Couchsurfing is the future, folks. Get on board.
My first couchsurfing experience was in Hungary, where I stayed with two fantastic women: Judit, in Pecs, and Irina, in Zalaegerszeg. They are best friends, and taught me the meaning of hospitality.
When I arrived in Pecs on the train, Judit was at work but arranged for another couchsurfer, Plazzi, to pick me up at the station. He made me crepes.
When I arrived at Judit’s house, that has a stunning view of the whole city, she had prepared for me traditional Hungarian food, and invited me to a jazz concert. The next day she showed me around her town – stunning, but in the midst of a major facelift because it will be Europe’s Cultural Capital in 2010 and has been infused with EU money.
Then Judit drove me to a small village famous for its vineyards so we could do a wine tasting. She took me to a sculpture park filled with bizzare works made from the marble of the surrounding hills. She made another Hungarian feast, and invited Plazzi and his friend, and we drank more wine and I soaked up the conversation, and thought about how damn lucky I was.
In Zalaegerszeg, Irina greeted me with equal enthusiasm. She taught me more about Hungarian food, about literature, about the language. She drove me to a castle, and to Lake Balaton (the largest in Europe). She suggested itineraries for my stay there, looked up train and bus times, made me breakfast and did my laundry. We ate and drank beer and laughed and laughed and laughed.
When I signed up for couchsurfing I didn’t quite get what it was all about – I thought it’d be a good way to save some money and get a bit of local insight to the places I visited. What I’m learning is that this system can be a way of life, it can create community, and it adds a whole new dimension to travel. I love to stay in hostels and meet other travelers, but staying with local people so enhances the experience and deepens your understanding of a place, that it’s hard to want to travel any other way.