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Couchsurfing: Backstage pass to the world

Couchsurfing is the perfect answer to all those doubtful thoughts that linger in your mind when the backpacker in you doubts the next travel plan.

Himanshu Jana | New Delhi |

It’s still fresh in my memories as I was frantically searching in my computer for the most economical ways I could travel across places. Days of hard work finally paid off when my eyes strayed on a video ‘Tomislav Perko: How to travel the world with no money’.

It was literally nothing short of Aladdin’s magic lamp! I pounced on it and from there began my fascinating journey with Couchsurfing. How exquisitely Perko spun a tale of his heroics and sheer madness that took him to every corner of the world was a sight to behold.

There are countless nomadic tales we often come across, but for the very first time, I got acquainted with the term Couchsurfing. On further investigation, I discovered a whole new world filled with people ‘fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect’.

What Casey Fenton, founder of CS, describes as a ‘backstage pass to the world’, started out as an email sent out to 1500 college students during his trip to Iceland. His desire to crash at someone’s couch laid the foundation of this non-profitable, hospitality programme. Though it seemed easy to be a member of this community, it took me some time before I could muster up the courage to be an integral part of it.

It was February, 2018 when I realised it was finally time to put some effort into reviving that Couchsurfing profile, lying dormant since long. Clueless would surely be an understatement if I had to describe my position back then.

Thankfully, Lady Luck never left my side, and I stumbled upon a Couchsurfing meet-up that was to take place at the end of that month. We have all been hearing since our childhood days, never to mingle with strangers for unpleasant situations may arise. And here I was, packed up between 20 plus odd strangers listening to their unheard stories like a curious child.

From 70-year-old Ian, narrating his tales of a slow and prolonged trip across nations, to 22- year-old Suman disclosing his adventurous North-East India tour with minimal expenses. Never did I notice a dearth of enthusiasm in the faces of the surfers surrounding me.

With every monthly meet-up, it became evident what the community wanted, and how it has brought a new perspective to the style of travelling, especially backpacking. The fear of being duped by travel agencies and bumping into unwanted situations in far-off places has scared even the most adventurous travellers among us.

Couchsurfing is the perfect answer to all those doubtful thoughts that linger in your mind when the backpacker in you doubts the next travel plan.

Couch surfers across the globe play the perfect host by not only letting you crash in their couch, or at times their luxurious bed but also be a perfect guide in alien shores. The safe time you spend under a host’s roof coupled with the cut down in your budget is sure to attract the avid travellers towards this close-knit community.

Travelling on a shoe string budget across India, hailing from Pondicherry, Vino’s midnight entry into the City of Joy last November was met with difficulties. With no one to help him out, and unable to find an economical place to stay, Vino accepted his faith and was on the verge of spending a night at the bus stand.

Luckily Deep, a city host, accepted his request at 2 am and opened his doors for the weary traveller. Endless gossips, munching on late-night noodles, and gradually forming a bond of a lifetime, Vino and Deep absorbed the essence of Couchsurfing reality.

What may appear to be an easy ticket for all the globe-trotters may have its own share of responsibilities. Since the very beginning of this awe-inspiring platform, this community has believed in a mutual exchange ideology.

Time and time again, many travellers have mistaken Couchsurfing to be a freeloader’s place, where every host is obliged to serve their guest for free. The community condemns such behaviour while appreciating the minimum efforts of every guest that we can put for our hosts.

On what qualities you should possess to emerge as a proper guest, Arjun, one of the experienced CS hosts in our city, and organiser of monthly CS meet-up feels “somebody who respects the fact that they are using someone else’s possessions free of cost; whether it’s just a simple couch or even a whole house.”

For many a surfer, the gratification of hosting puzzled travellers exceeds the joy of being someone’s guest. Even when you are restricted by your monotonous routine, hosting experienced travellers brings you close to the unseen world through their eyes. And if you are blessed enough, the fortune of tasting exotic meals cooked by your restless guest adds to the joy.

Though the new kid on block, Irfan has been a host to more than 20 international guests since last year, going through ups and downs during his short tenure. But as he recalls, he has his heart set on meeting new people, reviving the old Indian ideology of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.

As we all know, nothing interesting is ever completely one-sided, our beloved Couchsurfing has been no exception to disturbances. From unruly guests traumatizing their hosts in late hours, to profit making hosts, the Indian Couchsurfing community has been a witness to many such incidents. But do not let that distress the traveller in you, as the locals have always stepped up and maintained the security and integrity of the loving community.

With newcomers joining every day, the Indian Couchsurfing community is sure to flourish in the future years. However, whether we will we able to restrict our conservative ideologies and open our doors to friendly strangers, is yet to be seen.