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Authors: Brian Thacker

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Sleeping Around

BOOK: Sleeping Around
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SLEEPING
AROUND

Also by Brian Thacker

Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus

Planes, Trains and Elephants

The Naked Man Festival

I'm Not Eating Any of that Foreign Muck

Where's Wallis?

First published in 2009

Copyright © Brian Thacker 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Australia
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218
Email: [email protected]
Web:
www.allenandunwin.com

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

Thacker, Brian, 1962-

    Sleeping around : a couch surfing tour of the globe / Brian Thacker.

    978 1 74175 210 6 (pbk.)

    Thacker, Brian, 1962- --Travel.
    Australians--Travel--Foreign countries.

910.4

Set in 11/15 pt Minion Pro by Bookhouse, Sydney
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

CHILE

BRAZIL

USA

CANADA

ICELAND

BELGIUM & LUXEMBOURG

TURKEY

KENYA

SOUTH AFRICA

INDIA

PHILIPPINES

EPILOGUE

INTRODUCTION

I live in a small one-bedroom flat with my wife and 5 children. There is no couch, so you will have to share a room with the kids. I live a long way from the city and there is no public transport. I should also probably tell you that I've only recently got out of prison.

Brian Thacker Melbourne, Australia

Admittedly, I was perhaps a little sceptical when I initially registered on GlobalFreeloaders.com a couple of years back. According to their mission statement: ‘GlobalFreeloaders. com is an online community bringing people together to offer you free accommodation all over the world. Save money and make new friends whilst seeing the world from a local's perspective.' It sounded like a brilliant concept. First of all there was the ‘free accommodation' bit—I concede I'm somewhat ‘frugal' when I travel and will happily do things like wallow in my own sweat because the air-conditioned room cost a dollar more. But it wasn't just my penchant for penny-pinching that attracted me to the idea of GlobalFreeloading, it was also the idea that you could bypass the standard tourist routes and be assimilated into local lifestyles and cultures. I just tweaked my profile somewhat so no one would want to come stay with me. I mean, exactly what sort of lunatics open their homes to total strangers from the other side of the world at a time when you can't carry a nail file onto an aircraft? Even if they trust me, can I trust them? You certainly couldn't tell if a potential host was trustworthy by looking at a lot of the profiles on the GlobalFreeloaders site. Many gave absolutely no indication of what type of person they were and looked something like this:

Spare couch. No pets.
Claudio Hernandez
Bogota, Colombia

I forgot about the site until a few months later (surprisingly enough no one had requested my ‘couch') when, in one of my usual aimless wanderings around the net, I stumbled upon CouchSurfing.com. The website had the same premise as GlobalFreeloaders (their mission statement is: ‘Participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time'), but they had taken the concept to a whole new level. The profiles were more detailed and built on a MySpace/Facebook type model with users including their photos, interests, what types of people they enjoy, a list of friends, languages spoken, places travelled and even a comprehensive couch description. Perhaps the most redeeming feature, however, was that the hosts and guests vouched for each other much like eBay.

CouchSurfing.com began in 2004 when 22-year-old Casey Fenton, a software programmer in New Hampshire who had been working 100-hour weeks for a website he himself had founded, decided he wanted a weekend away. He found a cheap last-minute flight to Iceland, but when he discovered how expensive accommodation was in Reykjavík, he did what any reasonably able, ethically flexible programmer might do: He hacked into the University of Iceland student directory and spammed more than a thousand students asking them if they had a spare couch. In his email he said: ‘I'm coming on Friday. I want to see the real Iceland. Will you show me your country?' The overwhelming response—more than a hundred replies from potential hosts all eager to show him ‘their Reykjavík'—not only secured Casey a couch for the weekend, it also sparked the CouchSurfing concept and website.

I joined immediately and even penned a more realistic profile—minus a few kids and the prison sentence. A stranger's couch suddenly sounded a whole lot safer. And a whole lot easier to find. To secure a couch all you had to do was search for the city you planned to visit and you would be presented with a list of hosts. Contact any from the list who interest you and the hosts would get back to you if they have a couch available on the dates you need. And after you decide which couch suits you best—
voilà
— you've got a free place to stay and a new friend who most likely knows the city better than any hotel concierge.

