Free Bed By Any Other Name
In my efforts to find alternative means of travel accommodation I googled and checked out several forums with useful information for travellers. One site I came across was CouchSurfing.org. The idea behind CouchSurfing, being that if you need a floor or a sofa for one night, the good people making up the community of CouchSurfing will give you a bed down in a safe, warm, dry environment with no questions asked and no money demanded.
The site works hard to build a community spirit of fellow travellers, all willing to help and share. I feel its a grand, noble ideal that works sometimes.
I am sure you have been in a similar situation, where you hit a strange city, your only there one night, and wouldn't it be great to have a friendly host from the city, to offer you a free bed, coffee, breakfast, a chat, some site seeing, and other similar activities.
So like the good Netizen that I am I joined the site and paid my contribution of $25. Please note, this is not a "Joining Fee". This is a contribution. You can't join the site without a contribution, but its also not a fee. Err not sure how that one works, but it sure as hell looks like a joining fee to me. Oh Patrick you are the pessimist.
Of course if you are so moved you can "Contribute" more than $25, say $50, $100, or $200. There is no upper limit to how much you can throw into this communally spirited adventure.
Anyhow, I paid the minimum contribution and eagerly awaited verification. Ya see its a three stage process.
1. Join. Add your details and create a profile.
2. Make a contribution using a credit/debit card.
3. CouchSuring.org based in SF California, send a card to your home address, with a unique code. Enter the unique code and CouchSurfing knows you exist at that address.
After step 3 you are verified. Step 3 takes 4 - 6 weeks to complete, depending where you live in the world.
I joined and 2 weeks later I was jet-bound for Japan. I had already paid by credit/debit card, which is based at my home address. I am not going to hang around for another 2 - 4 weeks, rework my itinerary, just to get verified.
I am in Japan and I get an email from CouchSurfing asking if I have received my verification code. How do I know. I am spinning around the Nippon countryside. Anyhow, I don't let it get me down. I head out of Tokyo and aim for Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. I like Kyoto, its a wonderful place. So much to see. So many temples, monasteries, gardens, and an Imperial Palace too. Its a friendly place with a slower pace than Tokyo.
Allow me to digress for a moment. I will return to CouchSurfing soon. I stay a few nights at a Ryokan. This is a traditional Japanese Guest House. Tatami matting on the floor. Japanese bedding on the floor. Indoor Japanese garden. Low ceilings, Low doorways. Low Toilets. Low Showers. And plenty of banged heads. I have the cuts and scars on my scalp to prove it.
I am 6ft. 0in. Not overly tall for a Gaijin. But I can tell ya traditional Japanese homes are built with very short people in mind. The Japanese people are not particularly tall. Most Japanese, just about reach my shoulder. They can comfortable navigate a Ryokan with no great difficulty. I on the other hand, banged my head at least 6 - 8 times a day.
I love Japan. And I loved my time there, but I am just too tall for this place. Gimme dimensions that fit my frame. As I said earlier, I am not particularly tall. At School I was not the tallest kid in my class. Other kids towered above me. But I am just too damn tall for Nippon.
Back to CouchSurfing. I figure, look there are so many CouchSurfers willing to help, meet and host other CouchSufers, I should give it a try. I log into the CouchSurfing website, and do a search on CoachSurfers willing to host (ie allow total strangers to sleep in their home, on the floor or the sofa) in the Kyoto area. I find hundreds of members. Next I query who will allow me to stay for one night.
In CouchSufing, members can have 5 states:
1. Coffee Cup - They will meet for a chat, or a drink. No stay.
2. Aeroplane - They are on the road travelling. No stay.
3. Circle X - No stay. No matter what.
4. Couch ? - Maybe you can stay. Email me.
5. Couch - You can sleep on the floor or couch.
When I searched Kyoto hosts, I found hundreds and hundreds of 'Coffee Cup' hosts. ie they will meet you for a cup of tea, coffee, beer and a chat. Maybe even show you some of the local sites.
If you have lived on the road at any time and arrived in a strange city at 5am, just got off the bus. Had little sleep cos the bus driver insists on stopping at motorway service areas every 2 hours, the last you want at 5am is a cup of coffee or tea and a chat.
You want, a shower to remove the road grime and wake you a little.
You want to change those sweaty pants and 'T' shirt and put on a fresh clothes.
You want a little sleep. Maybe even 2 or 3 hours sleep. Anything will do.
Back to the search. Results come in and by the hundreds, I have lonely hosts that want to meet for coffee and a chat. I found 2 hosts willing to allow a Gaijin to crash on their floor for the night. I do not exaggerate or lie. I found 2 hosts.
I email them both, via the website requesting a couch for the night. One of them took the time to respond, but two days after I left Kyoto. The other host did not bother to respond.
I thought maybe its me and the fact I am not Japanese. You must remember, most Japanese are very cautious people. They feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and vulnerable with strangers, and particularly tall white skinned westerners.
I thought maybe its just me and the Japanese CouchSurfers dont get on.
I want to move on from Japan to another country and look at possibilities. I am not sure where I want to go next. I just search on various countries that I may visit in the near future.
I search on Korea.
I find 10 willing to host.
CouchSurfing appears to be particularly strong in Europe. So I guess I will get better results there.
I search on Holland.
Of the hundreds and hundreds of search results, I find, 1 host. A single host. And that had strings attached.
I search on my home city of London, England.
Again, I get hundreds and hundreds of results. Again I find only 4 willing to host.
CouchSurfing boasts having over 3,000,000 members world wide.
For your elucidation, 2,999,990 are all willing to meet, have a cup of coffee or tea and a chat. As for the remaining 10 members willing to give you a Couch for the night. You will have to email them and see when they are not busy, or not on the road themselves trying to find an empty couch for the night.
In closing I must add. I did meet a few people in the forums that were genuine and willing to help. Not with a Couch or bed, but with advice, help, shared experience and other useful info.
I will leave it there.