CouchSurfing

MY COUCH IS YOUR COUCH

Stories of 100 couchsurfers around the world

CouchSurfing is the act of trading hospitality, practiced by the over 2 million members of the CouchSurfing network present in 230 countries worldwide. A CouchSurfer will stay at the host’s house for a day or more, depending on the arrangement made between the host and the guest. CouchSurfers contact each other through the organization’s nonprofit website, which exists in 33 languages and boasts 20 million hits a day. The movement began in San Francisco in 2003, merging a utopian idea of a better world with the web 2.0.

CouchSurfing was created in order to allow everyone to travel and share the widest possible range of cultural experiences. CouchSurfing is always free, as one of the few rules is that money cannot be exchanged between members. It has become a truly global phenomenon, with couches available in more than 70,000 cities around the world, from Antarctica to northern Alaska, from Tehran to Washington, from the Maldives to Timbuktu.

Riverboom’s Gabriele Galimberti traveled around the world with CouchSurfing for more than a year in order to discover this young, diverse, multicultural, multiracial global community. He has CouchSurfed on all the five continents and has hosted dozens of CouchSurfers in his house in Tuscany. He has slept on a bed worthy of a 5-star hotel in a fairytale villa in Texas and in a room ten square meters in Sichuan, which he shared with 3 generations of a Chinese farmer family. In Ukraine he was hosted by a couple that welcomed him naked, informing him they are “house nudists” and in Botswana by a young man training to become an evangelical pastor. CouchSurfing gives rise to stories of sharing, of friendship and sometimes even of love. Most of all, CouchSurfing provides a way to get to know places and people in a more profound manner and that, after all, is the true essence of travel.


start →
  • ...
  • China - Chongqing

    China - Chongqing

    Zhang Yue, 22 – Chongqing, China -

    Yue is 22 years old. She studies film and directing in Chongqing, but originally she’s from the north of China.
    Her apartment is on the university campus, and she shares it with fourteen other students. There are six rooms that each sleep two or three people, a single kitchen and just one bathroom that everybody shares. The rooms are alright, but the cleanliness of the common spaces leaves much to be desired.

    In Yue’s room there are two double beds, one for her and one for her friend, another girl who she shares the room with. I thought that they would give over one of the beds to me and share one between them for the five nights that I stayed there but, only ten minutes after we’d met, Yue told me, “Choose. You can sleep on the floor in your sleeping bag, or you can sleep in the bed with me.”
    Even though I felt embarrassed, I chose the latter option. After months of ‘uncomfortable’ travels, I had no desire whatsoever to sleep on the floor. When the time come to go to bed, we lay down next to each other.
    I stared at the ceiling. We started to talk, and I realized right away that there was no hidden intention behind her offer to share a bed. For her, it’s perfectly natural to share her bed with guests she’s just met, be they men or women, with no difference between them. Once I’d understood that, I could relax, my embarrassment faded, and I felt like I was sleeping next to a childhood friend.
    In the morning, we went walking along the river that flows through the city. Walking in front of the writing that appears in the photo (Hao Yue) I said to her, “Look, they’ve written your name. What does it mean?”
    “€œMy name means ‘moon’,” she replied, “and the writing says ‘shining moon’, but I feel more like the sun, which, unluckily, hardly ever shines here!”

    China - Chongqing

  • Malaysia - Sepang

    Malaysia - Sepang

    Jeeva Prataban, 26, with his family – Sepang, Malaysia -
    Before setting off on this couchsurfing trip around the world, I already knew that at some point I’d have to share a room, a bed or even a couch with my hosts or with other travelers such as myself, but I had never imagined that, in Malaysia, I would have had to sleep in the same room with Jeeva and his three pythons, two cobras, two Mexican iguanas, his coral snake and a black widow. Fortunately, the creatures were all closed in glass tanks but, frankly, those tanks didn’t seem that secure. Jeeva calls his pets “puppies” and, actually, he and his family treat these creatures (well, the non-venomous ones, anyway) the same way I treat my parents’ cat, petting them while they sit on the couch watching TV. This photo, taken in the morning before breakfast, is the proof.
    Jeeva was born in Kuala Lumpur, twenty-six years ago. He studied to become a chef and, after having worked as personal cook to some of the richest families in Malaysia, he now runs the kitchens of three important restaurants in the city.

    Malaysia - Sepang

  • Hyderabad, India

    Hyderabad, India

    Alysha and Kartikh, 29 and 31 -€“ Hyderabad, India –

    Alysha is 29 years old, works for Disney Channel India and speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. She’s the one who’s registered on CouchSurfing.
    Kartikh is 31 years old, has a master’s in marketing and works for “Unilever”.
    Alysha and Kartikh met about ten years ago, in Bangalore, where they were both studying economics, and that is where they became a couple.
    After eight years, two of which were spent living together, they decided to get married, but they didn’t get married only once. They did it two times, both in the same week. They first time, they got married with the Hindu rites, and the second with the Catholic ones.
    €œWe did it as a gift for our parents. It didn’t matter that much to us. We’re not very religious, they tell me.
    Alysha was born and raised in a Catholic family with distant Portuguese roots, while Kartikh’s family is Hindu and one-hundred percent Indian.
    Before they met each other, neither thought it was possible to get married two times according to the rites of two different religions but, apparently, in India, you can.
    First we got married in Bangalore, where Kartikh’s family lives, according to the Hindu rite,” she tells me, adding, “I stayed quiet for the whole ceremony. The priest said everything in a language I didn’t even understand. I put on three different saris during the course of the day, and I don’t know how many dozens of times I lit incense. I didn’t understand much of what was going on, but it was beautiful, and fun too. Five days later, we were in Hyderabad, in a church, me with my white dress and him in a dark, elegant suit. In front of us stood a Portuguese priest, and we exchanged our rings and our vows of eternal love.”
    “With that double security, your marriage is going to be protected and safe forever,” I joke.
    They exchange a glance. “It would have been anyway,” they answer, “even without the double wedding.”

