Some couch surfers form life-long connectionsFor some, couch surfing is an inexpensive way to travel. For others, it’s a way to connect with people from around the world. And for David Lorbiecke, of Fargo, this avenue for travel-lodging was the key to following his dreams.
By: Jasmine Maki, Grand Forks Herald
For some, couch surfing is an inexpensive way to travel. For others, it’s a way to connect with people from around the world. And for David Lorbiecke, of Fargo, this avenue for travel-lodging was the key to following his dreams.
Lorbiecke describes couchsurfing.org as a social network that centers around hosting travelers and being hosted by people from around the world.
Members set up a profile with their interests, life philosophy and travel experiences. From there, they can plan a trip and send couch requests to members in the cities they plan to visit. Or, they can wait until they receive a couch request from another user.
Lorbiecke, who joined couchsurfing.org in April 2012, has used the social network for both hosting travelers and surfing others’ couches on his own excursions. But, it was a simple message from a fellow traveler that has had the most impact on his life.
Surfer made overseas move less daunting
Tuure Turkson spent several months in Fargo last summer. When she came across Lorbiecke’s profile on couchsurfing.org, she discovered he was interested in traveling to her home country of Estonia. Turkson reached out to Lorbiecke through the website, and they decided to meet.
Lorbiecke said he told her he hoped to attend graduate school for anthropology at Tallinn University in Tallinn, Estonia.
“She told her parents, (and) they didn’t believe her,” Lorbiecke said. “They wanted to be more skeptical. But, she was the one who reached out to me.”
When Turkson went back to Estonia, the two kept in contact via Skype and Facebook messaging. Lorbiecke later applied to the university with Turkson’s help. Now, Lorbiecke has moved to Estonia, and the two are now roommates.
Lorbiecke said knowing someone in Estonia before moving there for school has had numerous benefits. For example, he never thought about how he was going to pay his application fee for the university. But, Turkson was able to go to the university and pay it for him.
He said Turkson went to school to be a translator, so she knows Estonian, English and Russian, which has been beneficial to him as well.
“It is far, far less daunting,” Lorbiecke said of having a friend in Estonia. “I don’t even know what I would do without her.”
Although Lorbiecke’s experience isn’t typical of most couch surfers, many members have made connections with their hosts and surfers.
Connecting with a stranger
Natasha Banks, now of Portland, Ore., describes herself as an introvert and said she joined couchsurfing.org in 2007 when she lived in Grand Forks because she wanted to step out of her comfort zone.
Banks reached out to two different people, who were both bicycling across the country that summer.
The first surfer Banks hosted was Greg, who stayed with her and her family for one night. Banks said it was a little nerve-wracking at first, but “from the moment he got there, he made us completely relaxed.”
“He made us a delightful meal, a vegetarian lasagna,” she said. “We shared a couple (of) stories, and he gave us a book. He just stayed for the evening … then left in the morning.”
Banks said she didn’t talk to Greg once he left because he didn’t have a cellphone, but she still has his lasagna recipe.
“It’s my staple,” she said. “I call it my couch surfing lasagna.”
After hosting Greg, Banks said she was fascinated and wanted to host another surfer. She reached out to James Zinkand, also known as Crazy James, who was on a mission to travel around the world with just $100.
“He was living in L.A. at the time, and he decided he wanted to travel around the world, reconnecting people through traveling and love,” she said. “He told me he blew his $100 the first night in the bar. So, he started out with nothing.”
Zinkand eventually made his way to Grand Forks and planned to stay with Banks for one night. Banks said Zinkand was a little intimidating when he arrived, but he was the sweetest person.
“He had a lot of time to reflect on his journey, and he told me about that,” she said. “It was kind of a serene evening.”
Banks and her family connected so well with Zinkand that he ended up staying with them three nights. They showed him downtown Grand Forks and took him barhopping. She said when he left, they all cried.
They kept in contact via email and text messaging while he continued his journey. Zinkand later got picked up by the show “Big Brother,” and they stopped communicating as much. But, several years later, Banks still occasionally chats with him on Facebook.
Makes traveling more interesting
While not all experiences lead to life-long connections, Lorbiecke said whether he was surfing or hosting, he has had only good experiences. He said most people on the site are just interested in traveling and exploring new cultures.
When Lorbiecke couch surfed from the middle of California to Portland, Ore., he sent personalized requests to people along the way. Even though he crashed for the night, his hosts were able to show him local hot spots.
“It kind of makes going to any town …. more interesting,” he said. “I don’t have any interest in going to Toledo (Ohio), but if I know I’m going to be staying with a local, I know I’ll have a good time.”
He said even if you aren’t planning to crash on their couch, you can still use couch surfing to find like-minded people in the towns you’re visiting.
“If you’re going to a place you haven’t been before, couch surfing is great,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing to try.”
Banks said her experience with couch surfing was completely enriching, especially being a young adult. “I think surfing, it’s not just giving someone a place to sleep; you’re connecting with people and enlightening them,” she said.
Worldwide trust system
Before surfers and hosts can connect with others, they need to have some level of trust.
Although some may be wary to host strangers in their homes, Lorbiecke said he likes to give people the benefit of the doubt. He also noted that it takes a lot of trust from the surfer to stay in a stranger’s home.
“(Couch surfing) is kind of a worldwide trust system,” he said.
Banks, who was skeptical of the site at first, said she gained her trust by looking through surfers’ profiles and their recommendations or reviews from other surfers.
She said although surfers should trust their guts, couch surfing can help people step out of their comfort zone and meet new people.
“My experiences through couch surfing brought a sense of unity,” she said. “It brings the world closer through travel and inner experiences.”
Dos and Don’ts of Couch Surfing
• Do be gracious. Offer to make a meal, buy dinner or bring a gift for your host.
• Do be a tour guide. Show your guests around the city and take them to some of your favorite local stops.
• Do share stories and experiences. Couch surfing is about meeting people from other places and sharing experiences with one another.
• Do be respectful. Whether you are traveling to another state or another country, be mindful of your host’s culture.
• Don’t expect a guest bedroom. While some hosts may have an extra bed to offer, others only have a couch or empty floor.
• Don’t ask for money. It’s against the site’s policy to charge a surfer to stay on your couch.
• Don’t ask for keys. Hosts aren’t required to give you keys to their home. If a host trusts you, they may offer, but don’t push your luck.
• Don’t make a mess. Leave your host’s home better than you found it.
• Don’t overstay your welcome. Discuss your arrival and departure times with your host before you get there, and don’t stay past your set departure time.
Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or email@example.com.