Surfing in the…


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I recently joined the website couchsurfing.org.  The basic premise is that when travelling, you stay on people’s couches for free.  Likewise, you host “couchsurfers” for free in your city.
There are several safeguards.  Each host/surfer is given a reference from their hosts/surfers – i.e. when someone stays at my place, I give them a “surfer” reference, and they would give me a “host” reference.  There are three options – good, bad, and neutral – and room for a few words.  You use their references when deciding whether to let someone stay, and when deciding who you, as a surfer, would like to stay with.
As well, you are not obligated to let someone crash on your couch.  When contacted, you can decline, for any reason.  Maybe you’re busy those days, maybe the person creeps you out, maybe you just don’t want company.  Whatever it is, it’s up to you.  However, you are expected to respond to the person, even if it is just to say “no.”  The site keeps track of the requests you respond to, and that percentage is shown on your profile, another way to designate a dependable host.
As a host, you can put any (reasonable) limits on your guest.  The number of nights they can stay, how much access they have to the house (i.e. the kitchen, your room.  Basically, anything beyond the couch and the bathroom), any hours they cannot be in your house (e.g when you’re at work, when you’re giving piano lessons, when you’re bathing fluffy the iguana.), you can even state which gender – females only, males only, or either.
These limits, as well as other conditions surfers need to be aware of (pets?  Your hours – are you a morning person, or night owl?  Are you willing to act as a guide and show them around during their stay?) should be written in your profile.  These (should) help ensure that there are no surprises for either surfer or host during the stay.
Shortly after signing up, I was contacted by a guy in France, who was looking for a couch mid September, for two to three nights.  And after him, a girl from Germany who was hoping to find a couch for the weekend of August 27.  The last one was a little short notice – I got the request maybe a week before the intended dates (it is currently one day before her arrival).  I figured I might as well jump in with both feet, and said yes to both.
I have since put my couch as unavailable.  I’d like to see how these two stays go before I entertain the idea of more.  I also need to determine what I’m comfortable with – once a month?  More often?  Less?  Would I prefer someone only on weekends, or is during the week ok?  How long am I comfortable having someone else in the apartment? 
Potentially, I will try the opposite in December, when I travel to Costa Rica?  Canary Islands?  Wherever I end up.  I’m hoping to couchsurf at least on city – perhaps not the entire trip, but one portion of it, to see the other side of the coin.  If I enjoy it, I can always do it again in another country at another time.
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Always ride the elephant


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My mother has this saying, “Always ride the elephant”.  It’s a stranger way of saying “When opportunity knocks, open the door.”  The theory is how often are you given the chance to ride an elephant?  It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, an opportunity you say no to.
My elephant is the Canary Islands.  It is increasingly looking as if a trip to Costa Rica is a no go – it’s simply too expensive (right now) to do what I would like to do – which is a trekking and diving tour.  There is still a possibility of going down and staying in a resort that offers some snorkelling and diving, and that’s something that will, hopefully, be figured out within the next few days.
The Canary Islands have popped up several times in my various travel preparations.  Last winter when I was planning my Christmas holidays they were a potential destination, before I decided on Hawaii.  They’re a very popular European destination in winter, as they tend to have very nice temperatures year round – 18˚C to 24˚C.  This makes booking early essential – not necessarily the flight, although that is important as I have to transit through Europe, but also hotels as they book up fast.  Especially at Christmas.
Tomorrow I meet up with my travel buddy to see where we stand on Costa Rica, as well as our ideas for the vacation – the timing, the duration, activities we want, and don’t want, to do.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll end up a completely different location!

Pin the Passport on the Globe

I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the whys for my travel.  Granted, I don’t usually pick your typical vacation spot, and oft times it does seem to come out of the blue.
Pretty much anything and everything can send me running for my passport and backpack.  For Iceland, it was a pamphlet advertizing the Glitnir marathon.  For Belgium it was a combination of a chance to visit a corner of Europe I’d never seen, the opportunity to connect with a few old friends who live over there, and a free place to stay.  (That counted for a lot, actually.)  I went to Florence because a book I read as a teenager partly took place there.  (This is also, by the way, why I did a cartwheel in the Louvre.)  My trip to Hawaii was inspired by a current deals board at a local travel agency.
The desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro came from watching an IMAX movie on the subject several years back.  The movie made it seem interesting, and attainable.  Difficult, but attainable.  And my trek in the Andes two years now seems like good training.  I got a taste of high altitudes (the highest I got was 4758 metres above sea level.  Kili’s summit sits at 5895.  Base Camp for Mt Everest sits at 5364.  So basically, if I can climb Kili, I can go to Mt Everest!  Also on my list of things to do.) 
Most of the companies that organize Kilimanjaro treks also organize safaris, and if they don’t, they still advertize them.  That led to the thought of “Hey, I should go on a safari while I’m there!!”  I’m not too sure when I found out about Zanzibar, but it quickly became part of the trip, rounding it out nicely.  I’d rough it up the mountain, relax a little on the safari, while still camping, and then bam!  Relax on the sandy shores of Zanzibar, with a nice tour of a spice plantation thrown in.
Then, while researching Zanzibar (the next best thing to travelling for me, is pricing out flights and figuring out what I’m going to do/see in any given location.  As well as finding other locations that I simply must visit) I found out about Mafia Island.
C’mon.  MAFIA Island.  I have to go, and yes only for the name.  Turns out it’s a good spot for diving and fishing, and also beaches.  It’s easily reachable from Zanzibar,  and handily close to Dar Es Salaam, my fly in/out airport on the mainland.  
I’m sure in the next months this trip will balloon out of control.  I’ve seen a 4 day trip to Kenya to explore gorilla territory that looks interesting….