    Hyderabad, India

  • Botswana - Maun

    Botswana - Maun

    Kenias Hichaaba, 23 – Maun, Botswana –

    Kenias, 23 years old, lives in a small house with only two rooms. In the first one there are two armchairs, a console with TV and hi-fi, a kitchenette and the sofa where I slept for three nights. In the second room, instead, there are two chairs, a small wardrobe and a double mattress that Kenias shares with his younger brother and his mum. The bathroom is not in the house, but outside, shared with the five other families living in the small building. For the shower there is a bucket. His father died a few years ago and now Kenias is the man of the house. He is very religious, is devoted to Pentecostalism and studies at the Bible School in Maun, Botswana. He has a dream: to become a charismatic priest. “€œI strongly believe in the manifestation gifts of the spirit, such as healings, speaking many languages and prophecies. I pray and study a lot, and I am sure that one day these gifts will show themselves in me”. During the three days I spent in his house I suspected that his TV had only one channel. Indeed, it was always on Emmanuel TV, a channel of sermons and religious songs. Every day at about 3 pm, Kenias gets his keyboard, sits on the armchair in front of the TV and plays and sings along with it.

    Botswana - Maun

  • Iceland - Reykjavik

    Iceland - Reykjavik

    Berglind Gunnarsdòttir, 33 – Reykjavik, Iceland -

    I arrived in Reykjavik on a Saturday, at one o’clock in the morning. In one of the emails we had exchanged to decide where and when to meet, Berglind had sent me a map with some directions to reach a disco-bar in the city centre. “œHow will I recognize you?”€, I had asked her, and she said: “€œDon’€™t worry, it won’™t be difficult, I’€™ll be the woman in red”€. I got to the Club22 by taxi and I entered with my big backpack. Red hair, red dress, red nail varnish, red shoes and stockings. No, it wasn’€™t so difficult to find her. We danced until 5 in the morning and, then, we went to her house, where everything was mostly red, cat included. Besides nourishing her passion for this colour, Berglind is an architect. I wonder which colour the houses she designs are!

    Iceland - Reykjavik

  • Philippines - Manila

    Philippines - Manila

    Brenda Fernandez, 33 -€“ Manila, The Philippines -

    “€œI’m an unusual girl for the Philippines.” That’s the first thing that Brenda said to me, laughing, when I asked her to describe herself a bit.
    “€œI’m 33 years old and I’m not married yet, and here that makes people look at you like you’re some kind of UFO. I live alone and far away from my family, I have a good job, and I get paid more than most of the men around here, and then I travel. I travel a lot, everywhere, and I do it alone… and I love all of these things!”
    Brenda works for ‘GMA Network’, the most popular television channel in the Philippines, and she wouldn’t trade in her job for anything in the world.
    “€œI earn good money and I have a lot of free time, and that’s essential if you like traveling! Just in the last two years, I’ve taken at least eight trips, to America, Europe and Asia.”€
    Brenda has a passion for adventure and she loves seeking out challenges. Every six months, she sets a new goal for herself to help her get over one of her fears. She’s been diving with sharks, she’s gone parachuting, she’s been bungee jumping in Macau, from one of the highest places in the world and now, for the last few months, she’s been training at a boxing gym, and soon she’ll get in the ring for a match.
    I spent five days at her house, and we spent a lot of time talking, and even telling each other about the relationships we’ve had. “€œI’ve been single for a few years,” she told me. “But, you know, it’s not easy to find someone here. I’d never be able to be with someone who earned less than me or who had a less important position than me and here, in the Philippines, it’s not easy to find someone who makes the grade. Love is important, but it’s not everything. The idea of staying single all my life doesn’t frighten me at all. I’m happy being single, and I’m able to do everything I want to do, and that’s why I’ll never lower my standards!”

    Philippines - Manila

  • Thailand - Bangkok

    Thailand - Bangkok

    Tom and Jane – €“ Bangkok, Thailand -

    Tom Hom is 33 years old, and he has always lived in Bangkok, where he was born. Mary Jane, on the other hand, who is 31 years old, was born in the rural area in the north, and has lived in the city for only a few years.
    Tom and Jane live together, work together and play music together, but they’re not a couple.
    They both work for Penthouse Asia magazine. Tom is a photographer, and every week he takes pictures of at least two different beautiful nude women, while Jane is a stylist and prepares the sets.
    “€œIt’s nice and fun to work together. We have the same €™70s inspired taste, and we always agree on everything,” they tell me.
    They both have a passion for music and, about a year ago, they and some other friends decided to put together a band, S.O.D. (Simple of Detail).
    In just a few months they became celebrities in Bangkok. They play an average of 2 concerts a week, in both large and small venues.
    Their shows are fun, ironic and seem like something out of an Austin Powers movie. They’ve just signed a contract with Warner, and soon they’ll be making an album. You can find them on Facebook by typing in their e-mail address: s.o.d.band@hotmail.co.th

    Thailand - Bangkok

  • Malta - Buggibba

    Malta - Buggibba

    Marika & Rob, 34 -

    Malta - Buggibba

  • Utah - American Fork

    Utah - American Fork

    Buckley Barratt, 30 – American Fork, Utah -

    Buckley, who comes from a Mormon family, was born and raised in Utah, but when he was 23 he moved away from his religion and moved in with his girlfriend. Now he’s married, and he teaches at an elementary school. He plays the guitar and the piano. Even though he doesn’t have a band, his best friends are professional musicians and he often writes songs with them. He loves Tom Waits, and so I passed him along some albums by Vinicio Capossela and Gianmaria Testa, two Italian singer-songwriters.

