This is part four in a five-part series on couchsurfing by Cherie Foo.
So you know how to write good couchsurfing requests that will get accepted, how to do a little sleuthing and judge for yourself whether your potential host has any ulterior motives, and the next step? Meeting up with your host!
I only have one real tip for this week – make sure you having a working SIM card that you can use to contact your host.
I learned this the hard way – when I was travelling in Europe, I decided to not get SIM cards because the European ones are pretty pricey, and also because I’d only be staying in each place for a few days or so. I could just make plans with my hosts and turn up at a pre-determined place and time, and everything *should* go fine, I reasoned.
Here’s an excerpt from my travel diary, from when I was stranded in Paris:
Paris was the best of times, and the worst of times, all at once.
Our first day in Paris: H and I arrived by bus from Lyon in the afternoon, and killed some time before going to our designated metro stop to meet our next host. We were supposed to meet at 9pm, but by 10, he was still nowhere to be found.
We tried hostels, hotels, all of which were fully booked. It was dark, rainy, and Paris was settling down for the night. I remembered something a friend had said – be sure to get off the streets at night at all costs, it’s not safe – and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. We even tried the police station, not because we actually expected them to take us in, but out of sheer desperation.
Finally I called Y. Y was one of the people who had offered to host us, and despite us deciding to stay with this other guy, Y gave us his number anyway. I stopped a stranger on the street with the little French I spoke – pardon monsieur, parlez vous anglais? – before lapsing back into English and asking to borrow his phone.
Y picked up. He was babysitting his nephews – he told us to go to a café and sit tight, and that he’d be over in two hours (at 2am) to pick us up. We were holding our breaths as the time ticked by, and as the staff at the café started shifting the chairs out front, and then he suddenly arrived in a cloud of smoke. He introduced himself and kissed each of us on both cheeks.
Over the next couple of days, H caught up with her friend who was on exchange in Paris, whilst I spent my time walking around the city and hanging out with Y and his friends.
On the first day, we had drinks at 9pm – some of the best sangria I’ve tasted – and his friend tried out her rusty Mandarin on me. We walked around the city, discussing foie gras and marijuana and politics, before going back to his flat at 11pm, when we started cooking quiche for dinner.
On the second day, I met them at a festival at a local university, where each of the dormitories put up activities, and the second I reached, I was dragged into the middle of a folk dance. We also did the limbo, and then his friend and I got into fat suits and sumo-wrestled each other to an audience cheering us on. It was hilarious – because of the fat suit, I was literally rolling around in laughter, and I distinctly remember the organizer shouting at me in disbelief: “What’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be angry! Fight! Take her down!”.
On our last night in Paris, we went to a jazz bar where the proprietor took his music very seriously – before the band started playing, he made a long speech in French, which ended in English with “now shut the fuck up and listen”. The music was excellent, and when we were done, we popped by a store to get a bottle of wine, and then we drove to a spot right across the Eiffel Tower where we drank whilst jogging on the spot, trying to keep from freezing.
The Eiffel Tower started sparkling at 1am, and it was amazing, but it wasn’t because it was the Eiffel Tower, but because I was halfway round the world with this insane but awesome bunch of people whom, less than three days ago, had been complete and utter strangers.
It was amazing because I had embarked on my grad trip, knowing what I was looking for but unable to verbalize it, and this was precisely it.
When I returned to Singapore, I wrote an article about my travels that got 40,000 views, and linked to Y’s profile in that article. He says he’s been getting non-stop requests from Singaporeans to couchsurf at his place ever since.
If you really can’t or don’t want to get a SIM card, make plans to meet your host at his or her place, instead of a public area, and make sure you know your route there. Figuring out logistics, coordinating schedules, and successful navigating might take a bit of effort on your part, but once you successfully meet your host, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your journey.
Check back next week for the last installment of the guide to couchsurfing, where we’ll be talking about how to be a good guest!