You know that moment when you realize how stupid you’ve been? That’s the feeling I’ve had for the last two days. Let me explain.
We’ve been traveling around the world for more than two years now and I’ve always complained that I wanted an easy way to meet people wherever we go. Because meeting locals or other fellow travelers is always the best part of the journey. But how can someone arrive in a new city and connect with people?
It’s actually pretty easy and the solution has always been on the tip of my fingers. I just haven’t tried it before, until yesterday. And I guess many of you probably know that I’m talking about Couch Surfing.
Couch Surfing is a web site created more than a decade ago. Say you’ve got a couch on your living room and you’d like to host a traveler. You go to http://www.couchsurfing.org, create a profile, tell the world that you have this awesome couch and soon enough people begin to ask you for a chance to stay at your place for a few days.
You offer your couch, spare bed, room, or whatever as a courtesy. You can’t charge for it on Couch Surfing. On the other hand, if you travel using Couch Surfing, you eventually stay in other person’s place paying nothing for it. But you are generally more than welcome to show your appreciation with a gift, or teaching something from your country, like cooking a regional meal, for instance.
That’s super cool, right? But there’s more. Couch Surfers organize lots of activities all year round. And everybody is welcome. Even people that never used Couch Surfing to travel, or to host, can participate. For instance, there are weekly meet ups in many cities. And that’s how we finally joined Couch Surfing.
In Istanbul, there are lots of weekly meet ups. There was one last night hosted in a bar basicly to socialize. There was another one tonight for English conversation. We’ve been to both and it was an amazing experience. How could we miss it for such a long time?
Truth is that I knew about Couch Surfing for a while. But everytime I tried to use it, I got frustrated and kind of intimidated by the user interface. It’s pretty confusing. I could never really overcome this barrier until this week. I told myself: you’ve got to try harder cause there’s something great out there and you’re missing it. And that turns out to be absolutely true.
There were 30+ people last night and 40+ people tonight. Most of then are Turkish. So, those were just perfect places to meet local people as well as people from different origins that are living in Istanbul. But why were there so many people?
I learnt yesterday that traveling abroad is not easy for the Turkish. Aparently, they have to apply for a visa for most of the countries they’d like to visit (fortunately they don’t need a visa for Brazil). Anyway, many people just can’t afford the trip. And learning English at school doesn’t really work. English teaching is generally very poor in Turkey. Same thing in Brazil.
But here some people really want to learn English. And since most of them probably can’t afford to pay for a private English course, they like to attend meet ups to practice English with the foreigners that are visiting Istanbul. Which is absolutely wonderful for everybody.
So they have those meetings every week and they are always packed with people. Pay attention to this important detail. Tonight is Saturday night! They meet to practice English on a Saturday night! That’s really nice.
Patricia and I talked to many people tonight. Most of them were Turkish indeed. But we also met people from Algeria, Canada, Armenia, Romania, Germany, Brazil, Bolivia, Syria and Luxemburg. And we learnt a bit about each of these places. As a matter of fact, I even learnt to play backgammon! And I won. Talk about beginers luck. :-)
I deeply regret all the time I wasted not trying to use Couch Surfing. But I’m delighted that we’ve finally began to use it. And Istanbul seems to be just the perfect place, since people really use it a lot and it works incredbly well.
You can check out my profile on Couch Surfing at http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/vinicius.m.teles.