Sure, I’ve heard the word before and known such a thing existed, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I took a serious look at it.
Although I no longer have a permanent home in the Philippines, I have been returning to the islands frequently and just last week I was there again before flying to the Netherlands.
With four days in Manila to sort out some business, run errands, and repack, I was looking into budget-friendly hotel and Airbnb options. Hoping to book a place with a reliable internet connection so I could still do my classes and online work, I was disappointed to find that nothing could guarantee that within the location and price range I was after.
On that account, I realized I might have to cancel or reschedule some of my classes and see what I could manage from some of the coffee shops in the area that I know have good connections such as Carpe Diem and Exchange Alley Coffee House.
It was then that Couchsurfing popped into my head: what if I could find a place to stay and make a friend along the way? It would certainly make the stay in Manila a little less lonely since I have, for better or for worse, cut most ties with my old life here.
I signed up on Couchsurfing.com through my Facebook account and seeing a number of my friends were users gave me more faith in the idea. Browsing through a few profiles of potential hosts in Metro Manila, I quickly thought: these are my people.
The surfers I encountered were world travelers and world learners, swapping stories, exchanging languages, and sharing jamming sessions. I got in touch with both locals and foreigners staying in Manila and soon made friends with Rhylie Villoria, a Dutch-speaking Filipina with six (seven if the Amsterdammer who popped in for a visit counts them) rescue dogs and a drum kit living in the exact part of the city I needed to base of during my stay. She offered to host me and my first Couchsurf was made official.
To be honest, I didn’t put much into my profile–other than a few short lines and a link to my blog–nor did I bother making the payment to verify my identity. I simply sent our a number of messages and requests and posted a “public trip” requesting a host, which other surfers can see.
I felt blessed to have found such a wonderful person as Rhylie and after staying with her, she took some time to answer a few of my questions about the Couchsurfing community.
How did you discover Couchsurfing?
My Norwegian brother-in-law mentioned it; that was a year before I started hosting.
How long have you been surfing and how many people have you hosted?
I’ve been on Couchsurfing since March 2015 and I’ve hosted 21 people so far.
Why do you host?
When I started hosting, my intention was so I’d have a diversion or distraction because I’d just gone through a breakup. But after hosting a few people, I realized it was fun and I was learning more about other people’s country and culture so I began hosting as much. Also, it’s my way of paying it forward since I’ve Couchsurfed at some hosts’ places too. Another reason is that I’m raised to be kind to people in need, so whenever I see couch requests, I do my best to help out.
Tell me about your most memorable Couchsurfing experience.
When I was in Genk, Belgium, I got hosted by a middle-aged man whom later became my “uncle Dave”. He gave me shelter for three days during my first visit to Europe–Belgium being the first country. He toured me around and drove me wherever I wanted to go; I saw things and places not a bunch of tourists have seen around Genk. The hosting didn’t end there because whenever I come to Genk, his house remains open to me and he even let me celebrate Christmas with his family when I had no one to celebrate it with while abroad. When you Couchsurf, you can gain lifetime friends.
Do you feel safe Couchsurfing alone?
I feel safe given the circumstances that I take time to get to know my host and listen to my gut feelings. I don’t just choose a host; I talk to them for a while, read their references, and do a little background check on what’s available online. Being careful has a lot to do with feeling safe so I make sure I take precautionary measures as well, but yeah, once I’ve assured trust toward the host, I feel safe.
What should everyone know about Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing isn’t just a free place to substitute pricey hotel rooms whenever you travel around a new place; it’s a community of people who are willing to help out yet not to have their kindness abused. It is a place where hospitality and kindness are the currencies and exchange rates are dependent on your faith in humanity. There are bad stories alongside the good ones every now and then but there will always be a huge percentage of people who keep upholding the true purpose of this community.