There is nothing better than coming to a completely foreign city or country and already having a local friend there waiting for you. After quitting my job to travel the world, I decided I would embrace each and every one of my destinations by meeting the locals and getting to know the culture, the hidden gems, and the day-to-day life through their eyes. But how do you go and pick up a local friend without knowing anything about the area you are visiting? The answer is Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing helps make a big world a smaller place. It allows you to travel, but with the comfort of coming home to a friend. Through couchsurfing you are exposed to many different people, all with something new and interesting to offer, and all with the commonality of a love for personal growth through new friendships and world travels.
When I kicked off my travels in Croatia, I wasn’t having much luck connecting with any hosts until a New Zealand Kiwi named Glen reached out to me. He had seen my couch request for the area and told me that he had been residing in Split for a month, and could offer me a room to myself and the opportunity to explore the historical seaside city with him. I was slightly skeptical at first, until I looked at his profile and saw dozens of glowing references, along with a personal description stating that he “lived for Couchsurfing”. I figured if nothing else I could learn from this Couchsurfing veteran and enjoy some sun at the same time.
Glen turned out to be an incredible host. From the moment I arrived until the day I departed he made me feel comfortable and welcome. We shared home-cooked meals, long walks along the waterfront, hikes to breathtaking lookout points, and many hours of swimming in the salty Adriatic Sea. Having already spent several weeks in the city, Glen was able to navigate like a pro, bringing us to pick up free wifi in the public square and showing me where I could find the best-value chocolate dipped gelato cones around. We finished each day with an outing to one of his favorite local pubs, where we shared stories and laughs over a local drink. In our two days together we became fast friends, and by the end of my visit I knew Glen would be someone I would like to cross paths with again, whether in his homeland of New Zealand or elsewhere in the world.
After leaving Glen in Split, I was on my way to meet my next Couchsurfing host in Šibenik, another seaside town of Croatia. I was fairly clueless about my next host, Bobo, as his personal details were the bare-minimum required by Couchsurfing, but I knew that he too had dozens of glowing references from his guests. He came to meet me at the bus station and immediately took me to his local coffeeshop hangout. It felt like an episode of “Friends” as I sat there sipping my espresso with Bobo and his buddies, laughing and learning about one another. In our first few moments of knowing each other, I witnessed Bobo pause and buy food for a hungry stray cat, and at that moment I knew I was in the presence of a truly genuine and caring guy.
Bobo’s generosity didn’t stop with the cats- he treated me as a guest of honor throughout my entire stay. He was able to secure a bike for me to borrow and we explored the city and its peninsulas, pausing along the way to take in the views, admire details, and say hello to his countless friends in the small city. Each night Bobo cooked us incredible dinners; one night we enjoyed a local octopus salad and another we indulged in dozens of lime-zested crepes. We talked late into the nights, listening to music and playing with his incredibly affectionate cat. When it was time to go, I knew I had met another wonderful individual who I would never forget.
My third and final couchsurfing host in Croatia accepted my request very last minute, and with the conditions that we were going to be sleeping in his living room as he was also hosting his mother. Upon my late arrival, he made me feel right at home, offering me a shower, a cup of tea, and a delicious veggie dinner. He invited me to go out with him and his friends to an outdoor bar. After a walk around the city, a few drinks, hours of laughter, and an impromptu stop at a dance club, I felt I had seen the best of what Zagreb had to offer. The next morning I said my goodbyes to my host and his sweet dog Lola and made my way to the train station only to find a surprise there waiting for me- one of the friends from the night before! We shared a morning coffee and croissant before I took off for Budapest, but exchanged contact information to stay in touch. That is another pleasure of Couchsurfing- sometimes you not only meet your hosts, but their friends and family as well.
As I continue on with my travels I know I will continue on with Couchsurfing. This site is a perfect example of how the internet has helped to make a big world feel smaller by fostering connections and breaking down barriers. The people I have met through Couchsurfing in Croatia have added a whole different dimension to my travels and I can’t wait to see who else I will encounter as I continue to make my way around the world.