Friday, April 24, 2009

Couchsurfing!

Couchsurfing. Come again, I said when I heard of it for the first time. Couch..... surfing? Weird name. But well, that's best way to describe it. So this is this awesome idea which lets you meet, and stay with, complete strangers in a strange and unknown city. That's it. There's no catch, there's no punchline. And neither is this some new, weird way to hook up. it's not about dating. At all. It's just about surfing. Couches.

I had a look at the site, and was intrigued. This seemed very interesting. My Eurotrip (ok, Summer Internship) gave me the perfect chance to try this out. I came here, and somewhat developed cold feet. Stay in a strangers house for a night? Meet a random stranger just like that? I balked at the idea, and decided to 'not take a chance' and book into a hostel on the night I was going to be Vienna. But then I reached Vienna, and after half a day of trooping around in the sun and wondering what made me think of the loony idea of traveling alone in a city where I did not even understand the road signs, and where each beautiful monument made me go... hmm... nice... now what do I do with that?... and I thought of shaking things up a bit. I remembered the CS site, and decided to give it a shot. It was a long shot that somebody would respond so quickly, but having nothing to lose, I dropped a few messages to some interesting profiles, with the confidence that I would never hear from them.

I wandered around in the evening, looking for some place where I could decipher what went into the food so that I did not eat something which I did not want to, namely meat, sat in the underground and decided to get off at a random station, and spent the evening on the banks of the Danube. I came back, and to my surprise, I had a reply and a phone number. A call next afternoon and a few messages fixed things up, though I was still rather skeptical of the whole thing. But then what followed blew me away, it was an experience which was simply awesome.
And now I am in love with this concept. I think it's not just a fantastic idea, but very doable. I can hear the usual arguments - it's ok in Europe, it's ok for a guy, it's ok just for coffee, and such blah. But I say, for a moment, open up your mind and trust a person. Just for a little while. Maybe you can ask him or her to have a reservation in a hotel as a backup, and meet up over coffee to see how it goes. Why not? Sure, it would be a tad strange to tell a chap to buzz off after being with him for a few hours, but hey, if not that, you'd have stayed the same old you, closed and scared and not wanting to meet anybody. Maybe you can call a friend over to stay with you when the visitor is going to come, maybe when you stay with somebody, you stay with somebody of the same sex (which somehow does not make me feel any more relieved, though ;) ), there are a hundred things you could do. The CS site also has a reference system where previous surfers and hosts rate how their experience was. Yes, it's not risk free, but then what in life is? Bad things happen, irrespective of what you do, at times, but does that mean we close ourselves up completely? I mean you could take all this care and be safe and then get mowed down by a car the next day (which is quite possible for me in Europe, with my unerring tendency of going to the extreme left of the road each time I turn when riding my bicycle, and consequently landing up right in front of some rather startled motorist who is too freaked out to even be angry at me).
So then, I am game for this. Time will tell if that's a wise thing to do, but maybe I'll trust the collective wisdom of several hundred thousand people who use the website. And disregard that of some people who told me I was stupid to go to a city all alone without knowing anybody or anything. Maybe, I'll just let go and see what happens!

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