my first couch surfing experience

i'm not sure how many of you are already familiar with couch surfer, but i'll give a brief explanation as i only recently learned about this myself. back in auckland, we had an american girl named julie who came to stay with us for a week on our couch. she was a friend of a friend of one of my flatmates, and was making her way around australia and NZ. anyway, obviously since she was staying in my house and she was from my country, we got to talking and when i started asking her about her trip she brought up couch surfer as one of the ways she was cutting corners with accommodation.

basically, couch surfer is an online community filled with travelers and hosts all over the globe. it's a little bit like facebook with a background check and slightly more intimate questions than "hobbies," where travelers all over the world have the opportunity to connect with each other. there are events, a messaging system, and of course the opportunity to search for someone who is willing to "host" you on their couch for free while you are in town.

being that i am a solo female traveler, you can probably understand that i faced a slight hesitation to using this site. after i heard about it from julie who was also a solo female, however, i started asking other people and reading up on it more in depth. it seemed to get positive reviews across the board, and even some relating specifically to women traveling on their own, so i created a profile and began my search for a couch in amsterdam.

one of the first profiles i came across really stood out to me. not only was she a 60 year old american living in amsterdam (read: safe), but she was also a travel writer, which is definitely something that interests me. though she mentioned in her profile that she receives too many requests to respond to, i sent my request and she confirmed that i would be able to stay with her for two nights while i was in town.

the only drawback to couch surfing is that you do lose what very little independence (if any at all) that you get by staying at a hostel. obviously since you are staying at someone else's home, you need to be courteous to their schedule and can't just go running off doing whatever you please and coming back at any hour. also, believe it or not, they may actually want to spend time getting to know you since you're staying in their home (shocking, i know).

so i was pretty glad that i had already squeezed in my space cake and other nightlife experiences prior to arriving at my couch surfing host's apartment, because actually as it turns out she had some pretty stringent rules. like a curfew of being back at her house between 8-9pm, even though she stayed awake until 11-12am every night. and the only shower was in her room so you had to ask permission to bathe and then only had about 2 minutes to do so in order to not flood the faulty bathroom. and that any questions about her job were ignored, but you were expected to answer her deeply personal questions at any time. and that pretty much she was expecting you to either make her dinner, buy her a gift, or find some way to compensate her for your stay. not exactly what i expected the "spirit" of couch surfer to feel like.

it wasn't really a negative experience at all, however, as the host i stayed with actually had other guests staying during the same time period i did. the first night there was a really fun couple from tallinn, estonia, who brought kama for us to try. kama is a mix of peas, barley, wheat, and rye that traditionally estonians mix with sour milk to drink. it was...interesting, but i finished my whole glass to really soak in the experience. we went out to the red light district together (returning before 9pm of course), and in the morning we made pancakes with heineken. a truly dutch breakfast.

the following night, a couple from taiwan came to stay. they were a lesbian couple, which is actually not generally accepted in taiwanese culture. it was particularly interesting to meet this couple, as their trip to amsterdam meant major milestones for their relationship, like holding hands in public and admitting to people that they were a couple and in love. it didn't hurt their "interesting" factor that they also gave me salted almond and almond and coriander flavored cookies from macau (which by the way tasted better than they sound).

unfortunately, i only have one photo to share from the experience of the balcony of the place that i stayed in. honestly, i was a little nervous to take any more as i wanted to respect my host's privacy. and be mindful of her mood swings. yikes!

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