Couchsurfing around the world

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.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it’s basically a group of people who communicate through the website http://www.couchsurfing.org to find places to stay, people to hang out with, and travel advice and recommendations.

When people ask whether Couchsurfing is dangerous, I usually say that its similar to any large network of people. There are people of all types, including some not so nice ones. This means you have to be fairly savvy to use the site, but reading reviews and talking to the person you want to stay with/host can help you establish mutual trust.

To anyone considering trying it, I would heartily recommend it. 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.

If the idea of sleeping in a random house is not your thing, local meet ups and events are also a fun way to get involved.

Although I have surfed a little in England, I feel like travelling 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.

I’ve also refined my behaviour as a guest. This changes depending on the host; how outgoing they are, how they like to spend their time and what they enjoy talking about. My favourite way of thanking hosts is to cook for them – I find it a more personal way of giving back a little something.

During this trip I’ve stayed with hippies and hipsters, revolutionaries and ex army, liberals and musicians and marathon runners. They have shown me amazing things; I’m incredibly grateful.

And then there was one…

After three countries and a whole lot of word games on the bus, Emily and I have parted ways. She will go back down Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, catching the stuff we missed on the way up. I´m currently in Guatemala and will be heading to Mexico before flying to California next month.

It´s certainly different travelling with a friend, and I´m really glad I got to experience both travel with a partner and on my own. For one thing, it´s simply easier with someone else – you don´t have to listen quite as hard to instructions, or to watch out for our stop on public transport.

With Emily, I also travelled with the guidance of a guidebook, which is a more efficient way to see a lot when you don´t have much time.

It´s also a lot of fun; it´s nice to have someone to turn to when something ridiculous happens, to share that ´what on earth´feeling. It also means that someone will share my memories when I get home and want to talk about it all.

I think you do have to pick a travel companion quite carefully – Emily was perfect, and I´ll miss travelling with her!

The kindness of strangers

I´d read about this before, and heard stories about it as well, but I wasn´t prepared for how quickly and readily I would be helped by random people I meet. And I´ve been out here for two weeks.

It started on my flight to Rio, when the French gentleman I was sat next to helped me to fill out my entry card to Brazil.

Then my couchsurfing host Henrique, who gave me a room, food, tours of the city, as well as numerous stories about the history and politics of Brazil. Miguel, his Portuguese friend, who invited me to visit Morocco with them within moments of meeting me. Who helped me translate and told me I was the bravest girl he´d ever met.

The Colombian brothers I shared a taxi with to the airport, without whom I probably couldn´t have found the right terminal, let alone my flight. They listened patiently through my first shaky Spanish conversation and told me all the things I could do and see in their country.

They lady at tourist information, Cuiaba airport, who despite not speaking a single word of English, found me the address of a youth hostel and wished me on my way.

The elderly Slovenian couple I met in the Pantanal, who knew less Portuguese than me, but were cheerfully travelling around Brazil anyway. They told me about the places they´d been to – all over the world – and how home was still their favourite place of all.

The hostel driver who drove five hours non-stop because I wanted to get back quickly. Who taught me how to spot caiman´s glowing eyes in the dark and helped me get a photo.

A mechanic who actually drove me to the bus station when I wasn´t sure I was going the right way.

The Russian diamond dealer at the station who helped me plan my journey and bought me a coke while I tried to collect myself.

And my new friend Marcelo, who I met on the bus from Campo Grande, who walked up and down different banks along the frontier with me to try and find one that worked, and who helped me get to Santa Cruz.