Since moving back to Inverness over eighteen months ago, I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing – a worldwide accommodation exchange network.
I was a member of a similar group before I left for my time in Glasgow.
The idea of these things is simple – you offer, or receive, free accommodation for a few nights with people in other parts of the world. Although very much based on trust and respect, the site is safe, with the ability to view others’ detailed profiles before you choose whether to host or ask to stay, find out a little about people before you commit, and of course say no if you’d prefer.
And then you surf their couch – or host them on yours. Or your spare bed. Or floor. Or whatever. And that’s it. Simple, effective and fun.
I’ve met some amazing people through it, hosting folk from pretty much all corners of the globe. Although I’ve only ever been hosted once through it – in Auckland – I’ve still enjoyed being a host many, many times over the past months, and all of my guests have without exception been lovely people: Couchsurfing has helped me realise not only that the vast majority of people in the world are inherently good, but also how first impressions in an email really, really count and how good a judge of character I think I’ve become.
It’s a way to show off Inverness, meet new people, make contacts around the world (some of whom I looked up in the USA in September past), usually be cooked for out of gratitude, and occasionally brush up on my French or German with native speakers.
Hearing what other people think of and see in Inverness can be inspiring, with people impressed with the beauty of the city and the surrounding area, the nightlife, and the clear, fresh air. Hosting couchsurfers has helped me remember that this “sneck” of the woods is probably the greatest place on earth.
It can be an enlightening experience, too – helping me notice things I’ve taken for granted. Recently, I was taking a Portuguese couchsurfer on a tour of town and she stopped at the scene in the photo above, and she asked why there were so many individual chimney pots on the top of the house.
I paused and thought for a moment.
“It’s a declaration of ownership – that house has had four owners in its lifetime, and each new owner has to put a new pot on the top. When that one’s sold, the new people will need to install a fifth. It’s a way of recording heritage.”
“No, I just made that up. I’ve actually no idea what they’re for.”
Of course, once I thought about it, I realised it would have been from the day when every room needed an open fire, and each would funnel up the chimney and out through its own pot at the top. But my guest was intrigued, because in her country they would all merge together into one.
Clearly, Brussels has a long way to go before we’re a truly United Europe.
But as I say, it made me notice something I’d never thought of. And that’s why I have found Couchsurfing so enlightening.
And why I am so disappointed that I will, for the foreseeable future, not be hosting any more. Life has taken a few twists and turns recently (for the better, I must say), and it’s been increasingly difficult to have the free time to host. Work keeps me away from home such a lot through the week and I have been struggling to get through all the Couchsurfing emails I’ve been receiving in recent weeks from folk wanting to stay.
To avoid disappointment and to make life easier for myself, I withdrew from hosting the other day. It will be a relief to be out of it for the time being, although I will miss the buzz and unpredictability of walks down to the bus station with only a grainy photo to recognise my guest by, of fun nights out, of practising my doubtlessly highly inaccurate city tour spiel, and above all of discovering great new friends all over the world.
Some day I will get back into it, perhaps when I am more able to host or when I go on another adventure. But for now, I am simply thinking about how richer I am as a person for the experiences I’ve had and the friends I’ve made.
And how much I am enjoying currently having a free, quiet night in.