At home in the world

At home in the world

At home in  the world

Travelling across the globe no longer pinches one’s pocket. Apart from travel applications, home-stays, cheap hotels and other cost-effective schemes which have made life easier for travel bugs, a facility that has remained effective for some time now is couchsurfing. The concept involves staying with locals who can spare a couch, bed or even a room. The host takes the traveller or the guest around the place and helps them understand the local culture, cuisines and sights which are generally not on a tourist map.

So, hosts turn into critical and valuable insiders and are like travel guide books. Bengaluru has its own share of couchsurfers — those who have travelled to far-flung places and have hosted travellers from across the globe.

Gayathri Shetty, a doctor, and Vijay, a software engineer, came across this concept sometime back. Gayathri says, “We were just two of us with two backpacks and decided to travel to Iran, Turkey, Greece and parts of Eastern Europe for six months. We didn’t want to visit tourist hotspots as we wished to get a first-hand experience of the local culture. After researching and talking to people on couchsurfing, we uploaded our profile on ‘couchsurfing.org’ and were flooded with positive responses.”

The couple was overwhelmed and after coming back from their trip, decided to host travellers. She adds, “A couple who we hosted for sometime became close to us and we wanted them to stay back even after their trip. They came back home after their South India trip, and attended one of our family weddings.”

Akshatha and Santhosh, another couple, have hosted more than 100 couchsurfers from the globe including Israel and Europe. Akshatha says, “People generally couchsurf as they wish to experience the local culture. It is also about connecting people. If one doesn’t have the space to host a guest, they can still connect with them on the profile, meet the traveller and help them understand the place.    The concept doesn’t involve payment and is purely based on a cultural exchange and creating a friendly network. Gayathri adds, “The concept works on a ‘non-profit’ basis but it also depends on the family. We went to Greece when the country was in economic crisis. Our hosts were looking for help and expected us to pay for water, electricity and groceries, so we pitched in.”

The Bengaluru Couchsurfing community is also quite active and conducts regular meet-ups, where travellers share their experiences and provide tips on places, cheap travel and plan trips together. Kamal Gaur, who came across the concept of couchsurfing in 2008, was involved with the community which would meet up every week. However, relying on the warmth of strangers takes a leap of faith, which is why Gayathri says that travellers have to be cautious about the profiles they look for.

“The website has a lot of filters and profiles are verified before they are uploaded. Most profiles are also referred by former couchsurfers so people rely on word of mouth. There are a number of testimonials on the site which people rely on.” Chirag adds, “Couchsurfing in India still has a long way to go. Hosts sometimes are troublesome and pester the guests for money and even after the trip is over.”    Akshatha adds that profiles which garnered negative testimonials and spoke of untoward incidents have been taken off the site.

Yet, this is a concept that most people love and for many travellers, couchsurfing has opened up a whole new world. Gopal Kishore, an experiential learning evangelist from KNOLSKAPE says, “Couchsurfing brings the world closer to home and
enables sharing of homes, ideas, thoughts and beliefs. It has opened up a new space to my parents and our guests still keep in touch with my family.”

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