I’ve known Kim for a handful of years and she didn’t mind answering a few questions for me. So, here is a piece of Kim’s story, from her most recent adventures abroad. It is my hope that people like Kim can inspire other young travelers to JUST GO.
So, tell me all you can about couch surfing!
I am so interested in how it works, how safe you felt, what your hosts were like, what you did, etc. I want to let people know that it’s not unsafe or crazy or any of those other negative things that people assume.
“Couchsurfing? Do you mean life-changing experience? So, you start off by going to couchsurfing.com, make yourself a profile, and start your search. Whatever city you’re interested in going to, type it in, and you get a bunch of different profiles as results. You focus on how many references they have and if they were positive/negative/neutral, when their last login was, their response rate percentage, and if those all look appealing, click on the profile and check out more of their personal life. You should try to look for someone with similar interests – that way you can click and it won’t be awkward. Some of them have private bedrooms for you, some have you sleep on a couch, every person and house is different. Then you send your request! This isn’t something you can copy and paste to several hosts. This has to be personal, kind, and appealing. They respond with a yes/no/maybe and you go from there.
Some pick you up from the airport or train station, some meet with you somewhere, or sometimes you have to find your way to their home. I felt safe in all of my couch surfing experiences. Anyone can have a safe couch surfing experience if they are smart about it. My hosts were all so incredible. A few stand out. First, there was a guy in Barcelona, his name was Omar. We talked for weeks and weeks on WhatsApp before I arrived in Spain and I knew we were going to get along great. When I arrived at his house, we clicked instantly. It felt like we were friends for years. We walked for hours and talked, went to the beach, and he even took me out for tapas, mojitos AND gelato.
Another really amazing experience was with a couple in a very, very small town in Norway. We cooked dinner together every night, I talked crafts with the wife Pilar, and I even did a 12 hour hike in the snow with the husband, Trond. A lot of people have a negative assumption about couch surfing because honestly…it sounds crazy. Staying in a complete strangers house? Insane. But it is simply amazing. Yes, most of the time it is free, which is nice. But that’s beside the fact. No matter where you are in the world, you are staying with a local. You get to experience their life and culture first hand, which is way better than staying at a hotel. Eating with these people and hearing about their lives and their different stories…there is nothing quite like it. They tell you the hidden treasures of their city and are hosting you because they love people and want a piece of your culture as well. Couch surfing is safe, eye-opening, and absolutely life changing. PLEASE DO.”
How do you feel about solo adventure / travel? How has traveling alone impacted your life? I am really trying to get through to young people on how IMPORTANT solo travel is!
“People call me crazy for traveling solo, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. There is nothing better to me. You really truly find yourself when you travel and venture off on your own. You have many peak experiences, and you become a lot more independent. It isn’t lonely as many people think. It forces you to step out of your comfort zone and talk to people. I was traveling alone – when I wanted to do things alone, I could. When I wanted a joiner – I asked people if they’d like to come. Very simple.
The best thing about traveling alone to me, sorry if it sounds selfish, but you get to see what you want to see…..and don’t have to worry about seeing things you DON’T want to see. You’re on your own schedule. You’re running on your own time. Traveling solo seems intimidating, of course. And it is. And there will be times where you get scared, you want to cry, and you’ll probably get lost. But you grow, you learn, and you find yourself. It’s incredible.”
“Goodness. This is difficult. I’m going to have to say going to a beer festival in my favorite city in Germany. Regensburg, Germany hosts the “Regensburger Dult”, which is a typical German beer festival. It’s a big fair with rides, games, cotton candy, and then…..the beer tent, of course. Everyone is dressed in lederhosen and the dirndl dresses. If you don’t have a liter of beer in your hand right after you step into the tent, you’re doing it wrong. There is a live band playing ALL different types of music…..even some old school songs in English! You stand on picnic tables, clap, dance, and sing along until you can barely stand anymore. It is such a fun experience – and I have gone two years in a row. I love it. I think that’s one of the parts of my most recent trip that stands out the most.”
“Trolltunga! Ahh! I’ve been wanting to do this hike in Norway for years. Probably four years or so. I saw a picture online and promised myself I would do it. So, I did it. It’s about a 12 hour hike….and depending on what time of the year you go…..there’s a good chance there may be snow. In June the snow is usually gone….that wasn’t the case this year. Most snow in the mountains in June since the 50s! Crazy stuff.
You start off at the base, and the first couple of miles is going straight up….but climbing and jumping from rock to rock. Then you have to hike for miles and miles and miles through the snow (or maybe not, but I did.) There isn’t really a trail, just a very narrow path where footprints lay that you have to follow in a single line if there’s more than one of you. It is VERY important to watch every step and don’t head off the “path” because on the winter trail….you are walking over some rivers and things like this. Many people can fall in and we do not want that.
Anyways….after what seems like days of hiking, you make it to the Troll’s Tongue. When you reach this point, you forget about your wet, frozen toes and runny noses. It takes your breath away, really. The water is so blue, the snow on the mountain caps….it’s unreal. There is absolutely nothing like it. I can’t explain the hike or the view well….just look at photos. Let’s just end this by saying that when I reached the top I started crying.”
What are a few of your biggest and best pieces of travel advice you have to offer to fellow veteran or rookie travelers?
“First: Go. Just go. If you want to go somewhere, if you have the urge to go anywhere in this world, go. Absolutely anything is possible. Of course it won’t be easy. But if you want it, if you make it a goal, you can make it happen. And it will change your life.
Second: Be aware of your surroundings at all times. I’m not saying you need to flinch at everything or be scared to talk to anyone while you’re alone. And I’m not saying you should be fearful, either. But everywhere on this planet has its bad people. And when you’re alone, or in small groups even, you are vulnerable. Just be cautious and smart. Don’t put your drink down, wear over the shoulder purses, not the ones you hold on your wrist or arm, don’t get rides from random people, and don’t hold anything for anyone in airports. JUST BE SMART.
Third: Take on challenges. Do things that are out of your comfort zone. Take risks. And do crazy things you wouldn’t imagine yourself doing. Take that hike, go skydiving, jump off that rock into the water, and learn how to salsa dance. It’s cool, you’re traveling, no judgement matters.
Fourth: Don’t over-pack. And always bring sunglasses.
Fifth: EAT THE TYPICAL FOOD WHEREVER YOU ARE. I don’t care if you normally wouldn’t eat something like it….try it.”