Traveling changes your point of view towards life. And couchsurfing changed my view towards traveling, making me realize my passion for travel.
A lot of reasons made me decide to move out of my hometown Kolkata. I had three choices of where I can move to and I chose Bangalore. August 1st, 2007, I landed in Bangalore, with no job in hand, looking for a whole new beginning. It was not long before I found the job I wanted. I had few friends and was looking for more, mostly travel companions. Not that I was a travel freak but I love to travel once in a while. Back in Kolkata I never traveled alone or with strangers but with my friends, relatives and colleagues.
Once a friend of mine, Utsa (who I knew since Kolkata and was based in Bangalore) asked me whether I would like to travel with his colleagues and him to a place called Shivasamudra. I agreed and had an awesome experience. The only other time I traveled with them was to Bandipur National forest. I thought I have got my travel companions but was wrong cause due to various reasons we never got to travel together again.
Among the other few friends that I managed to find in Bangalore, Sambit was moving back to Kolkata. I told him about my need for travel companions and he told me of a global travel site that he is a member of. It’s called Couchsurfing, the ’world’s largest hospitality exchange network’. I browsed the site, created my profile and joined the Bangalore group. However I was not very sure about the concept behind the site.
While going through the threads in the group, I read about a party being hosted by a CSer (that’s what the members of Couchsurfing call themselves). I wanted to meet the members so went to the party. However, it didn’t give me any idea how the site works for travelers.
So I kept an eye on the threads, where I read that a few of the CSers, who knew each other were planning to make a trip to a place called Badami. I was quite late in noticing the thread hence didn’t have the tickets booked but luck was on my side and the organizer mentioned one extra ticket being available and I grabbed it. Of the CSers who were on this trip, I had met only Anuradha for a brief moment at the party I attended. Rest of the gang members were new to me. They welcomed me in the group and the 3 days trip gave me new friends, new travel companions and a trust for the site and its members.
Since then I have been very active on CS via the Bangalore Group. And by being a part of the discussions and the event, I learned about the concept behind the site. The goal of the site is to facilitate travel and cultural exchange by hosting travelers in your city or surfing couches of the localities when you are traveling.
There are more than a million members worldwide, and lots of people I came to know through the site have used the network in their travels. Till last year I was staying as a paying guest, so only recently I started offering couch to travelers. Though it’s just a mattress that I could offer, yet for many travelers I realized that would be a lot of help and it would lead to a culture exchange between my guest and me. And I was indeed correct having hosted 2 CS-er one from USA and other from Germany.
The other way one can use CS is for finding travel companions and getting to know about the place you are traveling to by asking the localites in the local CS groups. The members of Bangalore CS try to have a trip organized every weekend. It need not be the same people traveling but the board always have someone traveling and calling for companions.
They also have a weekly BangCS meet every Wednesday at some pub located centrally. The current location being “Arbor Brewing Company” on Magrath Road, near to Garuda Mall. An event on the same is on the site. This is the 8th venue for the meet so far. A CSer needs to keep an eye on the threads or the event’s page on CS for the event details’.
Bangalore is surrounded with places which are from 3 to 12 hours away. So most of the trip would be on a weekend. That’s one of the reasons for so many trips happening. By joining most of such trips I realized my passion for travel.
Though Saturdays were working days, I would utilize my leave balance at work to take a holiday and go off on the trips. Many times, I would take unpaid leaves as well. I was definitely bitten by the travel bug which became a chronic disease with no cure. Once back from a trip you start thinking of the next one and on top you are surrounded by people who are passionate travelers and share the same kind of interests as yours, which gets you more and more infected.
For instance, some of my friends who came back from their Sri Lanka trip bombarded us with their travel stories. At the same time I heard 2 other CSers planning their 2 weeks trip to Sri Lanka. The travel fever came back to me and I got my 2 weeks leave sanctioned, by lying about some medical emergency (guess that’s very common). I hardly knew these guys, having met them in a few weekly BangCS meets. However, my fever was running too high to bother about these, and I took off to Sri Lanka to experience one of the best trip of my life.
Coming back I went on a bike ride to a nearby hill station called Coorg. Though due to financial condition I haven’t been traveling much in the last two months, I have trips and treks planned for all the weekends of the coming month. And so will it be for all the coming months because I just can’t stop thinking of “What should be my next travel plan?”