The stories of a couchsurfer

Anton, Mark, Lizzie, Rosey & Veronica, Cardiff

Mark & Anton

There’s a certain responsibility when Couchsurfing. It all derives from the primary function of Couchsurfing which, depending on who you ask, varies from person to person. For me, this primary function is to discover a new person or people, to share knowledge and experiences with them and to gain an insight into the local daily lifestyle.

For this primary function to be met it means that there needs to be a good deal of interaction between the surfer and the host. This is only fair, and it’s something that I try and stick to rigorously. It’s what the surfer expects from the host and, even more so, what the host expects from the surfer.

This is the responsibility that I mentioned in the first line of this post – to spend time getting to know the other party.

Sometimes, though, this responsibility can be a burden. It may not be that you don’t want to get to know the host or surfer, it’s just that you don’t want to do it every night of a week long stay, or that you prefer to go out and discover the city and it’s surrounds by yourself instead of in the company of the host.

The majority of surfers and hosts are pretty relaxed when it comes to this anyway, but at first it’s unsure as to how to approach it and so it’s refreshing when you do manage to find a Couchsurfing spot that is super relaxed.

This point brings me to Anton’s residence in Cardiff, which is the most relaxed Couchsurfing experience I have ever had.

Which at first seemed strange, because Anton’s profile actually laid out quite a few ground rules which is not uncommon for a hosting profile, but can be a bit off-putting for those that are hoping for a laid back host.

Ultimately though, Anton’s experience shone through, as I was looking for a lively and active household to Couchsurf in after missing out in Bristol and having to stay at a hostel.

Lively and active is what I got too, as the household always had something going on. The core group of the house consisted of Anton and roommates Lizzie and Rosey. Both Lizzie and Rosey worked during the day, and would generally be around the house during the evenings.

Anton was preparing for some physics exams and therefore hung around home during the day, but spent the majority of his time in his bedroom studying.

Then there were the somewhat temporary housemates.

First was Gayan – a Sri Lankan undergoing an internship in Cardiff somewhere that had been staying there only a week or so prior to my arrival. Gayan was a man or mystery and despite all the activity that the household underwent, he was barely ever seen – not even heard when he came home in the afternoon or left at night. To the point that I think he actually moved out of the house during my time there and nobody – including the housemates – really noticed.

Then there was Veronica – an Italian girl who was not Couchsurfing but had come to Cardiff and the household by virtue of another website. This one I can’t remember the name of, but participants would register and offer to do work around the house in exchange for being able to live there – as a gardener or a cleaner, for example.

For Veronica, she was tasked with decorating the house with artwork. Veronica studied design in Italy and so she quite enjoyed working on her latest project every day and her creativity was impressive to observe. Often, while sitting out in the backyard having a chat, I would be amazed at the things that she was currently working on and wonder how she had even imagined them to begin with.

Veronica was a super friendly girl and, quite contrary to Gayan, was very social and eager to develop her English language skills and learn from the others around the house. She was young and lacked much experience in cultural exchanges and she had the unfortunate position of always being the one with the lowest English level in the household, which often caused her to commit a faux-pas and create sporadic moments of comedy for the other members.

It was all in jest though, and she clearly enjoyed her time there and everybody enjoyed her presence too. Personally, I greatly admired her courage to put herself in the situation that she had, living with a complete set of strangers for an extended period of time and having to converse in a language that she knew she wasn’t very strong at. This was a level of commitment entirely above Couchsurfing, and she no doubt benefited from it greatly.

Rounding out the temporary housemates was perhaps the most interesting of them all – Mark, a Canadian vagabond who had settled on Cardiff a month or so earlier and took up Couchsurfing at the residence. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to stay.

As you’ll soon see, this household welcomed many a Couchsurfer, and it became too much for the regular housemates to manage, particularly given their work and/or study commitments. Mark, therefore, became tasked with being a sort of Couchsurfing escort who, when the others were unavailable, would welcome Couchsurfers to the house and take them around Cardiff if they pleased.

It was Mark that welcomed me to the household. His Couchsurfing experience was extensive and he was a very sociable guy who loved a laugh. He was living life and loving every minute of it.

