For those of you thinking of taking the leap of “round-the-world” (RTW) travel, there are a few wonderful options for accommodation that really do make it more affordable and downright enjoyable. A website called Couchsurfing (CSing) has been an integral part of my life, community and travels since 2008. People are skeptical for many reasons, safety as the most important, and understandably so; however, I’ve only had one inappropriate exchange in 7 years of opening my house and heart to the Couchsurfing community. In 2008, I rented a two-bedroom apartment in Chengdu, China. I had no real use for the second bedroom, so I decided to open my apartment up to travelers who needed a place to crash while visiting Chengdu and wanted to get to know me and have a more local experience. My first Couchsurfers (CSers) were three Israeli kids, who I am STILL friends with till this day. We still check on one another and plan to cross paths again in either Israel or Europe. In fact, Shai, one of those three first surfers, is living in France at the moment. I fully intend to see him and devour the most amazing vegan food together since he’s taken the full leap to vegan, which I am unfortunately still working on. He was a special and perfect first guest and I’ll never forget him, Tal or Lea.
This was just the beginning. From there, I hosted over 30 more guests from around the world. Cam Fink from Melbourne, Australia was one of my most memorable visitors. He planned to stay one night, but we had such an amazing time, he stayed 5 nights. We just toured the city, ate hotpot and drank many beers on the 32nd floor rooftop overlooking Chengdu. Again, I hosted an amazing fellow named, Ameya from Mumbai, India. Years later he surfed with me in DC and then I stayed with him a couple years after that with him and his parents in Mumbai. When I moved from Chengdu, China to Beijing for the second time, I met the MOST INCREDIBLE gentleman who I have lovingly dubbed the “King of Couchsurfing in the Jing,” named Mike. Mike is the most hospitable, kind and honest man you’ll meet in your travels. A good ole, Boston boy who loves his country, but has fallen deeply in love with China. He’s a perfect ambassador to a new place, but more importantly, he’s a damn good friend. Another example of lifelong friendships from CSing began in Washington, DC. My now dear friend, Meredith hosted me when I first moved to DC from China. She agreed to host me for a few days while I interviewed for jobs. We got on so well, that she helped get me a job and then we lived together for a year and a half in the very apartment she hosted me in. On my #CitizenSoccerJourney, I just recently visited her in southern Spain. Friends for life and all because of Couchsurfing!! I have many, many more stories that can reaffirm the beauty of this site. Another recent example: When I was recently in Barcelona, I surfed with a gentleman named, Jan. A kind soul who picked me up from the airport and dropped me off days later. Gave me house keys, picked me up in Barcelona after work and had tapas and drinks together. He was so hospitable and generous and an utter gentleman. We have already have plans in Kenya together for his imminent visit. And now that I am safe and sound in Africa, I have another impressive CSing host named Ivraj to thank for my stay here. He’s opened his home to me, where I am still staying as I type this. He’s been an absolute gem and integral to my stay here in Kenya. I don’t know what I’d do without him here honestly. A true friend…already.
This brings me to speak about and show video from my incredible experience in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After spending much rambunctious time in hostels across northern Thailand, I was yearning for some much needed relaxation. I came to Kuala Lumpur (KL) on a few days layover before heading to Borneo, Malaysia. I decided I would look for a Couchsurfing host before looking for another hostel. Enter: Regalia Residence at Putra Station. I found a CSing “Ambassador” in KL, named Henry who has hosted well over 300 CSers traveling through the city. When I arrived, he was hosting another AH-MAY-ZING woman, named Justine for the weekend as well.
Unfortunately, Henry was leaving for an unexpected weekend getaway the very next morning to Langkawi, Malaysia. In true CSing spirit, he left Justine and me a set of keys, an apartment to call our own, and an infinity pool on the 37th floor with an EPIC view of the KL skyline. I’ll be honest with you…besides an outing to Batu Caves and food runs, I rarely left the pool all four days. Either did Justine. We became fast friends and I will never forget this incredibly warm, kind, giving, sweet soul from Quebec, Canada. She will always have a special place in my heart.
Over the next four days, we became friends with a large group of Nigerian and Zambian residents of Regalia. They took us to delicious food, an African club to dance the night away till 7am and swam with us in the pool till we were kicked out each day. Beers, interesting conversations, swims, bikinis, skylines, relaxation, and friendships for life, which all came together because of CSing. Henry returned from his trip to Langkawi and I had to leave. I did NOT want to leave. I already liked Malaysia before, but this just sealed the deal as my potential favorite place. The food in Malaysia is out of control delicious, the people are utterly kind and then I had THIS experience?? And all because of CSing? I’ve had so many amazing friendships, experiences and even jobs that came from Couchsurfing, I can’t imagine it not being a major part of my travels, so I’ve made it a priority to be so.
Those of you who are skeptical…just stop. It’s a great resource, but more importantly, it will bring you authentic friendships and experiences from a local perspective. GET ON BOARD. My only advice that I give and should be taken very seriously, especially as a female solo traveler…do not even think about surfing with ANYONE that doesn’t have a significant amount of references from both genders. Always trust your instincts and realize that not everyone has a true CSing spirit. Some people do try and use this site as a hookup site so be picky about your hosts. I’ve only had one bad experience in this regard and I just left his place and found a great hostel instead. In 7 years of use, statistically speaking, this isn’t bad. I wish it hadn’t happened at all, but not everyone is going to be the perfect host or surfer. That aside, I have had only fantastic experiences on CSing and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves long-term travel and wants an interesting experience! If you have any questions at all that you’d like to ask me about CSing, please feel free to shoot me an email. I’ve been an active part of the community for a long time and I feel I’ve got a pretty good handle on the site and how it works. Check out the video I compiled of my time in KL and that RIDICULOUS pool and view!! By the way, if you can’t work out a CSing experience at Regalia Residence while visiting KL, you can rent an apartment there and still enjoy this famous and fabulous pool experience. But honestely folks, it’s just better to find bad ass CSing hosts and go with the flow that way. It’s almost always a better experience. Happy surfing & hosting!!