Red Ink Run: an uncomfortable adventure in couch surfing
I considered it a glaring omission from an otherwise comprehensive travel CV that I had never been couch surfing. I’m usually the last one to climb aboard with these sorts of things, happy to leave it to the social media vanguard to try and test it. Let them root out all the serial killers and emotional vampires that prey on the lonely traveller while I stay in hostels.
Yet by the time we had traversed half of Siberia and reached the Russian city of Tomsk a few things became apparent: firstly, that an undeveloped hostel system in Russia meant local contact and interaction, the backpacker’s Holy Grail was illusive as ever. Secondly, our next destination, Perm, did not have any hostels, only hotels that were either highly expensive or in the city’s boon docks.
If you, like my dear father, find yourself saying “oops where did that go?” often while using the computer then a brief explanation of couch surfing is in order. Couch surfing is basically a social media network that allows users to locate locals in a particular foreign city while they are travelling as well as perhaps a place to sleep. The idea is that couch surfers serve as hosts when they get back home, i.e. you are expected to reciprocate the favour for one of the great wandering heard of travellers. You have the right to decline requests to stay on your couch if that tour group of thirty moustachioed Albanian musicians seem a too full on for your little studio apartment.
Apart from these hard facts it all depends who you ask to what couch surfing is. Consult the official website for instance and it becomes clear they believe they have created the means to realising a utopian future whereby people that have been hitherto kept apart by governments, walls and differences in language will find commonality and friendship together on a couch.
I was not so sure but spurred on by an innate sense of cheapness and necessity I reawakened a profile I had created but never used and found a series of likely candidates willing to give a couple of Aussies a place to lay their heads. The results I returned from the search were very heartening. These all looked like normal people. It suggested I send out five requests which I did. Slowly, I began to believe the hype, sure the Californian hippie communes in the 70s had ended in jealousy, disaster and Charles Manson but just maybe this time technology would facilitate an educated and well-meaning subgroup of strangers to form mutually beneficial relationships based on universal aspects of the human character instead of the almighty dollar.
Then there was a response. It was from a member which I will refer to as AR. Her profile picture is of her hugging a dog with an expression of unrestrained glee on her face. She volunteers at an animal shelter, is a vegan and is concerned about human rights. Perfect. The way I figured it was a nice soft option, someone wholesome that might not necessarily guarantee a trashy night out but would have a solid kernel of humanity in her.
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