[Editor's Note: Thanks to Dave and Vicky for today's guest post on meeting locals! If you would like to guest post on IShouldLogOff, contact us at info [at] ishouldlogoff [dot] com and check out our submission guidelines.]
I love how in traveling locals are treated like a nearly extinct bird. There are literally thousands of posts on the web about how to meet locals. Isn’t it somewhat paradoxical that in a foreign country locals seem to be the minority – shouldn’t it be how to meet travelers? Oh well, the fact of the matter is it IS HARD to meet locals. I remember how Vicky and I traveled through Greece for 8 days. Sure, we interacted with locals, but we didn’t meet locals, not until we couchsurfed on our last night.
From that point on we knew that couchsurfing was going to be a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals/travelers, and we were determined to host people upon returning to the US. Since then, Vicky and I have collectively hosted 10 people and while it’s always been a pleasure, we’ve had our share of stand out experiences.
The RTW Europeans
“Firsts” are a beautiful thing. It’s amazing how simply by being a first an experience automatically gets promoted to an unforgettable event. Whether or not this is deserved, I certainly will never forget the first couchsurfers we ever hosted – the RTW Europeans.
I don’t remember exactly how we decided on them – but I know the screening process was extensive. These guys fit the bill exactly. A RTW couple who had been traveling through Europe and Asia for the last year. They were us a year into the future, we had to host them.
When they arrived, 25 lbs backpacks on their shoulders, legs weary from months of travel, we welcomed them in to our 525 sq ft apartment. They were the experienced couchsurfers and we didn’t really know what we were doing. What do people usually do with Couchsurfers? What do they talk about? I immediately made a b line for the obvious conversation starter “Couchsurfing”.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next two nights we soaked up hours of advice from these guys. I remember Vicky even pulling out a notebook. We couldn’t keep up fast enough with the travel tips and advice these guys were spewing.
The German Bachelor
With the ice broken and nothing stolen, Vicky and I were ready to open up our apartment once again. This time was different. Our Couchsurfer was younger, a student on break traveling around America. He had been to parts of this country, I’m sad to admit, I couldn’t even put on a map. We hosted him for 5 days, a record for us.
We decided to up the ante a bit by taking our couchsurfer to a comedy show in DC. It was really a pleasure to introduce American humor to a German. He loved it, and took us out for drinks later that night to show his appreciation.
The Colombian Nomads
Every now and then some couchsurfers come along that leave an impression beyond just the days they spent at your place. The Colombian Nomads were this more than anyone. Not quite RTW travelers, not quite on break, these guys fell somewhere in the undefined middle of simply wanderers. They came to DC without a plan, no idea how long they were staying, and no idea where they were going next. They spent two nights at our place during which time we had some great conversations and heard more than a few entertaining stories from their mishaps in India and Nepal.
To our luck Luis happens to be an incredibly talented photographer and graphic designer and when he offered to help design a logo for our travel site we jumped at the opportunity. What would we do in return? It turned out they were going to be biking up to Boston and were uncertain what they would do with their bag. It also turned out that during this same period I was going to be taking the bus home to Boston. My offer, to take their bag with me. A perfect barter system and a great way to consolidate our friendship – by taking their bag as hostage and forcing them to befriend us.
Christine From China
Vicky was giddy with excitement for our first Asian couchsurfer and especially for the cooking lesson she was about to receive. Christine only stayed with us for one night but this didn’t stop her from taking charge of our kitchen, sharing her family’s authentic recipe and preparing a 3 dish meal. She treated us to pork spare ribs in a soy sauce glaze, served with a tomato egg stir fry, a lettuce garlic stir fry and rice. The meal was finger-licking good and was by far the closest we’ve ever gotten to real authentic Chinese food. To sweeten the deal even more she even left us the spices and seasonings she used to make the dish so Vicky can recreate it herself.
The Refined French Man
Couchsurfers often give rise to the standard image of a younger, budget traveler with his clothes drenched from sweat and his soles worn from the miles he’s traveled, but this isn’t always the case. One of our most recent couchsurfers was an established French gentleman in his mid 40s in DC for a work conference. Despite having the means to secure himself his own place in the city, he chose couchsurfering purely to meet locals.
We welcomed him with dinner and he brought us dark French chocolate and a bottle of red wine. It was not too long before Vicky and I both became uncomfortably aware how the French stay slim. Vicky gobbles her food up without even chewing and I’m usually only a few chews behind. Although she desperately tried to space her bites at 15 second intervals there was no way to eat slower then our French guest. We both looked at each other, and then our plates, trying to keep pace, but it was futile. By the time he finished his first portion I was on my third.
It was a lesson in fine dining – the art of eating slowly, savoring every bite, taking in the aroma of the wine before slowly tilting the glass up to one’s mouth. Discussions on the political and economic happenings of Europe filled the air. Ah to be French. The rest of our evenings together were much more American – we watched movies on Netflix from our instant queue (but they were foreign!). Hopefully we get a chance to return the favor someday, by taking him out to McDonalds in Paris.
With Vicky and I taking off in September to travel around Asia and Europe we’re determined to make Couchsurfing a cornerstone of our trip. It’s hard to predict who we’ll run into and what kind of interactions we’ll have, but one thing is for sure, we’re in search of locals.
About Dave and Vicky: Having spent 2 years in the working world, Dave and Vicky are ready to exchange their briefcases for backpacks, dress shoes for sandals, and beds for sleeping bags. Starting in September they will be embarking on a 2 year journey across Asia and Europe. You can follow along at A Couple Travelers where you’ll find travel reflections, blogging resources and restaurant reviews.