I believe in Karma more than I believe in religion, what goes around, comes around; you get what you give. So, when I discovered couchsurfing it was the ultimate affirmation in good people paying it forward. Immediately I wanted into the community and prescribed to their “changing the world one couch at a time” tag line. Couchsurfing is karma at it’s best if you ask me; the concept is that you will host travelling strangers at your house in exchange for you to stay at stranger’s homes while you are traveling, all for free.
Couchsurfing is a free website that has an interface similar to facebook where users create a profile and highlight where they live with details of how many people they can host for how long. Prospective “surfers” search the database and choose hosts to contact based on their profiles and then send a request to stay. Hosts reply based on their availability and then both parties make arrangements to meet up.
Prior to leaving on our trip we joined couchsurfing and hosted about a dozen different people. From the very first Texan couple we hosted we fell in love with the concept. It was so much fun to host people and meet new friends from around the world. In the short few months before we left we hosted a French exchange student preparing for college in the States, an organ donor undergoing testing at the U of M and a Twin Cities marathoner that placed in the top 20 finishers. We enjoyed the people that stayed with us and couldn’t wait to stay with people while traveling.
Unfortunately, starting in South East Asia made it tough to find hosts as most people live in multi-generational homes and have little space to host foreigners. It wasn’t until almost six months into the trip that we were able to find a host that would take us in. We were overjoyed when we got several “yes” emails back to our couchsurfing requests in Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in the world.
A night out with Takeshi at a local izakaya, Japanese style bar
Takeshi, a cardiovascular surgeon in Tokyo was our first host and he was incredible. He gave us great directions to the train station near his house and met us there, greeting us like old friends. He chatted with us in perfect English as he helped us carry our bags back to his condo. We learned that he had gone to high school in California, which accounted for his excellent English and that he was working extra hours to save up to buy a Harley Davidson. We reached his condo and were impressed with the amazing city views from his 33rd floor balcony that we would be enjoying for the next four nights free of charge.
Me and Takeshi cooking at his condo in Tokyo
Within an hour of arriving it was clear that Takeshi was not like any doctor we had met before. After touring his condo Takeshi insisted we go out to a local bar for dinner and drinks, we assumed the extravagant meal and several rounds of drinks were our welcome because it was our first night. However, we soon learned that this was a normal night for him, in fact every night we stayed with Takeshi was a party. He took us to delicious local izakayas (Japanese bars), hopping karaoke parlors and he even let us ride in his robotic car park. We had so much fun with Takeshi we stayed with him for another five days before we left Tokyo.
thinkCHUA and our Kyoto host Masato
Our good couchsurfing karma didn’t end in Tokyo. We stayed with another host in Kyoto, giving us another opportunity to live like a local. Masato, like Takeshi gave us great directions to the bus stop near his place and then met us and helped us back to his apartment. His English was also excellent and we learned that he is in the midst of a career change, studying to become an accountant. He hosts couchsurfers as often as he can, which means he has visitors almost every single night. Much of his time is spent studying for the CPA, but he was more than happy to take us out at night for a meal and introduce us to different Japanese foods. He also took a day off from studying to show us around to a few lesser-known temples as well as introduce us to the Japanese Onsen (public bath).
Enjoying a traditional Korean meal with our Busan host Becky and her co-teacher
From Japan we moved onto South Korea, where we continued our couchsurfing success on a recommendation from Takeshi to stay with Becky in Busan. Becky, just like our Japanese hosts gave us perfect directions to her place and despite our late arrival of 11 p.m. greeted us each with a huge hug. Staying with Becky was like having a slumber party with your best friend every night. We heard stories about her years in the Peace Corp and exchanged travel tales. She took us out every evening when she was done teaching and even arranged a traditional Korean meal with her co-teacher who ordered a delicious feast for us to share. We stayed longer than we had planned and it was still hard to say goodbye.
Becky, Takeshi and Masato made our trip to Japan and South Korea and the memories we shared will not soon be forgotten. I can confidently say after both hosting and surfing that couchsurfing is changing the world one couch at a time. Our three hosts embody the spirit of couchsurfing and are more than welcome on our couch, when we have one again, anytime!