Okay, so you're about to travel to somewhere that you've never been before. It could be for a day or two or even forever. You don't know anyone and you don't know anything about the place. You have no idea even where to start. What do you do?
What if I told you that there was a website where you can find somewhere to sleep (for free), learn about places to eat, make a friend or two to hang out with while you're there, and get a bunch of recommendations on what to do? Yes. Something like this really does exist. It's called couchsurfing.org and it's MAGICAL!!!
I've had an account for about a two years now and I love it. The first time I used it was when Diana and I went to China last year and we were looking for some locals to meet up with while we there. We ended up hanging out at a comedy club with a Colombian expat living in Beijing and had a fabulous dinner with an Australian woman and her Chinese husband when we were visiting the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an. Both "dates" were a ton of fun and we did things and met people we wouldn't have ever been able to do otherwise. This is us with Natalia in Beijing last year:
In case you're not familiar with CouchSurfing, it's a website where you create a profile and let people know if you have a couch or spare room they can use when visiting your town. You also have the option to set your profile to "Coffee or a drink" if you're not crazy about the idea of having people you don't know sleeping on your couch. They do have a eBay-like feedback system where people have the chance to give others the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, which, along with a detailed profile that users fill out, helps to reduce the likelihood of a really bad experience. The website is used by all types of folks--from low-budget backpacker types to people just looking to have a more "locals" experience. Diana and I are registered as "several people", which shows that we are a couple when you do a search for places to stay or people to meet up with.
The reason I'm finally writing about CouchSurfing is that just this past week we had another great CouchSurfing experience. This time it was with a couple (Toni and Lena) from northern Sweden that are staying in Barcelona for about two months while attending Spanish-language school. We had exchanged a few emails and finally met up to wander around Poble Sec (our neighborhood) for a bit and then come back to the apartment for tapas and wine. They're here learning Spanish so we made them speak mostly in Spanish with us even though their English is also really good.
During the course of the night, they told us about their hometown and about how they can see the northern lights, especially when it's really cold out. I think the scariest thing that they told us though was that the record low temperature for their town was something like -42 degrees Celsius (-44 degrees Fahrenheit!!!). I'm sure that when it's only like, oh, I don't know, 0 degrees, that people are out in their summer clothes... And, as with everyone that I know from Sweden (three people now), the conversation eventually turned to IKEA and Lingonberry jam!!! We even pulled out the recent catalog and talked about all the product names being places in Sweden. Too funny!
It was a fun time and definitely makes me want to do even more CouchSurfing.
Muchas gracias Lena y Toni! Let's do it again soon!