I found out about Couchsurfing a few months before I started my travels and was dying to try it out. Kind of. I loved the concept and was excited to meet locals from the places I would be visiting, but I was also a little nervous. I mean, I would be sharing a confined space with a complete stranger after all, and what if that stranger turned out to be really strange? What if things were really awkward or uncomfortable? And worst of all, what if they turned out to be some scary kidnapper or murderer? I had some doubts and worries (as did my family and friends), but decided to not let those stand in the way of what would surely be an adventure and I jumped in headfirst.
I couch surfed most of my way through Ukraine and Poland. It turned out to be a huge success and has actually changed my life. Instead of writing another “How to Use Couchsurfing” post, I thought I’d share my personal stories to give more insight into what couch surfing is all about and hopefully motivate at least one person to utilize this awesome travel resource.
My very first couch surfing experience occurred in L’viv, Ukraine. This was going to be the moment of truth. I was headed there from Warsaw on an overnight bus and was due to arrive around 6:30 am. Olga, the lovely lady who accepted my request to surf her couch, offered to meet me at the station and help me back to her apartment. I told her it wasn’t necessary as it was going to be extremely early in the morning and I was sure I could figure it out. Luckily, she insisted on it and showed up bright and early as promised. I honestly don’t know where I would be right now if she hadn’t come because the bus station was not in the center of the city, nothing was open, there was an abundance of shady characters hanging around, public transportation seemed non-existent, no one spoke English, and I didn’t speak Ukrainian. So there you have it…this is how couch surfing possibly saved my life.
My decision to visit Ukraine was a last minute one and so I really didn’t have much time to research or prepare. It was after I arrived that I realized I actually had no idea what I was doing and began to panic a little. I will be forever grateful to Olga for not only introducing me to L’viv, but also to Ukraine, and helping me plan out exactly what I would be doing for an entire month. I also have to give her a lot of credit for hosting me during such a crazy time. Other Ukrainian Couchsurfers were warning me not to come and turning down my requests to surf their couch because of the Swine Flu “epidemic” that exploded just days before I got there. Olga simply laughed it off and assured me that I had nothing to worry about since it was just the politicians and media who were blowing it out of proportion.
I stayed with Olga the first few days and the last few days that I was in Ukraine. She lived on the outskirts of L’viv so I was able to see a side of the city that I would have missed had I stayed in a hostel or hotel. It wasn’t beautiful and there really is nothing to see except real life. This is where many working class families, students, and pensioners call home.
I learned a lot from Olga, not only about L’viv and Ukraine, but about life. She is one of the kindest people I have ever met and can find beauty in just about anything. Thanks to her, my faith in the Couchsurfing community was solidified and my 100% positive experience only fueled my desire for more.