    Utah - American Fork

  • Australia - Blue Mountains

    Australia - Blue Mountains

    Caroline & Ellen Presbury – €“ Blue Mountains, Australia –

    Sisters Caroline, 24, and Ellen, 20, were both born in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains of Australia.
    They grew up in a large family of 5 sisters and 2 brothers.
    They are the only people in all my CouchSurfing experiences who were my guests in Tuscany before I went to stay with them.
    I met them, as a matter of fact, in the summer of 2010, when they were traveling in France and Italy. They stayed at my house for 4 days.
    Now they’re about to go live in Sydney. They’ve found an apartment in Surry Hills and they’re going to move there soon. Caroline is about to begin attending an art and photography school, while Ellen is going to study economics

    Australia - Blue Mountains

  • Florida - Miami

    Florida - Miami

    Daniel Dajusz, 24 – Miami, Florida -

    Daniel was born in Chicago, where he spent the first ten years of his life before moving to northern Florida with his family. For about two years now, he’s been living in Miami, where he studies photography and art direction. As soon as I step into his one-room house, I can see that he’s an athletic type. There’s a bicycle, a soccer ball, surfboards, skateboards and snowboards. I have some good friends in Miami, and I had planned to stay with them but, the night before I was due to arrive, they called to tell me that there’d been a snag and I couldn’t stay at their place. I looked for a solution to my problem on the site (CouchSurfing.org), sending out four different requests. After just half an hour, Daniel had already answered and said it wouldn’t be a problem (three cheers for iPhones). The next morning, I arrived at his house, where I stayed for two days, sleeping on a super-comfortable inflatable mattress.

    Florida - Miami

  • Kekava - Latvia

    Kekava - Latvia

    Eleina Priede, 22 – Kekava, Latvia –

    Eleina was born in Riga 22 years ago and grew up with her parents and grandparents in Kekava, a small village 40 kms from the capital city, also known as the “village of chickens” because of the many poultry farms in the area. Half of her numerous family live in the USA and she is happy to visit her distant cousins at least once a year. Eleina speaks English very fluently, especially because at 17 she left her small village to study in England, where she attended a photography school in the last two years. Now her parents live in Riga and after the experience in England she went back to Kekava to live with her grandparents, who are retired and still keep on farming for passion. “€œI feel this as my home more than any other one. And I love helping my grandparents in the greenhouse with the tomatoes or in the garden with the vegetables, it makes me feel in contact with nature”€.

    Kekava - Latvia

  • Panama - Panama City

    Panama - Panama City

    Elisa Gòmez, 24 – “ Panama City -

    Elisa was born in Panama City, twenty-four years ago, to a Panamanian father (of Italian origin) and a Cuban mother. She didn’t tell me much about what her parents do. She would only tell me that they’re involved in international trade and that most of their business interests are in Cuba. They are well-off, and their house is in the city center. It has a room for listening to music, another that serves as a gym, and another for watching movies on a big screen, with a cinema-style sound system. A Porsche, an Audi SUV and two BMW motorcycles are parked out front. Paola studied international relations in Prague, and it was there that she began couchsurfing, traveling all around Europe by herself and with friends, camping out on a whole lot of different couches. She’s been back in Panama for a year now, and at the moment she’s working in a jewelry store. She’s planning, however, to set up a business with her father in Cuba€“ but she wouldn’t tell me a word about it.

    Panama - Panama City

  • Norway - Bergen

    Norway - Bergen

    Erlend Oye, 36 – Bergen, Norway –

    “In the past I used todo something like couchsurfing, too, it was funny.” Erlend told me when I met him by chance in a bar in Bergen and I explained him my travelling project around the world. “€œI spent last summer in Sicily and I happened to read your column many times, because my Italian friends read Repubblica”. You can imagine my amazement: Erlend O˜ye, the singer of the Kings of Convenience and of one of my favourite bands, The Whitest Boy Alive, had seen my photos and knew my story. I was so happy. And even more so I was, when he invited me to his house: “Come to my place for breakfast tomorrow, I can be a couchsurf again for one day and be part of your story, my Sicilian friends will have a good laugh at it when they see me in the magazine!”

    Norway - Bergen

  • Colombia - Bogota

    Colombia - Bogota

    Catalina Jurado, 33 – Bogota (Colombia)

    Catalina is the last one of the hundred people or so who hosted me in this tour around the world. The last protagonist of my long tale, a tale made of many faces and short stories. Of course, I couldn’t ask for a better ending, at a beautiful and very hospitable South American girl’s home. She is an art teacher, passionate about photography, good music and Thai food. In addition, I visited her in one of the most important and exciting moments of her life: the day she entered her new house for the first time. So, a few hours after my arrival in Bogota, I found myself in front of her house door, on her side, on the 18th floor of a new building. That door had never been opened before without showing the presence of the people who had been working at the flat. Her parents were with us, feeling a bit moved and with tears in their eyes. It was an emotional moment for me, too, I wasn’t just a stranger in that situation, but I felt as if I was part of the family, as if I had been there long since. I would have liked to take some pictures, but I didn’t want to interfere with the magic of the moment, that’s why I only photographed Catalina the day after, at school with her girls. “They are the people who give me energy the most”, she told me later, looking at the photo with her students.

    Colombia - Bogota

  • U.A.E. - Dubai

    U.A.E. - Dubai

    Faisel Nizam, 30 – €“ Dubai, U.A.E. –

    When I asked Faisel where he had been born, he answered, “I was born in this world, and my first memory is of me wearing a Superman costume, jumping off of a wall more than two meters high, eyes shut. I wanted to know what it felt like to fly.”
    To be more precise, Faisel was born in Dubai, and it was there that he grew up, at least until his parents sent him to study in the United States, in Florida, when he was 17 years old.
    “€œThey wanted me to study economics, but I hated school and I didn’t learn anything in those four years in the States. Everything that I’ve learned, I’ve learned from experience and from the amazing people I’ve met along my way.”
    Then, when he was 21 years old, he got into trouble with drugs and was forced to leave the United States and return home.
    Now he trains airport personnel. He started out as a simple baggage handler and has worked his way up the ladder in the Dubai airport.
    “€œI’m very different now. I have hope for mankind, I have a wonderful family, and I can’t wait to meet someone to share my life with.”

