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Saturday, May 7, 2011

The joys of Couchsurfing

The title sounds a little sarcastic, but it truly has been a joy to have been a part of the Couchsurfing network.

For those who are new to this concept, Couchsurfing is not a movement of people using their couches as surfboards, rather it is:
"A worldwide network for making connections between travellers and the local communities they visit" - 
Essentially, you open your home up to travellers who, in turn, share their experiences with you. If you're travelling, it means that you can stay with a local for a few nights and learn more about their home/way of life etc. It is almost the polar opposite of the type of travel where you stay in a tourist enclave and never see the locals.

At face value it sounds like it is the visitors who benefit from this scheme the most. In actual fact, Couchsurfing has opened us up to meeting a wide range of people, hearing a multitude of stories and has allowed us to give these travellers a warm New Zealand welcome. Even though it is against Couchsurfing rules to accept money, we do receive the occasional gift as a thank you.

Couchsurfing is built on the idea of mutual trust and we have had a great experience with it so far despite hearing a few stories to the contrary; luckily these are the exception to the rule.
Despite increasing globalisation, the idea of opening up your home to complete strangers is counter-cultural. But in the current global situation this is exactly what the world needs, more trust, less fear. In saying this, we are careful with who we host.

Here are a few things we have learned during our two years hosting people:
  • The Nu Zullund accent can be hard to understand... especially when we both speak fast and slurred...
  • Kiwi slang is also not easy to understand even for english speakers because NZ slang has influences from England, USA and Austrailia, as well as out own inventions. We spent an hour or so writing out some common slang for one of our (many) German couchsurfers after completely confusing her within 10 minutes of meeting her. 
  • Respect the language barrier. We very nearly had a bad experience hosting due to this exact issue. We had just hosted people back to back and we felt pressured into hosting some more surfers (bad bad bad). This led to us not being quite as specific with time limits than we normally are. Essentially, we thought we had specified that they could stay one night- they thought it was ok to stay for a week... after they stayed a couple of nights (and got back really late each night) we made the step of apologising for the misunderstanding and clarified when they were leaving. Potentially bad situation turned positive and we have since learnt to be very specific with our information, especially when they do not speak English as a first language. 
  •  The opportunity to have a hot shower and a warm bed crosses all barriers even if you really have nothing in common! 
  • Hitchhiking doesn't seem nearly as bad or scary as we had previously thought. Most of our surfers do it at some stage during their time here and one couple even relied on it as their sole form of transport while in NZ. Not kidding- they spent a week hanging around marinas in Wellington and hitched a ride across Cook Strait on a yacht!
  • Germans are everywhere! We have hosted more Germans than any other country and they all say "Wow, there are so many Germans here!"
  • Maple butter is the best invention to ever come out of Canada. A lovely Canadian couchsurfer gave us a little pottle of it as a present and one of us (not naming names) has been craving it ever since.
We now have friends based throughout the world and many of them have offered us their couch should we ever travel near their city. Should we ever not be able to host, then we can instead offer to meet travellers for a coffee, show them around the city or just meet travellers at the local Auckland couchsurfing group for drinks.

We strongly recommend giving it a try. 


  1. :-)

    We do something similar - we host touring cyclists through a website called 'warm showeres'. It's awesome!

  2. Heather, that's awesome and a great idea! (Ive just had a look at the site) We are having some Couchsurfers arrive today who are on a 'cycle tour of the world'- I assume they may know about that scheme, but I'll mention it anyway!
    Thanks, Emma