Couch surfing at 60 is the way I am going to travel from now on. The Kombi vans we travelled the world in decades ago have been replaced by the multiple people-to-people options opened up by the internet. Couch surfing is a vibrant, healthy, cheap and cosy way to traverse continents and countries, couch by couch, host by host, seeing real people in real time, without sitting in a Big Red Topless Bus with other tourists, looking down on the local population like ants.
When your kids tell you they are travelling the world, they don't tell you they are couch surfing, because, as with everything else, you wouldn't understand. You would think it was a dating site, a pick-up venue, a dangerous place to go, like Kings Cross. Couch surfers are drawing up real profiles with real facts, looking for a bed and a human exchange.
Couch surfing is exactly what it says. It is about enjoying the world's surfeit by using the world's hidden generosity.
Travel is about people and experiences, not about temples, shrines or pyramids. It is not about the Empire State Building, but about the people who work in it, if you can be lucky and vital enough to meet them at their home, on their couch.
No matter how much or how little money you have, the couch is the best way and, like good fishing holes, it is the best-kept secret among the younger generation. They know better than to put it on Facebook, where parents prey like mantises. They have hideaways devoted to hosts and guests around the world. It's like a digital Lonely Planet, where the information is disclosed by the couch owner in exchange for the experience of the traveller. It is new but seems as old as the Silk Road.
I am not a good traveller. My couch-surfing profile will tell a few little white lies, about my age, my professional status, and the breadth of my amazingly disparate interests. I want to impress potential hosts, who will haggle with each other for the right to offer me a couch.
In couch surfing, like everything, I want to leave a lasting impression not a stain. My profile does not suggest I carry pills and potions that soothe and pharmacologically treat my many physical and mental disorders. If you want to succeed, do not ever mention words like depression, herpes, baby wipes, special needs, needles or blood. Learn to eat vegan and lie that you are, because vegan hosts are very trustworthy and gentle souls.
Seek out hosts who share your interests. If you are female, and unless you enjoy it, don't couch-request BDSM photographers, slave masters, angry Islamists, college fraternities or curious couples seeking to expand their experiences.
The best way to start is in the next suburb, stay overnight in Surry Hills and say you are travelling to London in short spurts from Darlinghurst - baby steps.
Declutter. Travel lightly but with a healthy credit card. If you don't have one, buy a debit card that looks like a credit card and load it up. Although you might look penniless, you can not be penniless or you risk everything.
If you cannot cook, like me, don't sell yourself as one. It will lead to the host leaving a bad message about you. If, like me, you like to sleep on newly starched white sheets, bring your own, as many hosts will use the last surfer's soiled sheets for you.
Heed diplomatic reports. Do not couch surf in Syria now or Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics, especially if the hostess is a widow asking you to bring a bottle of hydrogen peroxide for her hair.
Ask for a short stay and extend it if you like it. If you request two weeks, you might be stuck on a bed of nails eating peanut butter and ice-cream for meals. Do not go to places without Wi-Fi, because it is hard to send a mayday out on 3G.
You will find the best bars and hangouts by interacting with your hosts. Do not couch surf the world looking at different television sets.
At 60, not all the luggage I carry is in suitcases. I carry the emotional and physical scars acquired by merely living. Do not declare it in customs or on your profile. Travel as the man you want to be, not the miserable runt you are.
On the road or on the couch, you can be anyone you decide to be, as long as your medication is up to date and disguised as vitamins or supplements.
Fake sincerity and the rest will come naturally.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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