    U.A.E. - Dubai

  • Indonesia - Jakarta

    Indonesia - Jakarta

    Oktofani Elisabeth, 24 – Jakarta, Indonesia –

    Fani was born into a “strict” Catholic family in Yogyakarta, and it was there that, five years ago, she studied communications and journalism. She now works as a ‘junior journalist’ for the Jakarta Globe, and she loves her work above all else. She lives alone in Jakarta, on the twenty-eighth floor of one of the many skyscrapers that are rapidly transforming the urban landscape. Her apartment’s one window, located in the bedroom, looks out at the skyscraper facing hers, not more than fifteen meters away, and exactly identical to the one where she lives.
    She leaves the house every morning before seven and takes a taxi to work, where she arrives between eight-thirty and nine o’clock, depending on traffic, and begins a very long day in the office. “€œSometimes I manage to get home by six in the evening, but often I don’t get in until after dinner. I cover local news, you know, and here in Jakarta there’s some kind of small terrorist attack, or some crazy person who tries to blow himself or someone else up every day.” € (In the four days I stayed with her, there were six such incidents just in the city itself, but fortunately they weren’t major.)
    Then she adds: “€œReligions are horrible. They don’t unite people, they divide them. Here in Indonesia, people hate each other and hurt each other just because they believe in different gods. Religions should be abolished.”
    But when I asked her why she had a cross tattooed on her shoulder, she didn’t answer.

    Indonesia - Jakarta

  • Brazil - São Paulo

    Brazil - São Paulo

    Leticia Massula, 41 – Sao Paulo, Brazil –

    Thinking of Brazil, beaches, palm trees, Carnival costumes and people dancing is what often comes to our mind. However, as soon as you get to Sao Paulo you are rapidly belied. This vast stretch of concrete is one of the three biggest cities in the world and is the throbbing heart of the Brazilian economy and culture. The richest people get around flying from one roof to the other by helicopter: it isn’€™t so difficult to spot one passing by your window. Leticia, who comes from Minas Gerais, in the South-East, has been living here since she was 12, but she has never got on an helicopter. With a degree in Law, she had been practising her career as a lawyer – a “€œfeminist lawyer”€, as she points out -€“ for 10 years. Together with other colleagues of hers, she had worked on some new laws on women rights. Yet, three years ago she gave up her career to follow her other great passion: cooking. Now she runs a small catering service, a cooking school and one of the most read cooking blogs of her country (www.cozinhadamatilde.com.br).

    Brazil - São Paulo

  • Norway - Bergen

    Norway - Bergen

    Andreas Backer Heide, 31 – Bergen, Norway -

    “€œI was born in Stavanger in 1980. I was lucky enough to live near the seaside, with a very active family who taught me to respect and enjoy nature. Every weekend we would do some sport: going skiing, bike riding, fishing and above all sailing. As soon as I came of age I joined the navy, where I spent two wonderful years and I found myself”€. Now, ten years after his recruitment, Andreas works as a biologist for the research institute of the Norwegian navy. He has travelled all over the world thanks to his job, and most of the time sailing. His passion for sailing goes beyond everything else. Last month he resigned, bought a big sailing boat and soon he will leave for a one-year voyage around the world. He has got a small flat in the city centre, but whenever he can, he lives on his boat. He hosted me on his floating house, sailing with me through the fjords.

    Norway - Bergen

  • Canada - Whitehorse

    Canada - Whitehorse

    Ian Usher, 47 – €“ Yukon, Canada –

    Ian used to live in Perth, in Australia. He had a nice house, a car, a motorcycle and a jet-ski, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and a whole lot of other things. He went parachuting, snowboarding, scuba-diving, surfing and kite-surfing. He had a bunch of friends and a good job. “And a wonderful wife,” he says.
    Then, one morning, he tells me, “I found her in bed with a friend. We split up, but for a year I kept on living in that same house we’d built together.” Until… “I got the idea it was time for me to change everything.” Meaning? “I put my whole life up for sale on eBay – my house, my motorcycle, my jet-ski, my car, my furniture, my clothes, my job… everything!” No sooner said than done. He cashed in. But then what?
    Ian set a hundred goals for himself, from diving with whales in Japan to parachuting in the skies of Scotland, and gave himself the same number of weeks to achieve them. Then he set out. Item number twenty-five on the list was, “Take a dog-sledding course in Canada.” But he wasn’t expecting the sled-dog trainer to be so pretty, or that he would want to go back to her, Moe, at the end of that hundredth week of traveling.
    So that’s the reason why Ian now lives in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where there’s snow almost all year round and, from October to March, the temperature never gets above zero, sometimes falling as low as -50°C. He lives with Moe (and her 25 dogs) in a dry cabin: a wooden house in the middle of the forest, without running water (for showers, you go to the gas station twice a week) and without electricity, except for the bit (three hours a day) produced by the generator. But after six months, Ian got tired of the cold and the inconvenience, and he convinced Moe to move (sometime very soon) into a more comfortable place. In the meantime, he’s written a book (A Life Sold, Wider Vision, November 2010) telling his story, and Walt Disney has already bought the film rights.

