This blog post is about couch-surfing; a worldwide community of travellers keen to meet-up, even willing to open the doors of their house for strangers to stay over. To find out more, click here.
After my first (very brief) experience couch-surfing during University, in which I met a guy in a pub who, it later emerged was on trial for stabbing someone, you could say I was either very stupid, or very brave for giving it another shot. Or maybe I was just desperate; I’d been living in my tent for a month, and I was eager to meet someone!
I hadn’t come across a McDonald’s in a few days, but upon arriving in Passau, Germany’s frontier town, bordering onto Austria, I was greeted by the majestic Golden Arches, complete with the promise of free WiFi, power plugs, toilets and shelter! I say free… of course I need to hide in the corner and pretend I’ve bought something so that I can stay without being noticed – it’s important to view it as a fun game, rather than an unfortunate economic predicament - current high score, 4 hours! Regardless, I digress; upon connecting to WiFi, I was greeted by a message from a couch-surfing host, with a link to his address… it was only 2km away!
How I feel whenever I see a McDonald's!
I pedalled the fastest 2km of the trip so far, even giving Sir Bradley Wiggins a run for his money, and was soon sitting on the bed of Prashant, someone I had never seen/met/heard of just an hour earlier. There was around 30 seconds of awkward silence, and wondering if I’d made a mistake - I didn’t know how this whole ‘staying with strangers’ thing worked. We launched into questions about each other however, and soon realised our shared love of travelling. He sat, full of questions, intrigued by my cycling adventure. He had plenty of his own travelling adventures and mishaps to contribute though, and I quickly forgot we were even strangers at all, as we found ourselves laughing hysterically together. Prashant sounds like the best, worst person to travel with, his stories invariably about something going spectacularly and hilariously (with hindsight) wrong.
I was welcomed into the house, and told to treat it as my own. I was given a tour of the city, from someone who has lived there, seeing areas I would have passed right by completely obliviously on my bike. I was introduced to, and greeted by his friendship circle, who were great company and I feel privileged to have met! I very quickly realised that this (couch-surfing) was about so much more than just a free roof to stay under. Instead, it was about meeting and connecting with people with a common interest, exchanging stories together, and learning about how other people live.
I ended up staying an extra night. I haven’t laughed as much as during those two days and nights in quite some time. Nor have I eaten such terrible food (a cause for laughter in itself), with such amazing people. Nor have I found it so hard to leave somewhere since that morning in Herne Bay, England, way back at the start of the trip. I feel like I entered the city a stranger… but left saying goodbye to a really great friend...