For every story on LivingIF, there is a backstory. Here are two unforgettable experiences we had due to Couchsurfing, both of which led to trip highlights. Let us know in the comments if there are any stories you’ve read here that you wanted to know more about how they happened…
I wonder what our trip would have been without Couchsurfing. Staying with strangers, all around the world, was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. The problem with Couchsurfing though is that it is a logistical challenge. Instead of heading to a central area to find a hotel, you have to head to residential areas, then find a person. Arriving in a new country, without a phone, trying to find someone inevitably leads to memorable situations. Nothing was quite like getting from Japan to South Korea.
Getting to South Korea meant exiting Japan, leaving Japan meant a last night out on the town that went from bar to bar to karaoke to sunrise. Taking a quick nap we had some takeout sushi for breakfast and headed to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Narita is a city about an hour away from Tokyo, so we gave ourselves plenty of time, and casually switched trains from the metro to the suburban rail lines. Simple enough, just go to Narita, right? WRONG, never go to Narita…go to Narita Airport! They are very different destinations.
Arriving in Narita we realized our mistake and had burned our extra time. We ran out of the train station and asked a taxi driver how much to get to the airport. Translating on his phone he estimated it would be $120 and take over an hour…he recommended we take the train. Running back into the station, I saw a person who looked about 18 and asked him, “do you have an iPhone?” He responded, “hai” and handed it to me. Think about this for a second, on a train platform he just handed a complete stranger his iPhone…that’s Japan for you.
How did our best meal in South Korea happen? Trains, planes, buses and running.
The man with the iPhone said that he too was going to the airport…and he’d take us to the check-in counters. Looking at the train schedule, he estimated we’d arrive at the airport 25 minutes before our flight’s departure. He studied the Narita airport map from the train to the Delta check-in counter so we wouldn’t make a wrong turn. The three of us burst through the still-opening doors of the train, LOCAVORista and him sprinting to the counters with me behind carrying our bags. The check-in staff made a few calls to allow us to check-in, 15 minutes from an international departure, and instructed us, “you go now!” We said goodbye to our new Japanese friend and rushed through security, immigration and the terminal. We got to the gate and found everyone still at the gate; the flight had a last-minute delay of 30 minutes!
Arriving in Busan, late in the evening, we followed our Couchsurfer’s instructions to the word. Showing the Korean name of where we needed to get off the bus to fellow passengers, we got help. Several debated the “best” way for us to get there. Finally a woman apparently said (in Korean) that she was heading that way and the sole English speaker instructed us to follow her. She motioned to us when we needed to get off, pushed the buttons in the metro to buy our tickets and walked us to the platform.
We got off where our Couchsurfer had instructed, but now what? How would we get in touch with her? Here is where traveling with a blonde comes in handy. She gestured to a person outside a convenience store she needed to make a call and showed the number. He dialed it into his ridiculously oversized phone (a full-size Samsung tablet) and handed it to her. Within minutes our Couchsurfing host arrived. Sitting down in her apartment, listening to her Minnesotan English, was such a relief after all we’d be through…
I wish I could say that this was an unusually active day for us, but it wasn’t. Behind almost every story on LivingIF, every memory we have, is a much longer story of stress, confusion, sweat and the kindness of strangers saving us.
“You have to go to the MONA!”, could have been the single best piece of advice we received in Australia. Even better it was from a friend that we ran into by chance. Regular readers of our blog have probably ready about the most interesting museum we’ve ever visited, but most of you don’t know how we landed there. Walking down the street from our Tasmanian Couchsurfer’s house we literally bumped into (stepped on her toes) a friend we had met nearly a year earlier in Myanmar.
The kind of serendipity that brought us both together in Hobart, Tasmania is hard for me to comprehend. Even better was the hospitality she showed us and the warm welcome she gave us to her island home. It started with the advice to head to the MONA after which she insisted we come to her place for dinner and stay the night. How could we say no?
It would have been a tragedy to miss out on the MONA, but the meal and evening shenanigans that followed our chance meeting with Elinor were nothing short of incredible. We were treated to one of the most delicious meals of the trip all prepared by Elinor and then a night that we won’t ever forget. Without meeting Elinor we wouldn’t have known about the free concert down the street, drank several liters (yes, liters) of wine, or enjoyed prosciutto wrapped mushrooms. It was a truly amazing experience!