Wouldn’t it be great if you could travel the world for free?
Well, you kinda can.
Couchsurfing.org is a website that hooks you up with hosts who are willing to share their homes with you, and gives you the chance to give back to the travel community in the form of your spare bed.
My wonderfully adventurous friend Bree couchsurfs all the time so I thought I would give it a go on my recent trip to Japan.
All I had to do was sign up, create a profile and post my request for a couch in Tokyo. I received an offer from a young woman name Kana so we emailed back and forth and worked out the details.
Unfortunately, I totally misunderstood the directions to her house so it took a while for us to find each other but when we finally did catch up, Kana took me to a cherry blossom picnic with her friends in Harajuku and we went out for drinks together in Golden Gai, a part of Shinjuku that has rows and rows of tiny bars that only fit about six or seven people in them. Le fun.
Kana’s motivation for hosting was to improve her English and mine was to see how real Japanese people live. On both counts, I think we succeeded. Kana lives in a fairly posh suburb called Sakura Shimmachi, famous for its cherry blossoms. It was fascinating to walk through normal suburban streets and observe the miniaturisation of everything from cars to bonsaied trees to bonsaied apartments. Everything was clean, in perfect order and tiny.
Much to my fumbling gratitude, Kana insisted on giving me her bed while she slept on a mattress on the floor. Her whole apartment was the same size as my loungeroom and kitchen combined. It was intriguing to see how she fit her life into ingenious nooks and crannies; behind screens and sliding doors.
Other benefits of hanging out with Kana were having someone to teach the me mysteries of the Tokyo train system, eating at hidden backstreet restaurants with menus in Japanese, learning about weird foods like slimy yam and having someone to answer my 50 million questions about everything. Kana was exceedingly patient with me and I will forever be grateful for her humility and hospitality.