In general I’ve only really heard two differing views of couch surfing. The “mum” point of view which involves general apprehension towards staying in the house of strangers and the travellers, more open-minded attitude which embraces the opportunity to stay with locals and meet new people. There are a couple of ways to get the most out of couch surfing. If you don’t have a couch or would just like the meet travellers visiting your city, you can set your status to “unable to host, but can hang out”. You can also approach people with this status in the city you are visiting. Or if you want to be hosted by someone, you can approach people with an available couch or make a public request to see if anyone can host you.
A few months ago, I finally had the opportunity to stay at someone’s place when my friend and I planned early enough ahead to ask someone to host us. After changing the date (which was ok for him), asking if there was room for a third person (there wasn’t), emailing to say we would still like to stay as our third person couldn’t come, waiting to hear back from him two days before then emailing other couch surfers as all the hostels were booked out, we finally had our definite answer – ‘I’ll pick you up from the train station’. Excellent! Our couch surfing adventure could begin.
Going by train from Rome to Perugia is beautiful. Best seen in the evening, at the time when there is still light and the setting sun spreads its magic over the hills. There are a number of gorgeous, small hilly towns to see as you enjoy store bought apperitivo and the steady rock of the train.
During our train ride we talked about how strange it felt to be meeting a complete stranger. We came up with a number of entertaining background stories for our host, all of which were disproved once we met him. As we waited at the (rather dodgy looking) train station, a large, diverse number of people drove past and we began to play the guessing game. To add to the feeling of potential risk involved in jumping into a strangers car, a drunken fight broke out across the road from us.
Meeting a stranger and staying at their place wasn’t too worrying (references speak a thousand words!), I was more worried about whether or not he spoke english. You see, my friend Vale, an Italian, had made all the contact. Imagine, staying at someone’s house for the weekend when all you could talk about in their language was how lovely the weather was and how beautiful Australia is.
Well, the complete stranger with long hair turned up and was very lovely despite the fact that he didn’t speak English. This was a challenge for my Italian skills and turned out to be a fantastic learning curve for me as I had to shake any shyness at speaking in Italian in front of Vale who speaks excellent English. I also learnt to embrace the mistakes I made (which were frequent and often rude). Usually, these mistakes made for excellent stories.
From the moment of meeting Francesco, we knew we’d enjoy our weekend in Perugia. He was a great host. He showed us the town on our first night, the next day him and his roommates drove us to a beautiful lake where we had lunch at an excellent local restaurant, and ate Torta al Testa, a typical Perugian panino. We were also taken to a university party up in the mountains and watched as fireworks went off over the valley.
Couch surfing is an excellent way to visit a city and meet people and I’ll definitely do it again, if only for the fun guessing games had at the train station!