The Surprising Things I Learned From My First Couchsurfing Experience

It was after months of traveling across three continents that I found myself wandering with a friend through Amsterdam – sans plans or sleeping arrangements for the night. Spontaneity requires surrendering to the moment. Sometimes all it takes is a pinch of this boldness to inspire the most enlightening of travels. In my experience, it has been the key to my most treasured adventures. The difference between making the jump and playing it safe is in the stories you’ll tell when you return back home. It was somewhere along our journey from Scotland that we had tossed up the idea of Couchsurfing. For the uninitiated, it’s a way for travelers to link up with locals for a place to crash. We admittedly agreed that it was one means of traveling that we had continued to steer clear of. Our next breath came with a mutual, fingers-crossed hope that Amsterdam would be the place to change that.

Most people hear about the idea of Couchsurfing, and it triggers the flashing of the words dangerous, strangers, and absolutely not in their heads. In my mind it was something saved for the most adventurous and avid of travelers. A down-and-dirty batch that I didn’t believe I was cool enough to run alongside. That rainy day in Amsterdam must have clouded my judgment as I typed back an acceptance to the welcoming 20-something Australian’s proposal that we crash at his extra apartment. It was a rush – nerve-wracking and exciting in a way that made me sure I was writing my own ticket to adventure and a story to carry home.

I discovered a newfound trust in spontaneity.

We weren’t alone in this, my friend and I, and that’s what gave us the momentum to surrender. As we made our way to the address he had sent, we continued to reassure one another – it’s fine, we’re together, if it’s shady we’ll leave, his other surfers said he was lovely . . . Climbing up the inconceivably narrow stairs to the apartment, the “I’m feeling nervous, are you?” dialogue continued. Then it happened. Our host opened the door and helped us with our bags. He matched his picture – so far so good. There was a sense of relief in the air that eventually boiled over into consolation laughter as we made small talk. He sat down, and let out a sigh – we were normal, as was he. It was a game of chance on both sides, but in that moment, we realized our intuition had guided us in the right direction.

Upon realizing that everyone involved in this couchsurf met expectations, all reservations were forgotten, and I discovered a newfound trust in spontaneity. We were invited to celebrate Liberation Day with his friends, taken to the local market and treated to beer, an Uber to get us to the festival, alongside a day packed with a level of hospitality and kindness that we still can’t seem to get over (two and a half years later). The overly windy hours that day were spent sprawled out on a grass field with this stranger and his friends, one French, one Polish, and one Dutch. We listened to live bands play, spoke about everything under the sun, and shared our “so, how’d you get here” stories. Latching onto the back of their bikes, we were taken around the city, wondering why we hadn’t given this a chance sooner.

Maybe it was beginner’s luck, or maybe it was proof that there is goodness in the world. Either way, we felt as though we had hit the first-timers jackpot. When our new friends had danced us out to the point of exhaustion, we said our thank you’s and gave hugs in place of goodbyes. Wandering back to what was once a stranger’s apartment, we were in awe of the unexpected warmth we stumbled into. We lived like locals, and the reward of our gamble was in the experience.