An Ode to Couchsurfing

The kindness of strangers changed my outlook on backpacking.

Katy Velvet
Apr 18 · 5 min read

I was once an avid traveller. I still am, but maybe not to the same extent of how I used to travel. In fact, I often bought one-way tickets to destinations without ever planning on what I was going to do next. And it gave me an adrenaline rush.

The backpacking days as a 20-something year old meant that I did all sorts of crazy things, and one of them was couchsurfing. And it’s not what you think. Couchsurfing has been around for a while, and it’s an interesting way to meet locals in whatever country you’re travelling in. This is literally their motto:

“We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”

It was almost like the Medium of travelling. Sound exhilarating yet? Read on.

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

The first experience I ever had as a couchsurfer was in Sydney, Australia. I was a young solo traveller, and I made use of all the available resources when it came to the nomadic lifestyle. Thus, I decided to make a profile on Couchsurfing. Of course, as a young female traveller, I had to be careful of this venture and I used my intuition to choose what I thought appeared to be the most friendliest person as my host.

And my intuition was right.

The person who decided to host me was named Talbert, and he was just another 20-something solo traveller as well. And we instantly hit it off as friends… which lead to another one-way plane ticket to Thailand.

And when I returned from my oh-so-exciting adventures overseas, I decided to become a couchsurfing host: in my one bedroom apartment in East Vancouver.

People thought I was fucking crazy.

And they were right. There was a time in my life where I was a true free spirit, with no boundaries. I was pretty trusting of the human species, and had a Make Love, Not War mentality. And backpackers understood the joy of courageous acts and spontaneity, so I knew that I was going to be okay.

Living alone at the time was a new experience for me, and I still had the travel bug after all my previous adventures. Up to date, I have probably travelled to over 20 countries now and most of those ventures were experienced on my own. I’d like to say that I have lived a pretty spontaneous lifestyle.

The first couchsurfing guest I ever had was a bright 20-something year old from England. His name was Zulu. And when he first arrived, he was timid of me. Not the other way around. I still remember the first night upon his arrival, and how he peaked from around the corner of my building with an uncomfortable look on his face. He was skeptical.

“So… this is where you’ll be sleeping…”

I forgot to mention that I’m about 5' tall, so my idea of a couch is actually a cute loveseat I picked up from The Brick. And even though it may not properly fit anyone taller than 5'5, it was warm and cozy in my books.

At the time, I was part of this “community” I stumbled upon Craigslist called I Love My Life Right Now. It was a group of people who wanted to do equally inspiring things, and I thought I would be a great fit for their mission. It didn’t exactly take off, but I enjoyed my short-term role with them as a volunteer yoga instructor. Consider it a summer fling.

Anyway, that’s a bit of my life as what I have been referring myself to lately… the so-called #InternationalWomanofMystery. I mention this part of my life to the story, because well… I had different interests at the time, and I want to paint a picture of who I was back then. Not now.

Back to the story: I ended up introducing him to the eclectic bunch I met through this group, and we ended up hanging out at a local bar.

The result? He told me over drinks that I was fucking crazy, but hey — had I not done this, he may have been sleeping on the street. But we became friends. And we spent most of his days in Vancouver dancing up a storm.
And to this day, we remain connected on Facebook. We may not talk regularly, but sometimes he likes my posts every now and then. From the millennial perspective, we’re on good terms.

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Second up was a fellow from Denmark. I introduced him to a friend of mine, and we all ended up doing a charity run together. And he even helped me get rid of mice in my apartment. Turns out he was about 6'4 too, which means that there was no way he was going to fit on my loveseat — so he decided to camp out, on the floor.

As it was my first apartment as a 20-something year old, it wasn’t exactly a luxury home. In fact, the building had a mouse infestation. And he happened to be staying at my place during that time. Food would disappear throughout the night, including the muffin he bought from Starbucks. And I even saw a mouse jump out of the 50 lb bag of jasmine rice I had in the kitchen.

Wait, there’s more.

One day, he decided to catch them… with his own bare hands. I came home to a box of baby mice. And we set them free, together.

After my couchsurfing experiences, I realized that the two boys I hosted were just people trying to find their way in the world. There was never a time where I felt unsafe, and there was never any pressure for me to sleep with them, either. The interactions with them were pretty friendly, and I can confirm that it is possible to foster meaningful connections through couchsurfing. It was like adopting a backpacker, and I’m proud to say that I did it.

Well, my couchsurfing days are over now. And although I have no desire to host strangers in my home anymore, I am glad that I was part of their journey. Here’s to hoping that I at least made it to the list of stories they tell to their grandchildren.

Will I ever do it again, you ask? Probably not, unless you’re a Medium friend and you don’t mind the long-drawn stories I tell. All I can say is that there’s no back button in real life, so you better like your coffee black.

Follow along for more stories like this.

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Katy Velvet

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