend who, hitch-hiked across Europe and went straight to take the Trans-Siberian railways. For three months, he survived on the kindness and generosity of people who are willing to take in weary travelers. They never charged him anything but of course, he gave some money for the groceries and treated his hosts to dinner or beer.
He came home with new found friends from almost every city he visited and they continue to communicate even when they are separated by vast oceans and huge land masses.
There was just an element of adventurism and romance in his experience that five minutes after hearing his story, I opened my laptop and signed up for CouchSurfing.
I filled up the personal information sheet and hoped that it would be the start of my adventures.
It turned out that it’s not that easy.
You have to be verified by other travelers whom you’ve met or hosted, or stayed at. That or you can pay the $10 donation. Verification is essential since it gives your prospective hosts some peace of mind that you are not in fact a raving lunatic or kleptomaniac.
It’s a pain but I guess it’s for the best.
Members of couchsurfing are quite accessible and friendly and almost everyone takes the time to reply when you send them couch inquiries and friendly messages.
The only problem is, there is just an unbalanced level of supply and demand. In short, there are very few people offering their couches.
Now, before being accused of being bitter and unfair, I must point out that I’ve had my share of hosting in our family’s apartment in Malate. I’ve hosted some Germans, Americans and Koreans.
I’ve also met a Swedish guy and a Puerto Rican mother for cups of coffee.
But in the world of free accommodations, you can’t be sure that you will always reap whatever it was that you sowed.
Despite my numerous hostings, I’ve been hosted only once. Some people met for coffee but that was it.
I love CouchSurfing, I mean it. I’ve met nice people from the site but I just wish that they will make some changes that will level the playing field.
There must be some sort of balance and equilibrium in the number of those surfers and those who are willing to host.
I’m just saying…….