    Canada - Whitehorse

  • China - Xi'an

    China - Xi'an

    Bai Yongliang, 28 – €“ Xi’€™an, China -

    Bai was born in Xi’€™an, the Chinese city famed for its Terracotta Army. He grew up just like most Chinese kids born in smaller cities, helping his parents at work from the time he was small.
    Then, when he was 15, after meeting a German boy who was traveling through China, he decided that he wanted to study English so that he could travel too, one day, like him.
    After getting his degree in English at university, he decided to try and get an additional degree in international communications. His parents, however, refused to pay, since they didn’t think he needed it, so Bai asked a good friend to lend him the money. Now he’s paying it back a little at a time from what he earns teaching English to the children in his neighborhood. He earns 200 RMB (Renminbi, or ‘People’s Money’) a week (about 30 Euros). To pay back the whole loan, he’ll need 35,000 RMB.
    To survive on so little money, Bai lives in what are known as the most working-class tenements in the city. They look like big apartment blocks, but on every floor there are about twenty rooms, and all the tenants of each floor share just one bathroom and one kitchen€“ and the hygiene in these leaves much to be desired.
    Bai loves CouchSurfing, because it gives him a way to spend time with foreigners, practice his English and get to know other cultures. His room is about three by four meters in size. There’s a bed, a desk and a mountain of clothes, books and other things on the floor. He also has a small folding foam mattress, which he pulls out when people come to stay.
    I slept there, on the floor next to his bed, for three nights, sharing the kitchen and the bathroom (a two-square-meter room, where the shower was positioned directly above the Turkish toilet) with twenty or so Chinese students.

    China - Xi'an

  • Japan - Tokyo

    Japan - Tokyo

    MOCHAN, 44 – Tokyo, Japan –

    I had planned to stay in Japan for ten days, fitting in three different CouchSurfing experiences. I had gotten in touch with several people scattered around the country, and after going through them, I decided to choose as my hosts a boy from the south, a girl in Tokyo and another in the north. But a few days after I’d finalized my plans and bought my plane tickets, on March 11th Japan was hit by the devastating tsunami.
    Within a just a few days, all the people I’d been in contact with wrote to tell me that they couldn’t put me up anymore, as they had all taken in relatives or friends who had fled from the hardest-hit areas.
    So I decided to change my plans. I would stay in Tokyo for just two days before leaving for China. It seemed foolish to me to try and play the tourist at a time like that.
    I did a new search, looking for someone to stay with in Tokyo, and I found a guy who had escaped my notice the first time around – Mochan, unquestionably the most active couchsurfer I’ve ever met. He’s been a member since 2008, has over four-hundred friends and has received more than five-hundred positive reviews from people he has hosted.
    I wrote him an e-mail letting him know that I could imagine how difficult the situation he and everyone else in Japan was going through must be, and asking him if he’d put me up for two nights and be a part of my project. Just an hour after I’d sent him my message, he wrote me back to say yes.
    Mochan is 44 years old, and he was born and raised on the western outskirts of Tokyo, but now he lives by himself in the city center. He’s not frightened by what happened to his country, and is sure that everything will go back to the way it was before in no time at all. “We Japanese are good at fixing things,” he tells me, with a laugh.
    For about twenty years he ran a bar with a friend, but now he works with tourists. He bought a little bus, which he uses to take visitors on the tours he organizes to the areas around Tokyo and to Mount Fuji. “€œI like working with tourists. I love being with people, and most of all with foreigners. Before, I was always at my bar, but now I manage my own time and I can travel a lot. Will you put me up in Italy next winter?”
    My answer was yes, of course.

    Japan - Tokyo

  • China - Shenyang

    China - Shenyang

    John Yengee Sun, 25 – Shenyang, Cina -

    China - Shenyang

  • Zambia - Kalulushi

    Zambia - Kalulushi

    Tavaris Ngalande, 29 – Kalulushi, Zambia –

    After a three-hour flight on a small tractor plane, eight hours in an overcrowded bus with no air conditioning and nearly an hour in a van driven by a nun, I arrived at S. Joseph mission, in a village 20 kms from Kalulushi, in the north of Zambia. Tavaris, one of the three doctors of the mission and the only member of the couchsurfing network in that part of Africa, was waiting for me there. “€œI grew up in Kitwe with my mother only, my parents had divorced when I was one. We were really poor, but luckily when I was 7 my mum found a job in a Coke storehouse and with the money earned she managed to send me to school. I was a good student and in secondary school I got top marks. For this reason I obtained a scholarship from the government which allowed me to study medicine”€.
    After graduating, Tavaris started to work as a volunteer doctor in the rural areas until he arrived here and found a job in the mission (www.occhidellasperanza.it). Every day in his surgery he visits more than a hundred patients, many of whom suffer from aids or malaria.

    Zambia - Kalulushi

  • Haiti - Port au Prince

    Haiti - Port au Prince

    Natacha Marseille, 29 – €“ Port-au-Prince, Haiti -
    Natacha was born twenty-nine years ago in Port-au-Prince, but she was orphaned when she was just a few months old and, at the age of five, she was adopted by a German couple. Now she’s one of the most active couchsurfers I’ve ever met. At her house I met another couchsurfer, a Canadian journalist, who she’d been putting up for thirty-six days. But the most important thing that Natacha does is run Meva, the school she opened in 2004. Despite the damage inflicted by the 2010 earthquake, it currently has two-hundred and fifty-four students.

    Haiti - Port au Prince

  • Fiji Islands - Barara

    Fiji Islands - Barara

    Nani Marquarase, 29 – €“ Barara, The Fiji Islands –

    Nani lives with her husband and two children in a home made of corrugated metal, and at the moment she’s eight months pregnant. She has an internet connection, she loves CouchSurfing, and she’s put up over sixty people in the last two years.
    There’s a twin mattress leaning up against the wall and, in the evening, she puts it down on the floor in the entrance, which becomes the guests’ sleeping space.
    It’s never less than 30°C in the house, and the humidity is always very high. It’s impossible not to sweat, even if you’re just sitting still all day. The house is far from the sea (about 6 km, which is a record distance from the beach in the Fiji Islands). Showers consist of rain water collected in a cistern on the roof which comes out through a pipe in the bathroom ceiling. As soon as I stepped through the door, my first urge was to get out, get away… but then, after an hour of breathing the atmosphere of kindness and joy in the home of these, wonderful, happy, vibrant, simple people, I already felt like a member of their family. Those days I spent with Nani, her husband and two children in their house of corrugated metal were truly beautiful ones.

