One of the best things about Couchsurfing is the fact that you get to have constant interaction with a local. Traveling via hostels or hotels, one cannot always do this, as the majority of people they meet in these locations, and in the heavily touristic places that they visit, are other foreign travellers themselves.
Having constant interaction with a local while traveling provides many advantages. They have intimate knowledge of the area and can inform you about the best transport options and give you advice on places to visit that the Lonely Planet guides just don’t know about. You also get the benefit of being able to see what the average day in the life of a local is and observe their mentality.
People are individuals and it varies from host to host, but generally they will provide an interesting insight into the culture and philosophy of their country.
This was certainly true of Iris, my host in Utrecht in The Netherlands. Of course Iris is unique in her own way, but the more I stayed in The Netherlands and continued to meet other Dutch, the more it became apparent that she reflected relatively accurately the Dutch mentality.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me however, as I had already met Iris in Australia. She had Couchsurfed with me on multiple occasions and I was able to get to know her somewhat during those days.
Generally however, people change while traveling. They are no longer bounded by the same rules and responsibilities that they were constricted by back home. There no longer exists the same deadlines that controlled their daily life previously. There is the freedom to essentially go where you want, when you want and to do what you want, when you want.
Because of this, travellers can often take on different mindsets during their travels and it’s not always a true reflection of themselves in their home environment.
Iris however, was almost exactly as I had remembered her. Yes, she had exams and university study at the time of my arrival and this meant that she had to dedicate some time to that but her attitude was almost identical.
This led to the first of my observations about the Dutch. I have met many others before via Couchsurfing and while they were traveling they were humble and gracious. They were curious to meet and learn from people and discuss concepts. And this is exactly what they were like when I met them in their homes in The Netherlands. They maintain their values and behaviours while they are traveling and I admire this of both Iris and the Dutch in general.
Iris also tended to display the idealistic nature of the Dutch. That things are simple to learn and risks are nearly non-existant.
One of the best examples of this was immediately after my arrival in Utrecht. Upon retrieving Iris’ bicycle from the enormous racks of bikes at the train station, it was assumed that I would be able to ride the bike to her friends place where we would collect another bike that I could use during my stay. I was confused at first. Why would I ride Iris’ bike and not Iris herself? Because it was expected of me to ride while supporting Iris on the back.
Thing actually started alright (by my standards). The steering was a bit wild due to some sensitive handlebars and there wasn’t too much traffic on the cycling paths. It was when we approached the first set of traffic lights that the first problem occurred. No breaks on the handlebars. With the lights approaching quickly my only solution was to stick out my legs and slow down by scraping my foot along the ground.
Iris jumped off to avoid falling and informed me that it was simply a case of pushing backwards on the pedals. A commonly known fact in The Netherlands, but not always for travellers. I can confirm this because a fellow Belgian traveler had the exact same problem the first time also.
Really though, what this exhibited was a great deal of trust and because of this trust it meant that I had a very enjoyable stay. Simple but powerful acts like organising a bicycle for me to use (which I never actually used due to fear of cycling in The Netherlands) and lending me a phone for use in The Netherlands for the week were very much appreciated.
We spent Queen’s Day together and she introduced me to the famous Dutch drop. I met her mother and she kindly gave me some Stroopwafels, which were very much enjoyed. Iris even allowed me to benefit from her student reductions in transport a few times.
As a final point to note, it was in The Netherlands that I finally, after more than a month, managed to overcome the sickness that had plagued my journey up to that point. I have no doubt that this is due to Iris’ hospitality.