He kept himself busy, and to-and-fro’d as to whether he should find a job more steady than the income from his nightly gambling escapades currently provided for him.

So it was these six people that made up the core of the household, but there were much more than that. The Couchsurfers would come and go, to the point where it was hard to keep up. One day I would arrive home from discovering the city to meet three or four new faces, all Couchsurfing for a few days. At one stage I think there were ten or more of us all under the same roof.

I absolutely loved it, and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Every day I got to meet new travellers and share travel stories and drinks with them. It really reminded me of my days hosting in Australia when, during the busy summer period, I would quite easily have six or seven surfers at a time. Even though I obviously got to meet all of these surfers as a host, I always envied the surfers themselves, for they not only got to meet them, but would spend the day traveling around town with them. Now it was my turn, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of all of these Couchsurfers, I guess one stood out in particular – Ivin, a visiting Swede who spoke such good English that when I met him on my first day there I mistook him for being a local and living there. I guess he stood out because he actually stayed the entire duration that I was there also – almost a week – but also because he was a genuinely good guy who fit in perfectly to the household because he was so relaxed.

Many days went by where Ivin didn’t even seem to leave the house, and was quite content to just take in the calmness of the place and relax around surfing the Internet or whatever it may be.

Of all the positives that this household brought to a Couchsurfing experience, this was perhaps the biggest of them. The fact that Ivin hung around the home all day for a few days on end might annoy some Couchsurfing hosts, who wonder why he had bothered to come to Cardiff at all if he weren’t to discover the place. But not here. Here, it was almost encouraged. It was such a low pressure environment where chilling and relaxing were welcomed.

Remarkably, despite the amazing number of Couchsurfers and residents, the house would become empty and quiet during the day, so relaxing was an easy option to take. The household certainly embraced the typically British tea culture and there was nothing more revitalising than enjoying a good blend out in the backyard. Sometimes, if you were lucky, there was also some sunshine.

By evening the Couchsurfers would return and the place would become lively again. The communal dinners were a highlight, where somehow everybody crammed in around the dinner table and shared a meal that was generally prepared by one of the others during the afternoon. Food wasn’t a shortage in the household by way of the regular dumpster diving that Mark was partaking in.

Dumpster diving was something that had actually fascinated me when I learned about it from Couchsurfers that I had hosted during my time in Australia. I had always been interested in seeing it for myself and undertaking it so I asked Mark if I could go along and help him out one night, of which he was more than happy to agree to. Mark had taken the reigns from Anton who, by all reports, had done his fair share of dumpster diving and knew the hotspots around town. Mark would go once every two or three nights to gather all that was good enough and bring back to stock up the fridges in the household.

This meant that it wasn’t uncommon to wake up one morning and find twenty punnets of strawberries shoved in a corner of the fridge and drink smoothies for the next three days.

We took a pair of bicycles and a backpack each that we would hope to fill during our plunder. As we scrounged through the dumpsters, Mark would tell me what is suitable and what isn’t suitable to take. I had no idea what I was doing but started getting the hang of it by the time we reached the third or so bin. Basically anything that was packaged seemed fit for consumption, and there were loads of pastries that satisfied this criteria. It was quite remarkable to see just how much produce was thrown away that is perfectly edible, and it didn’t take long before our backpacks were full of all sorts.

Perhaps the only person (besides Gayan) that I didn’t really get to know too well was Anton himself, who, due to his exam preparations, often skipped the dinner conversation to continue his studies.

The discussions I did have with him showed that, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was a fan of the scientific method, and as a result often displayed a great deal of rationality to his thought process.

Anton didn’t place the same pressures on himself that I did while Couchsurfing – of ensuring that I spend quality time with the others to get to know them and learn from them – and he openly spoke that it just wasn’t possible to get to know everybody that he hosted.

He accepted this and was perfectly comfortable with it, and although it’s something that I would wrestle with and be bothered about, he said it as if it were so simple. Yet this should come at no surprise given the stress-free environment that he managed to maintain in what could have easily been a stressful, hectic household.

Sometimes the best way of finding order is to stop managing and just allow it to find itself. There was no clearer indication of this than in Cardiff, with Anton.

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