    Fiji Islands - Barara

  • Costarica - San Jose

    Costarica - San Jose

    Aron Piedra, 21 – San Jose, Costa Rica –
    Aron was born and raised in San Jose, in Costa Rica. His parents got separated when he was still small, and now he lives with his mother and her new partner. His family has always worked with tourists. They’ve run restaurants and hostels and, now that Aron is grown up, his mother has decided to give him the responsibility of running a hotel on his own. Aron has been a couchsurfer for about two years, but he hasn’t hosted many people. The reason? Aron and his mother don’t have room in their house to put anyone up, so Aron lets couchsurfers sleep at the hotel – but obviously, he can only do that when there’s a free room when the requests come in. I was lucky to get to San Jose during a week in the low season, so I got to sleep in his hotel, in room No. 4. In the morning, he even offered me breakfast.

    Costarica - San Jose

  • Senegal - Guediawaye

    Senegal - Guediawaye

    Lamine, 27 – Guediawaye, Senegal –

    I arrived in Dakar on a Friday night. I took a taxi to get to Guediawaye, in the north suburbs. Lamine and his brother Karim were waiting for me there. We walked for half an hour in total darkness. “Every night at about 10 the electricity is disconnected until 5 am”€, Lamine explained. Once we reached our destination, I realised that I wouldn’t have slept at their place. They hosted me in the studio of the Xoslu Vision, their cultural association which organises hip hop concerts and art meetings. It is a room in an unoccupied building, with only a spongy mattress and two chairs: “There isn’€™t any water, if you need it, you have to take it from the fountain in the street”€. The first night was the worst couchsurfing experience in 15 months of travelling. I was scared. I couldn’€™t sleep. But I spent the day after with Lamine and his brother. Students, aspiring musicians, very kind people who immediately made me feel like part of the family.

    Senegal - Guediawaye

  • India – Mumbai

    India – Mumbai

    Mahender Nagi, 31 – Mumbai, India -

    Mahender was born and raised in Mumbai. Ever since he was little, he has loved music and film, especially of the Indian variety. Since he was eighteen, he has been singing and playing in a rock band. They put on shows at least twice a week. He studied economics at the university in Mumbai, and after he’d finished school, he worked in different places until, four years ago, he became the manager of a small television channel.
    “€œWhen I worked in television, I met a lot of people from the Bollywood film world,” he told me, “and now I’m part of that world too.”
    Indeed, Mahender has been working for Bollywood for two years now.
    He started out as an assistant director for a friend. After a few months, he wrote and produced his first film (which wasn’t very successful) and now, while he’s writing his second, he’s working as an actor in a lot of other movies.
    I spent three days with him. We went around Mumbai together, by day and by night. He took me to what he called “the coolest clubs in the city”, introducing me to Indian actors and musicians, and a lot of the time he took for granted that I would know who they were. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t recognize anyone.

    India – Mumbai

  • Thailand - Bangkok

    Thailand - Bangkok

    Mai and Box – Bangkok, Thailand –

    Mai, the one in the white shirt, is 24 years old and has been a member of CouchSurfing.org for about a year. Box, 36, the one with the black shirt, has been his boyfriend for two years. They both work as sales assistants in the same shopping center, where Mai sells books and Box sells clothes, but they got to know each other online, on a site where homosexuals meet up, just a few weeks after Mai had moved to Bangkok from the north of Thailand to look for work. Two hours of chatting was all it took to convince them to meet up that very evening in a bar in the city center. When they saw each other, they took to each other right away.
    “I don’t have any doubts. I love Box, and I’ve always known I was gay,” Mai tells me, then adds, “still, sometimes, it’s not easy for me to think about how he, on the other hand, was married to a woman for eight years.”
    They’re planning to move in together, and the date is fast approaching.
    Mai, however, feels guilty for never having told his family anything about it.
    “€œMy mom might understand, but I think that my father really wouldn’t at all. He’s an old-fashioned type, and he expects to see me come home with a pretty girl. I’m sorry that, sooner or later, he’ll have to be disappointed.”

    Thailand - Bangkok

  • Mexico - Nopaltepec

    Mexico - Nopaltepec

    Maria Armas, 22 – Nopaltepec, Mexico -
    Maria was born 22 years ago, in Veracruz, on the east coast of Mexico. She lives at home, with her parents and her brother. I stayed with her and her whole family (about twenty people) for six days – in Nopaltepec, a small town with a population of just about two-thousand souls. We ate until we were fit to burst, drank tequila like water and listened to Italian pop singers like Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini and Luca Grignani singing in Spanish. They thought I liked them, but even though I kept saying I wasn’t crazy about them, they paid me no mind and kept putting the same albums on over and over again.
    Maria wants to be a rebel, and she says she doesn’t have a good relationship with her parents, because they’re not “cool”, and they don’t listen to good music. She tried to study graphic design, but she didn’t pass any of her exams the first year, and so she was forced to leave the course. Now she’s planning to go to Paris (for the second time) to see her “virtual boyfriend”, a guy she met on Facebook who she talks to every day on Skype. She may say that she doesn’t get along with her family, but it was plain for me to see that they all love each other and that they have a great relationship. The last evening I was staying with them, she dressed up, put on heels and straightened her hair specially for the family dinner.

    Mexico - Nopaltepec

  • Cost

    Cost

    Melissa Soro, 27 – €“ Cahuita, Costarica –
    Melissa was born and raised in San Jose, Costarica. It was there that she went to school and got her university degree, specializing in sustainable tourism development. When she was 24, she married Rick, an American from Miami. The two of them live and work together in Cahuita, a town on the coast. They opened a tourist agency there, and they organize guided tours of the indigenous communities. Inside the agency is also the town’s only English-language bookshop. On the CouchSurfing.org website, Melissa describes herself like this:
    “I’m a sociable and open-minded person, without prejudices. I’ll host anyone, regardless of sexual or religious orientation. And I don’t care whether you’re rich or poor either.”

