Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Couchsurfing in Dallas (Throwback post)

I mentioned couchsurfing in our Daytona Beach posting, where we had our first go at it, but it was here in Dallas that we had our first 'proper' Couchsurfing experience.

Couchsurfing is a global community of around six million people that started up in 2004.  As the name suggests, members of the community surf each others couches.  Although in fact, it is a lot more than that. Our first experience in Daytona was a soft entry into the world, as Georgy was actually offering a private bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, so it was little different to our Airbnb stays in that way.  But we paid nothing for it.  Obviously we took along a bottle of wine, and we bought a few beers to share with him one night, but the stay itself cost us nothing and he cooked a meal for us on the one evening that we were all in.  

In Dallas, our experience was a little different, and we were actually on a couple of couches in the living room.  We initially had applied to a couple of people who offered beds in spare rooms, but they were not available.  Ruiz and Maya saw our request and offered to host us on their couches.  And so we ended up doing our first proper Couchsurfing on couches.  Mind you, they were big comfy couches and it was a lovely home.

At this point, many people adding this are probably thinking the same things that we thought when we first heard of this scheme: a) why would you go and stay with a complete stranger like this; and b) why on earth would they let a complete stranger stay with them for free?

Well in the first place, Couchsurfing suggests we should think of people not as complete strangers, but rather as 'friends we haven't met yet'.  And you don't just stay with an entirely random person.  When you sign up to the scheme you fill out a profile which tells people a bit about who you are and what you're like. and hosts and guests leave reviews on each other so that any bad experiences can be flagged and warn off others.  We have certainly found that you can get a reasonable idea about the people this way, and so we decide who we might like to stay with based on that - and hosts do the same when deciding who to accept.
There are potential risks in the scheme, especially when people just stay with anyone, even if there is nothing on their profile, but we choose to be more careful than that, and would recommend the same to anyone else starting out in it.  Reading the profiles and references, seeing who they have hosted before (ie a lone female who doesn't want to get hit on may not want to stay with some guy who only ever seems to host attractive young women), and having the wherewithal to abandon the Couchsurfing and find somewhere else to stay if you feel uncomfortable when you arrive and all good things to think about.

As to the money, well people's reasons for doing it vary.  To a degree the scheme is aiming to be reciprocal, in that it is hoped that if you stay with people, you will also host people.  We can't host at present and we don't live anywhere permanently, but we will do so when we have an opportunity in the future.

But in fact many of the people who host rarely, if ever, travel themselves.  Hosting people who do travel, from all over the world, is their way of meeting new people, and of hearing about new places and travel experiences.  One couple we met in Dallas actually bought a bigger home so that they could host more people, just because they find it such a rewarding thing to do.

And it isn't just about staying with people.  The aim is to create a real community, so the site has conversation threads where people arrange just simply to meet someone for coffee and show them around their home town, or where a lone traveller can hook up with other travellers for a road trip or to go hiking etc.
They also arrange events.  The regular meeting is normally in a bar, where hosts, other locals and travellers meet up, whether they are currently surfing or not.  But they also have pot luck dinners, where everyone takes a dish of food to someone's home, they organize groups to go along to local events, and all sorts of things.  It just depends on how involved and imaginative the local couchsurfers are.
So in Dallas, our hosts took us along to the regular meetup.  Actually we arrived before them, so for the first time we had that slightly strange experience of walking up to a likely looking group of people and asking 'are you the Couchsurfing group?' On this occasion we were right, but it doesnt always work, and we got a few strange looks when we picked the wrong group one time in Canada. There may be a need for a Couchsurfers' lapel pin I think!
The Dallas group was great, with lots of really friendly people, some of whom are now Facebook friends and we may one day catch up with on our respective travels.  We also met with one couple who we had applied to stay with but who already had a family member staying at the time.  They picked us up from our hosts, took us out to lunch,  and then drove us across town to where we wanted to be next.

We also joined our hosts at a bloc party at a nearby art gallery, and for St Patrick's Day.

So that is Couchsurfing in a nutshell.  It is a great idea.  It gives us a chance to both save a bit of money if we are staying just a few days, and to meet new people who are genuinely interested in getting to know you a bit.  Hosts and locals make the effort to help travellers get to know their town, sometimes with a few insider tips about places that are not in the guide books, and you may just make a new friend for life.

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