Couchsurfer Kate Ashley set off to chase a dream last year: traveling around the world via Couchsurfing and public transit. Six months later she emerged with a shorter haircut, a taste for catfish poboys, and an arm’s-length list of pointers for voyaging like a pro.
Couchsurfing is part of how Kate found her sense of place, over and over, as she journeyed across continents.
“I was standing at Manchester Airport, waiting to catch my flight to Rio de Janeiro. People must do things like that all the time, but for me, it was wild. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane. I couldn’t wait to meet my first Couchsurfing hosts, I couldn’t wait to see Brazil, and I couldn’t wait to begin,” she says.
“The idea of extending hospitality to like-minded strangers is brilliant. Couchsurfing can foster tolerance, interest in the world around you; it’s a global community.”
“Sometimes securing a place to stay can be difficult. You might not get on with your host. But Couchsurfing is one of those things where, when it works, it really works, and feels so worthwhile.”
Here’s some of the travel wisdom she shared from the road for Couchsurfers and those with the Couchsurfing spirit:
1: Challenge your beliefs. Try new things, recklessly and relentlessly.
“During this trip I’ve stayed with hippies and hipsters, revolutionaries and ex army, liberals and musicians and marathon runners,” Kate says. “They have shown me amazing things; I’m incredibly grateful.”
2: Learn how to choose and book transit tickets efficiently.
“One of the questions I was always sure to hear when talking about traveling through the states was ‘You’re hiring a car, right?’
Wrong. I have taken a few Megabuses, three or four journeys via Amtrak, one lift from a Couchsurfing friend, and many, many Greyhounds,” Kate says.
“If anyone ever wants to write a novel but is struggling for inspiration, all you need to do is get on a Greyhound. I swear I have seen more crazy on these buses than anywhere else in the whole of South and Central America. And I saw some really strange stuff on my way up to the U.S..”
3: Make good meals out of limited ingredients, sparse kitchens and the deadline of departure kept in mind
“As I gained experience, I refined my behavior as a guest,” Kate says. “This changes depending on the host; how outgoing they are, how they like to spend their time and what they enjoy talking about. My favorite way of thanking hosts is to cook for them – I find it a more personal way of giving back a little something.”
4: Carry everything you need, throw away the things you don’t, and keep track of your belongings.
“Items I bought: New watch, books, soap, tylenol, headband, toothpaste, moisturizer
“Items I lost: My watch. Ended up having to carry my travel clock around in my pocket like something out of Alice in Wonderland.”
5: Pay attention to how other people make you feel, and act accordingly to maximize your own safety
“When people ask whether Couchsurfing is dangerous, I usually say that its similar to any large network of people,” Kate says.
“There are people of all types, including some not so nice ones. This means you have to be fairly savvy about how you use the site, but reading reviews and talking to the person you want to stay with/host can help you establish mutual trust.”
6: Realize what sort of place you’ll want to live in, and treasure the parts of home you respect the most
“Although I have surfed a little in England, I feel like traveling internationally has given me a much greater awareness of what it takes to be a good host. That’s something I can use when I get home,” Kate says.
“I firmly reject the idea that to travel makes you “better.” Any changes it brings are due to trying and to enjoying different perspectives, rather than travel in and of itself. That’s what it’s all about though – trying enough things to actually know what you think.
To allow yourself to change your mind.”
Read more about Kate’s adventure, and her journey home, at kookooburra.co.uk.
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