Seeing a city through the eyes of a local was actually the thing that attracted me the most to the couch-surfing concept. In my travels I've had a taste of staying with locals and the experience has often been the highlight of my trip. I have been lucky enough to take part in a traditional family feast on the Pacific island of Futuna, as well as a traditional family feast in Kyrgyzstan, and also a traditional family feast in Morocco and . . . okay, I do like family feasts. But really, can you truly say you've experienced somewhere if you haven't had a beer with a local, in their local?

While I was checking out a couple of profiles on CouchSurfing, I noticed that some members were also members of HospitalityClub.org, so I joined that as well. Hospitality Club's mission statement is: ‘By bringing travellers in touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving “locals” a chance to meet people from other cultures, we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet.'

The HospitalityClub site was similar to the CouchSurfing site, but was founded for an entirely different reason. The site began in 2000 and was set up by Mensa member Veit Kuehne from Germany for Mensa members only. Their mission statement was: ‘Mensa SIGHT [Service of Information, Guidance and Hospitality to Travellers] allows members to enjoy the company and hospitality of fellow intellectually gifted people from around this world.' It was only when they got bored talking about quantum physics to each other that they invited the rest of the world to join.

At around this time, I had a couch-surfing brainwave. I decided that I would go on a Grand Couch Surfing Tour of the Globe. What better way to see and experience the world—and purely coincidentally have another idea for a book?

But which countries should I surf in? The world is full of couches. On the CouchSurfing website alone there were more than 200 countries represented, including members in such far-flung and far-off-the-tourist-track nations as Iraq (34 members), Afghanistan (28), Palestine (24), North Korea (4), East Timor (3), São Tomé and Príncipe (2) and one member in the Spratly Islands (wherever that is). There were even five members in Antarctica—although none of them offered an actual couch except Daniel, who listed his occupation as ‘Waste Management'. Under ‘Accommodation' he had:

Maybe. I say maybe because IF you're coming to Antarctica I assume you've already secured a comfy bed. BUT if you somehow manage to get here without one, there is always a couch in the lounge.

I figured that if I got a round-the-world ticket and did at least two countries per continent I would get a good cross-section of couches (and their owners). In the end my itinerary was shaped by a preference for visiting places I hadn't been before and the vagaries of international flight schedules. All that was left to do after I'd booked my tickets was to choose a host who was happy to choose me as their guest. My simple criterion was that I wanted to stay with folk who sounded interesting—I had to get a book out of it after all and I guessed that I wouldn't get much of a story if my host got home from work at seven every night and crashed in front of the TV. I wanted people who really lived their lives and were happy for me to live them with them for a few days. And if my hosts sounded just a little odd, then so much the better. Mind you, I did find some profiles that were more than just a little odd:

Interests:

Beauty and the lust for learning have yet to be allied.

Favourite Music, Movies and Books:

The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning.

Personal Philosophy:

And new philosophy calls all in doubt, the element of fire is quite put out; the sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's wit can well direct him where to look for it.

One Amazing Thing I've Seen or Done:

It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.

Murat, 33
Istanbul, Turkey

I sent out all my requests two months before I was due to fly out and sat back and waited for couch invitations. With a week to go before departure, I had all my couches ‘booked' with a suitably eclectic mix of people, including folk of different ages and sex; singles, families and couples; and occupations, from an architect and a nurse, to a university student and even someone who was unemployed.

My Grand Couch Surfing Tour of the Globe would be a series of snapshots of everyday life all over the world right now, when technology is bringing us closer together but the politics of fear may be driving us further apart. Can a Muslim in Istanbul and a Catholic in Rio de Janeiro watch the same TV shows? Does someone from Nairobi enjoy the same music as someone from Santiago? Who drinks more— the Belgians or the Canadians?

In an age of cheap airfares and porous borders, where almost every corner of the globe, from Azerbaijan to Zambia, is open for tourism, going into someone else's home is possibly the last authentic travelling experience. And for the growing legion of couch-surfing members, the only way to experience it is by sleeping around.

BOOK: Sleeping Around
9.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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