Week 21: Sharing is Caring No.4 – Couchsurfing!

We’re back from our 3 week Europe trip! And after another week break, I will return to my normal blogging-‘schedule’ 😉 We’ve been visiting my parents in Germany, as well as the Netherlands, Belgium and France. I’ve known that zero waste travel is more than impossible at my current stage, but I didn’t know it would be that hard! A few list of the worst travel sins:

  • paper bags for postcards (even though you send them off about 5 minutes later…);
  • napkins with takeaway or street food;
  • juice bottles (it’s impossible to refill your bottles in Amsterdam; there’s no public toilets!);
  • plastic produce bags at (super)markets (I do have my own in the suitcase, but I can’t constantly walk around with them in case I come across a random market);
  • leaflets, maps, promotion notes, receipts and all the blabla that you end up with if you purchase some good time on holiday; even when storing our cases in a locker or taking the train, we ended up with a mountain of tickets;
  • and the greatest puzzle of all: how do you possibly take a bar of soap in your suitcase that you bought unpackaged!? I ended up saying ‘f**kit’ and transported it in a zipper bag (reusable at least) to avoid soapy scumminess cover all my toiletries and probably clothes, too

As a positive, we drank mostly of our own stainless steel water bottles, I was happy as anything when I did have my produce bags with me on a shopping tour, we never accepted carrier bags, and tried to eat in as often as possible (which also benefits our feet with all the sightseeing). I could also continue my no-poo routine (more in the next post), which meant I hardly carried no shampoo and only a tiny bottle of vinegar.

Of course, we could have looked up the places where produce is sold in bulk; we could have brought our own containers and produce bags along; we could have insisted in not having any bags, napkins, etc; we could have refused to buy at the beautiful Rotterdam food market in order to not end up with a load of plastic containers.

But: we’re on holiday! I know most of you will understand the sentiment when you’re really fed up with restricting yourself in your daily life due to trying to live more ethically or sustainably. On holiday, I could not (of course) turn of my conscience, but both me and my boyfriend allowed ourselves many things we did not do at home, simply because we’re on holiday. And eating these beautiful hand made quality sausages or drinking this delicious freshly made smoothie just felt right, regardless of the paper bag or plastic cup. Besides, nobody around cares really, so the guilt is only in our minds anyway. (And now on the internet, too!)

Nonetheless, this post is not intended for me to rant about the choiceless wastefulness of our planet, but actually to present you with a positive about travelling. This was our first trip in which our accommodation was entirely planned via Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing.com is a website where travellers can connect to offer places to sleep for other travellers. As a traveller, that means a free place to stay with somebody who lives in the city you’re visiting; for hosts it means bringing some multi-culture into your home without even leaving the flat or taking holiday off work. For both, this also means new experiences and possibly new friendships.

I was a couchsurfing newbie when I came up with the idea. My boyfriend, who was previously sceptical about how much time our hosts expect us to hang out with them agreed to try it for the holiday. We ended up having hosts for all 3 cities we visited, which obviously also means we didn’t spend a cent on accommodation. But, of course, that’s not the main reason we did it (and if this is your main reason to give it a try, you will most likely fail).

It does take some effort to be hosted by a person. I had a profile already and made sure I had up to date information on it (e.g. also a link to this blog), as well as a few nice pictures. I only had one reference (testimonials about you as a person from other people you have met), which meant I had to go the extra mile to convince people why me and my boyfriend were awesome people to host (through references, others would basically do that). Another golden rule was also to always contact people with a personal message, indicating that you have read their entire profile. Taken that we needed about 20-25 messages before we found a host in Amsterdam, this is a lot of work, and a lot of profile-reading.

But in the end, it was worth it! As I said, all 3 cities we stayed in, we managed to find hosts, talked a lot, cooked with them and for them, got great insider tips about the city (and even food vouchers), and learned about culture, language, current affairs, and anything we cared to talk about.

Why is this important for my blog?

I believe that one growing problem of our society deals with connection. We’ve lost our connection with nature, ourselves and each other. Instead of being able to use fresh herbs in our food, we get a flavour sachet from the supermarket. Instead of getting to know our neighbours and community, we pay pricey workers to do all the things that our granddad might have been able to fix. Instead of realising that we simply don’t sleep or drink enough, we down five paracetamol at the slightest ache. Instead of knowing where (and how) our food is grown, we rely on McDonalds to offer us something edible, which really can hardly be called food.

Of course, it sound a bit extreme, but you get the idea. Couchsurfing (as well as hostelling) is great, because it connects us. We can experience different cultures, different personalities, and learn new things to enrich our lives. We make friends around the world and let ourselves be surprised by the way they see the world, which might sometimes be entirely different to our own. And that’s great! In return, we can share our world, culture and skills with them. And if we’re lucky, we make friends around the globe who are there and can support us if we get lost somewhere or need advice on something. There’s also local Couchsurfing groups in larger cities, offering to surfers and hosts alike a place to meet up and spend an enjoyable evening with likeminded, but incredibly diverse, people.

I see couchsurfing as only one of countless online platforms who seek to create something we are continuously losing: community. Although I strongly feel that we need to do what lies within our power to keep our community where we live strong, online community is a great way to stay connected, be it through closeness of location, interest, or mindset. With all the sharing communities I’ve experienced on the internet (i.e. bookcrossing, couchsurfing, freecycle, etc) I’ve never once encountered a person I fundamentally dislike or who would not have treated me with utmost friendliness. If you think you have lost your faith in humanity, sign up for couchsurfing and be proven wrong! (Also take a look at their values page to see what I mean)

CS Logo(Despite everything, I would like to remind you that I cannot guarantee that my experience will be the same for everyone; there is always black sheep everywhere and this post should not encourage anyone to take security lightly, especially when travelling alone.)

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3 thoughts on “Week 21: Sharing is Caring No.4 – Couchsurfing!

  1. kristine says:

    I love the concept of couchsurfing, but I’ve never had the courage to try it… Maybe next summer!

    Just a comment to the soap issue: You can buy small metal boxes for soap at Lush. I usually just keep my soap in a reusable fabric bag, though. Yes, the bag gets soapy, but not so much as to stain the rest of the toiletries.

    Like

    • Annika says:

      Thanks for the advice. In the meantime, I just got lucky and a friend of mine one day gave me a small plastic box with some tea. It was totally unrelated to my actual problem, but now it holds a bar of soap perfectly! And I would definitely recommend doing Couchsurfing. Unless you’re the most private person, it’s always a great experience and you can learn so much from it. Similar to staying in hostels, but even more personal! 🙂

      Like

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