“Hello Azhar. Yes, I will be available to host that weekend. Regards, from Germany.”
This was the reply I received from Markus, my to-be host, with regards to my couch-surfing request that I had sent, for a two day night-stay in Heidelberg.
I was nominated by my employer to attend a week-long seminar in Frankfurt, Germany and after the five-day sponsored-stay was over, I had decided to stay back and explore other parts of Germany on my own. I searched on the internet for tourist attractions in the country and picked Heidelberg, for its scenic beauty and diversity. But for this two-day stay, I chose not to stay at a hotel, as it was not economically feasible.
Instead I signed up on couchsurfing.org and started searching for hosts. It was here that I came across Markus.
For those who are not familiar with the concept of couch-surfing, it is a new, relatively simple phenomenon; it is a social website where people offer their couches for free to travellers visiting from different countries. The site also serves as a platform to meet othertourists. This is very effective, because it costs the tourists nothing and becomes easy for travellers to find suitable accommodation for a few days.
I had never done this before, so the idea felt adventurous and I didn’t see any risk in staying with a stranger, because the simple fact was that I was the stranger in their country.
So the process of searching for an adequate host began. I sent a request to the host who had the highest response rate; chances of finding a potential host for an individual with no friends and references are very low. A few of them declined my request citing reasons that they already had guests staying with them during that period of time or that they were out of town. Luckily, one host, Markus, responded saying yes and that he was more than willing to host me. It turned out that I was the first person he would be hosting through the couch-surfing website.
We exchanged a few messages and introduced ourselves and I filled him in on my plans to visit Heidelberg. We exchanged numbers and stayed in touch through WhatsApp, since that was more convenient. I informed him about my arrival time at the railway station and he offered to pick me up from there, which I felt was an extremely thoughtful gesture, as in couch-surfing, the host is only entitled to let you have their couch, nothing else.
Nervous, yet excited, I arrived at Heidelberg and looked around for Markus who was patiently waiting with a smile on his face. Since Markus had a dinner planned for the night, he decided to show me around the city in his free time. During our journey, we chatted away, answering each other’s numerous questions and finding out more about each other.
We reached his apartment and he showed me around; it was a beautiful place and I was happy to have chosen him as my host. He finally revealed the couch that I would be sleeping on at night, which was a couch-cum-bed and it looked comfortable enough.
Markus and his girlfriend were extremely welcoming and made me feel at home right away. His girlfriend welcomed me with Thai tea, which served as the perfect hot beverage on a cold and cloudy day. I dropped my luggage off at his apartment, and we decided to take a tram downtown.
As night approached, preparations for dinner were underway. Delicious Thai food was on the menu, prepared by Markus’s friend. Following dinner, the guests, along with Markus and me, sat together and talked away, getting to know each other and inquiring about each other’s cultures and countries. Since it was still early, we decided to watch The Interview, which put an end to our evening on a good note.
The following day, I decided to explore the city further. I visited the 16th century castle, a famous landmark in Heidelberg, as well as the Old Bridge, also known as the Alte Brucke. Since Markus had some assignments to complete, I decided to stay-in and watch some TV and read a book – a great way to unwind after a tiring day.
The next morning Markus dropped me to the railway station and I headed to Frankfurt to take the flight back home.
The experience turned out to be greater than I had expected. I had a free place to stay at, a pleasant couch to sleep on, and lovely hosts to stay with. Not only did I discover a great city, but great people as well. The experience was amazing and I would recommend travelers to give couch-surfing a definite try.
The blog first appeared on Pakistan Tribune.