    Cost

  • Tanzania - Dar es Salaam

    Tanzania - Dar es Salaam

    Mohammed and Mossi, 20 and 22 – Dar el Salaam, Tanzania –

    Mohammed is 20 years old and supports Inter F.C., maybe even more than how Massimo Moratti (Inter F.C.’€™s owner) does. In his wardrobe there are almost only football T-shirts, many of which are with black and blue stripes. His 22-year-old sister Mossi loves football as well, but she does not follow it with his same passion.
    They both were born and grew up in Dar er Salaam, which they have never left apart from some short holidays in Tanzania. The economic situation of his family is good, probably above the average of their country. “When my father decided to install the aerial for the satellite TV, it was one of the best gifts he could have ever given me. Now I don’t have to go down to the bar to watch a football match and I can choose which match I want to watch. I started to follow Inter F.C. when Eto’o – my favourite footballer – was playing for them and since then I have never stopped supporting them”€, Mohammed says. “€œI watch films in original language and improve my English, instead. Once I even watched one in Italian, La Prima Cosa Bella, with subtitles. It made me cry”€, Mossi adds.

    Tanzania - Dar es Salaam

  • Ucraina - Kiev

    Ucraina - Kiev

    Lena, 22 – Odeass, Ukraine –

    Even if you have never met one, you might have heard on the news that in the centre of some big cities there are people who give hugs to strangers as a gift. Lena is one of them. Born 21 years ago in the north of Ukraine, she moved to Odessa in 2008. She works as a waitress in a restaurant. When she has some spare time she goes to the station forecourt with a banner with the writing “free hugs”. “You can’t believe how many people stop by. It seems many, too many people don’t get the love we need. Sometimes it happens that when I hug them, they start to cry, some others come back in half an hour for a second hug, thinking they won’t be recognised”.
    Lena doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink alcoholics, eats very healthily and tries to buy things only at the local markets, she is vegetarian and, as she says, “naturist. I like wearing no masks and, whenever I can, not even clothes, especially when I am at home”. Her home is on the first floor of a big building in the centre of Odessa, but inside it is entirely painted with the countryside from where Lena comes from. Logs and big stones are used as chairs, table and sofa. My bed for four nights was made of two rubber mattresses and a blanket on the floor, right under the sunflowers.

    Ucraina - Kiev

  • Italy - Castiglion Fiorentino

    Italy - Castiglion Fiorentino

    Paola Agnelli (58) and Roberto Galimberti (63) – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy -

    I first met Paola and Roberto 34 years ago and since then we have been seeing each other a lot. Roberto is a surveyor and Paola is a primary school teacher, as it was at that time when I first met them. We shared the house for several years in the past, but now we don’t live together any more, or better, my parents still live there, while, somewhere along the line, my sister Sara and I decided to start our own adventures. And yet, our beautiful tie hasn’t weakened at all, because now that we all are grown-ups we can share more things, maybe even more meaningful ones. For this reason, after one year of travelling from couch to couch, I have felt like coming back home to spend Christmas with the one that is and always will be my family.

    Italy - Castiglion Fiorentino

  • Phnom Penh - Cambodia

    Phnom Penh - Cambodia

    Alfie Tinaya, 28 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia -

    Alfie is a man’s name, and it is the name he was given at birth, but now he looks like a woman and he calls himself Amber. “€œI chose this name in honor of a famous pornstar from the ’80s,” he tells me, when I ask him how he chose it.
    Two years ago, Amber still lived in the Philippines, the land of her birth, and she still looked like Alfie, but after a relationship that she had with a man went very badly, she decided to move, and now she divides her time between Cambodia and Thailand.
    When her father died, sadly, too early, her mother decided to go and work in Dubai, leaving Alfie with his aunt and uncle. “€œFor more than two years, my uncle molested me. I was just 11 when he sodomized me for the first time. I can still remember the pain, and the blood I lost. Now my uncle lives in Italy, and I hope he sees my photo and reads this… I’ve never told anyone in the family. Now, fortunately, I’ve gotten over that trauma.”

    She had the first treatments and operations to change her appearance in Bangkok, a year and a half ago. Her mother, after a period of silence, was able to accept her, and now she’s made her a gift of the breast operation she will undergo shortly.
    When she first arrived here, Amber tried to work as a prostitute. It seemed like the simplest way to survive, but she wasn’t happy about doing it. Now she has a boyfriend she’s in love with. His name is Adam, and he’s a 32-year-old American with two companies in Southeast Asia. They live together, and it is he who supports Amber in all things.
    I didn’t spend much time with Amber, only two days, but she told me a lot about her life, and when I asked her if she intended to undergo the operation that would make her a woman once and for all, this was her reply:
    “You can add things to your body, but you cannot take away any of the things that God gave you.”

    Phnom Penh - Cambodia

  • Zanzibar - Stone Town

    Zanzibar - Stone Town

    Psam, 24 – Stone Town, Zanzibar -

    “€œI have never met my father, who died when I was not even one. I grew up with my mother and she is probably the only important person in my life. Unfortunately, when I was 14 she died, too, of stomach cancer. Her name was Pili Suleiman Abdallah Mulombo. After her death, I decided to change my name into Psam, the acronym for her name, not to forget her ever. Almost nobody remembers my actual name now and that’s why I’€™m not going to tell it to you either”€. This is how Psam, 24 years old, answered to my constant questions to find out his family name. When his mother died he went to live with his aunt and uncle, but now he lives on his own, in his family house, an old flat in the city centre. He works in a small local tourist agency and every day he shows around the island to dozens of foreigners. Thanks to one of them he has discovered the couchsurfing philosophy and has become one of the most active members of the island.

