I first heard the term couch surfing from a fellow backpacker in Khao San Road.
Couch Surfing, he said, is a community of global travelers who want to make the world smaller and make it a virtual playground for travelers who are interested in getting to know and sharing the cultures of other people.
And it is also God’s gift to travelers who want to stretch their budget.
By staying in someone’s house or couch for free, it dramatically cuts down your travel expenses as hotel bills usually account for almost half of one’s total travel budget.
I was so amazed by this community that I immediately signed up after coming back to Manila. But I didn’t get active right away. My account remained dormant for several months until I started joining local events in my area.
Then I realized that while Couch Surfing indeed has lots of traveler members, the number of members actively surfing or hosting is not necessarily huge.
There were lots of concern on security especially when traveling or surfing abroad. Out of the tens of people I’ve met from CS, only less than three people have actually surfed during their foreign trips and even they were cautious, because they’ve had neutral or bad experiences.
The risks are just too high to ignore, they said.
As I’ve shared in my previous post, I have become somewhat active in the community. I met fellow surfers for coffee, surfed locally and I’ve attended local parties and events but I never had the courage and guts to actually surf in someone’s house in a completely foreign territory.
But the opportunity to finally do it presented itself when my vacation leave was approved and I decided to visit Seoul, South Korea for the first time.
The technique to actually secure a host is to make multiple requests in the right amount of time. Two month’s notice is just too far ahead, and your requests will likely be ignored. Make your requests too short notice and you will secure none, unless it is an emergency request.
I made requests to about 30 people 2-3 weeks before my actual trip and two days after, I already got two declines, three maybes and a yes. To be sure, I still waited for other offers before I finalized who I will stay with.
Ultimately, I decided to stay with a Guamanian-Irish American English teacher who lives in Omokgyo, south of Seoul.
He welcomed me at the train station very early morning and was kind enough to carry my heavy luggage, seeing that I was stressed by the rather long travel from the airport to the city proper.
Too excited, I decided to explore the city right away but of course, I didn’t know the directions. My host has work during the weekdays so it was hard for him to actually tour me around but he did give me a short tour of the community and gave me his Seoul Metro pass which allowed me to roam around the city using the subway system.
At night time, after my sightseeing and his teaching job, we would talk about Korean culture, parties and girls in the warmth of his studio apartment.
He let me sleep on the wooden floor (I knew this beforehand), while he slept on the bed. He offered me mattresses and cushions though.
He didn’t ask me to pay or buy anything. Instead he offered me all the contents of his ref and even allowed me to cook whenever I want.
This is where most hosts-surfers relationships falter.
While most hosts would be too shy to ask their surfers to contribute, I believe that surfers should contribute at the very least. I treated my host to a lunch and a dinner and I re-filled the contents of his ref right before I left.
|downtown Gangnam in Seoul|
But the most amazing thing about my host is that he gave me a spare key allowing me to come in and out whenever I feel like, giving me total control of my itinerary and routine.
I asked him why he was so trusting, knowing that such thing doesn’t happen in most hosting experiences.
He shared that in order to select great and amazing surfers, a host must choose someone whose interest and academic achievemenst are close enough to his. He also selects people who, despite being foreign, can communicate well in a common language.
One important thing to also consider is whether the prospective surfer is actually someone who can pay for his usual hotel expenses but decided to try couchsurfing instead.
This, he said, actually eliminates the possibility of choosing freeloaders who just want to get everything for free.
In the world of couch surfing, one must realize that while the people open up their homes for free, surfers should have the decency to actually make the relationship a two-way traffic. This paves the way for an amazing couch surfing experience.
My first trip to Seoul was a blast and this was largely attributed to my fantastic host who really went out of his way to make me feel welcome, and to make my stay in the city quite memorable.
Now, I am prepared to make new surfing experiences around the globe.
Note: In the interest of privacy and security (I don’t want anyone abusing the kindness of my host), I am withholding his name and photo. i hope you guys understand.