Posted by Karie on Mar 22nd 2008 03:10 pm
After dropping off our travel partners from Munich, we headed for our next adventure in close quarters with someone we don’t know – Couch Surfing! Over the next 5 minutes, some of you will be thinking about how you can work this into your next trip, and others of you will think we are insane.
Here’s how Couch Surfing (CS) works: go to www.CouchSurfing.com and create an account. Members can specify if they have a “couch” available for “surfers”, meaning, space for a visitor to come stay with them (a couch, extra room, dog bed, patio furniture…). If you are traveling, you can visit the website (after creating an account) and search for available couches in the city you are visiting.
We found a wonderful girl in Zürich who agreed to let us stay with her and her two cats for 2 nights. She had a gorgeous flat in a great location, she was friendly & hospitable, and gave us a wealth of information about Switzerland… the kind of stuff you would never know without spending a few hours with a local.
Here’s a little more about how it works, for the “tell me more!” crowd:
The people who make their couches available are typically travelers themselves… generally outgoing, like meeting new people from different places, and know that some day the favor will be returned when it’s their turn to travel (kind of pay-it-forward-ish). For the travelers, it’s a great opportunity to really learn about the city from a local perspective. Not to mention it’s usually free, although I personally think it’s appropriate to buy your host dinner, or something to show your appreciation.
If you’re interested but not sure you’re ready to handle any couches, there’s another option that doesn’t involve sleeping. You can create a profile and specify that you are available for “coffee or a drink”. This is great for people who think it’s fun to talk to strangers for an hour or two, and let them buy you a cup of coffee while you tell them a little about your city. (We’re doing this in Barcelona, by the way.)
And for the “why on earth would anyone ever consider this??” crowd:
My mom did a great job at biting her tongue, but I still heard it loud and clear… “How do you know they’re not a crazy person or a murderer???” We just happen to believe in prayer and have a lot of faith in the human race, ok?
Well, I also think that bears look huggable, but I know better, which is why I only visit them in the zoo and not in the wild. At the risk of insulting its thousands of members, think of Couch Surfing as the zoo – there to mediate a nice introduction and protect both parties. CS gives you the opportunity to create a pretty detailed profile about yourself, including various levels of security screening (verifying your name, address, etc). Most importantly, it gives people the opportunity to rate each other.
You can get a pretty good sense for a person based on photos, stories, and feedback from people they have stayed with or who have stayed with them. From then, yes, it’s back to prayer and following your gut. My advice would be to have contact info handy for a couple hotels/hostels in the area, so that if you arrive at someone’s house and do not feel 100% comfortable, leave immediately and go to Plan B.
Luckily, our experience was great. In fact, our host was the highlight of Zürich for us. Especially considering our stay fell during an unfortunate time four tourism. We were there Wednesday-Friday before Easter. Easter is a much bigger holiday in Europe than it is in the U.S. Think “Spring Break” (before it became politically incorrect to call it “Easter Break”), that applies to adults as well. Fantastic if you’re a student or working citizen, terrible if you’re a tourist.
Things started shutting down early on Thursday afternoon, and by Good Friday, it was difficult to find food. Now Zürich is an absolutely beautiful city, so normally we would have had no problem staying entertained around the lake or the beautiful mountains, except that there was this miserable combination of rain and snow, which made being outside super un-fun. We had actually planned a day trip to Lucern, but ended up canceling it for this reason. So… we hung out in the train station for a while on Friday (the only place that was open), then went back to our host home for more coffee and conversation.
She gave us some great insights on life in Zürich, the Swiss people, their economy (including their amazingly low taxes!), the impact of wars (or lack thereof), and the fact that they do not drink hot chocolate. In fact, she thought we were kidding when we said we have a brand of hot chocolate called “Swiss Miss” in the USA, and that we seek out “Suizo con nata” (Swiss hot chocolate with whipped cream) even in Spain. She explained that the Swiss are known for their chocolate, but not necessarily drinking it. She did say that there is one drink, but usually only for kids, you stir it into milk, serve it cold….
“Um, would that be Nesquik??? Yellow can with the bunny on the front?”
“Yeah, that’s it! I think I have some here if you’d like to try it,” she generously offered.
“Thanks, but I didn’t come all this way to drink something I had in my cupboard at home. I’ll take another cup of Nespresso, please!”