Couchsurfing, Jeju , South Korea
Here I was in some unknown suburb of Reykjavik, Iceland, having an impromptu Playstation Singstar competition with my new Icelandic friends. Previously we had been out together at a birthday meal and I had bought my most expensive glass of wine ever ($40!). Fast forward a day later and I was skating across Reykjavik pond with an Austrian girl who had been building a large walk-in camera from old schematics in Vienna. Later still, I would have a guided tour of the city from a balding Icelandic man who seemed proud of how small all of Iceland’s largest institutions were. Fitting then, that my first Couchsurfing experiences were where, in 1999, American Casey Fenton first formed his idea for the Couchsurfing project.
Booking a cheap ticket to Iceland he emailed over a thousand students to see if he could crash their couch. After a crazy weekend with the respondents, he vowed never to be trapped in a hotel and tourist marathon while travelling again.
At couchsurfing.com you create a profile and inject yourself into a community “[that] internationally networks people and places, creates educational exchanges, raises collective consciousness, spreads tolerance, and facilitates cultural understanding.”
Search the site for potential hosts in the destinations you’re going to and message them. So, rather than making friends at the hostel to head out to the sights and a “Lonely Planet” bar at night, you can stay with someone for free who has the local knowledge. But it’s not about freeloading and finding a free place to stay.
Aaron Fowles, ex-Jeju resident and couchsurfer says that couchsurfing is “about erasing the word freeloading from our vocabularies. It’s about sharing.” So much so that when current Jeju resident Zach Clark first tried Couchsurfing he found himself with more than a couch: “I had my own room with a bed… he gave me a key and said use it as you please.”
Zach, now back on Jeju, shares his place with couchsurfers and has had ten to twelve stay since July 2007.
Jeju doesn’t just attract English teachers from the mainland either as he first thought it might: “the last guy was from Lithuania… [I had] a guy from Quebec who was a travel writer [doing] fifty two islands in fifty two weeks,” he says. Aaron’s surfers included an American girl who was travelling, a Frenchman studying at a university on the mainland and a Danish girl who had been adopted from Korea.
When Couchsurfers visit, Aaron suggests going to The Blue Agave if “you want contact with other foreigners.” Zach suggests the summer swimming hole at Oedolgae and hiking Mount Halla.
Yet with all of this hosting and travelling is there a chance to burn out? “I’ve wondered about that when I look at these people with huge profiles… I wonder at some point if I’ll get burned out… get tired of hosting…I’m not really sure,” he says.
Couchsurfing may not be for everyone “but those who are able to do it or even have a thought about it I recommend it,” Zach concludes.
The Dos and Don’ts of Couchsurfing
Aaron Fowles guides us through some of the Couchsurfing etiquette.
1. Stick to your word. If you say you’re going to meet your surfer or host somewhere, then be there.
2. Keep your profile updated. If you’re a smoker, write that down.
3. Be upfront about any expectations you have of guests. Also, if you’re surfing, make clear whether or not you expect to be out late.
4. Write references about guests and hosts.
5. Prepare a space your couchsurfer can call home for their stay.
1. Worry. I’ve never heard of anybody having a bad surfing experience. The reference system keeps most of the riff-raff away.
2. Expect your host to be your tour guide. Many hosts are eager to show their guests around, but not all.
3. Do not hit on your host or guest! Couchsurfing is not a dating service.