By: Daryl Elliott
When I traveled in Europe decades ago, I did couchsurfing before it was a website or thing. When traveling during a summer of my University years, a lady friend and I would meet some nice locals when traveling about a city, and they would ask where we were staying that night, and we said that we hadn’t figured that out yet, and they would ask us if we would like to stay with them in their home that night. The people we met traveling were very nice, and I felt honored that they offered their friendship, trust, the comfort of their home, and the wonderful conversations that we had. I learned so much from them during my formative young adult years, and I will remain forever grateful to them.
My family believes strongly that international travel is important for education, understanding differences, and building person-to-person bridges between societies. My parents had traveled to 190 countries (of about 208) by the time they had passed. I’ve traveled to 25 countries so far. This special relationship to travel brings me to a level of commitment to promoting international travel that is strong.
When I learned decades later, after the advent of the Internet, that there was a hospitality group that organized couchsurfing, I was all in. It was such a great opportunity to ‘give back’ to travelers. There are several motivators for me to host people. First, it allowed travelers to travel more and meet more people and see more sites since it saved them money. Second, I believe in cooperation and the sharing society conceptually. Third, the people who visited were quite nice, which offers me the opportunity to learn more about their countries, people in general, and international politics, which all interest me.
For these reasons, I did a lot of hosting over some years when I had a suitable living situation to host (which I unfortunately do not have at this current time). I’m happy to report that I was able to host over 100 people from 37 countries. I kept a spreadsheet so I could keep people and schedules straight and so I could keep email addresses for future correspondence. In this time, I got 125 all Positive CS site reviews. I’m proud of that fact.
Along the way, I got hooked up with a group of international university exchange students who were studying in the US. Every year they would tell their successor students about me so they could stay for free in Las Vegas if they visited here. These students were the brightest from their countries. They competed with other students for these positions, and won their spot over between 500 and 1,000 other students. Our conversations were enjoyable as they were so well informed.
The most common thing that non-Americans said to me when discussing their travels in the US is that they were surprised how nice Americans are. Perhaps because the US foreign policy is so belligerent that they thought Americans were not nice. From my own travels, I’ve found that most people are nice all over the world.
One interesting story that I have from that period that I’ll never forget is about a young man, Byongrok, who as a member of the Special Forces in his home country of South Korea, which says a lot about his being bright and aware. He was traveling alone, but there were travelers from two different groups all from different countries at my home when he was there. I would sometimes try to include different traveler groups (only after each group had given permission) so they had the experience to meet each other as well as the local host. Anyway, Byongrok noticed that all the travelers all had laundry that had accumulated in their travels that I offered for them to wash in my clothes washing machine; he offered to buy me laundry detergent to replace what had been used. I said that CouchSurfing was free so I would not accept his offer, but thanked him for the offer. The next day, he came to me with a box of laundry detergent and he informed me that he wasn’t buying this as a gift for me, but was rather leaving it behind for the other travelers. lol What a gracious, and clever act. I smile and laugh when I think of Byongrok and his cleverness and generosity.
Another time when we had a group of three sets of travelers, we played Scrabble in three languages. lol What fun.
We hiked, played Frisbee golf, saw all the sites of Las Vegas, and had very nice times. As a vegan activist, we also discussed veganism if they were open to it. Some of them had barely heard of it since there are so few vegans in many countries. All of the conversations, no matter the topic, were fascinating.
I’m grateful to the CouchSurfing community for offering this hospitality service. Travel on….