    Zanzibar - Stone Town

  • Fiji Islands - Namaka

    Fiji Islands - Namaka

    Ratu Saverio Selio Ralulu Nasila, 20 – €“ Namaka, Viti Levu, The Fiji Islands –

    Ratu was born in Savu Savu, on Vanua Levu, the second-largest island in the Fiji archipelago.
    He grew up in Savu Savu with 4 sisters and a brother (he is the youngest), but at the age of 17 he moved to Namaka, near Nadi, to look for work.
    For three years he worked as a vendor in a fruit and vegetable market. “It was a hard job. Every morning, I had to get up before dawn, and in the evening I never got home before seven. But, thanks to that job, I was able to put away enough money to enroll in a graphic design school.”
    Now Ratu studies graphic design at a private school in Nadi, the second-largest city in the Fiji Islands.
    “€œI love to look at the advertisements in international magazines, and that’s why I’m studying to become an advertising and graphic designer. I believe that there are a lot of people in the Fiji Islands who have good business ideas, but almost none of them know how to advertise them. Here, either you work with tourists or there aren’t many other choices. And the tourists are used to buying things after they’ve seen attractive ads for them – so that’s what I want to do, make beautiful advertisements from my country.”
    On top of all this, Ratu plays rugby on the Nadi team, and he’s very good, but the real reason why everyone knows him in the town is because he can’t be beaten at billiards. At Stargames, the only arcade and billiard hall in the town, they say that, in two years, no one has ever been able to beat him, not even any of the foreigner challengers.

    Fiji Islands - Namaka

  • Haiti - Les Cayes

    Haiti - Les Cayes

    Sabali Meschi, 33 – Les Cayes, Haiti -
    Sabali was born and raised in Florence, to a mother from the Italian city of Livorno and a father from Benin. “Now I live and work in Haiti, in the south, in Les Cayes. Most of the slaves that were brought here to the island were brought from Benin. Maybe that’s the reason why I don’t feel out of place here. One of my uncles told me that Beninese traditions that have been forgotten in Benin live on here in Haiti. And then, in Italy, I was always ‘the black girl’ and in Africa I was ‘the white girl’. Here, I’m just a ‘sister’.”
    Sabali is a tropical agronomist. She works for Oxfam Italy and coordinates a program promoting coffee cultivation and commercialization, aimed to get agricultural production in the area back up and running. I stayed at her house for five nights. She took me to see the coffee plantations, and her boyfriend and I traveled around the south of the island together by motorcycle. She showed me a side of this country that I never would have imagined.

    Haiti - Les Cayes

  • U.K. - London

    U.K. - London

    Alex the Great, The band – London (UK)
    Steven Voges, 21 – Hamid Mashali, 24 – Juan Johansson, 23 – -

    “That man on the wall showing his finger is Johnny Cash”, Steven tells me pointing at the poster: “He will be there above your head while you sleep on the sofa and will help you have rock dreams, believe me!” Having made clear who the patron saint of the house is, he introduces the other flatmates to me, all members of his rock band: Hamid, of Colombian origin, and Juan, of Brazilian origin. They are the three quarters of the “€œAlex the Great”€, an emerging band formed in Madrid two years ago, when they met by chance during their study period abroad. They have been in London for one year now and the house where they live is the studio where they play. They have recorded their first album and soon they will tour the UK for a series of concerts. The sofa, where they accommodate the couchsurfers, is surrounded by instruments, clothes, skateboards and full ashtrays. It might have been because of the protection of Cash’s poster, but on that sofa I really slept well.

    U.K. - London

  • Sweden - Stockholm

    Sweden - Stockholm

    Aia Judes, 30 – Stockholm, Sweden –

    I had already imagined, before leaving for this tour around the world that I often would have spent evenings dancing, perhaps at the sound of dance music in a disco or ballroom dance in a small club in a village. Instead, I would have never expected to dance samba on a Thai boat docked in a Stockholm canal. It happened to me after meeting Aia, who was born and grew up in the forests around the Swedish capital. Her parents deal with TV documentaries and cinema, therefore, since when she was young, Aia has been surrounded by creative people. She studied arts and won several scholarships around the world; the last one in Japan, where she lived for three years. In 2010 she came back to Stockholm and now she is involved in many different things, all of which are creative and slightly extravagant: she is a set designer, photographer, art curator for exhibitions, stylist and, recently, also a DJ and samba dancer. She often organises nights on that Thai boat. If you happen to pass by Stockholm, stop to visit her and you’ll have fun (www.thaiboat.se).

    Sweden - Stockholm

  • Texas - Dallas 002

    Texas - Dallas 002

    Vanessa Peters, 30 – €“ Dallas, Texas -

    Vanessa has two great passions, music and coffee. For the last six years, she’s been living alternately in the United States and in Italy, in a town called Castiglion Fiorentino, where she went for the first time in 2001, as part of a Texas University student-exchange program. Her love for music led her to put together an (Italian) band, with whom she has recorded five albums and played live around America and Europe, although, since the venues are usually small, she often plays alone. In 2010, she took a step back from her music and went back to live in Texas. Now she’s about to get married and she’s decided to open an Italian coffee-bar in Dallas. And there’s one more thing about Vanessa. When she lived in Tuscany, she drove a red Fiat 500, and she loved that car so much that, when she moved back to Texas, she decided to get one there too – the classic model, of course

    Texas - Dallas 002

  • Ethiopia - Addis Abeba

    Ethiopia - Addis Abeba

    Wako Wondimu, 32 – Addis Abeba, Ethiopia -

    What you can see in the photo is everything Wako has got. That 2×4 metre room is his house. There is everything he needs in it: a fridge, a kitchenette, a wardrobe, a TV and computer, an iron and ironing board, a guitar and some other things. The toilet is outside, in the courtyard, and he shares it with other three families. In his house neither his sofa nor his bed are big enough to host two people, so whenever he gives hospitality to a couchsurfer, he leaves him/her his bed and sleeps on the ground in his sleeping bag. What an amazing host! Wako speaks German very fluently – he has learnt it by listening to the radio on the Internet – and works as a tourist guide for a German agency.

    Ethiopia - Addis Abeba