Tom is from the UK, but currently lives in the Czech Republic, where he works as a university teacher and native-speaking editor. Before moving to the Czech Republic, he spent four years living in China. His main goal was to learn Chinese, and he is now studying Czech – he still hasn’t decided which is more difficult.
Tom has always enjoyed travelling, and his most memorable journey was a six -month overland trip from the UK to Thailand. He mainly likes to write about travel, the mentality of different countries, and cross-cultural differences. You can find more of his writing at www.tomczaban.com
Last year I joined Couchsurfing, which prompted one of my friends to remark: “I see you’ve signed up for the secret way to get sex club.”
But that wasn’t my (sole) motivation for embracing the social network.
I no longer travel as much as I used to, so I figured playing host to travellers might help me to reconnect with the spirit of adventure — without the hassle of getting injections, packing a bag or leaving my house.
It was only was after my guests started to arrive that I realised how much travelling had changed in the past fifteen years.
They turned up — gadgets in hand — asking for the Wifi password. The next few hours were spent scrolling through pictures and posting some on Snapchat or Facebook, arranging future accommodations, or chatting on Skype. They had left their everyday reality behind, but brought their online lives with them, so to a certain extent, they hadn’t really left at all.
I guess travelling with an Internet connection is a double-edged sword; it makes an excellent servant but an awful master. It allows you to meet people through various websites that you would never have met otherwise. But the purpose of this is brought into question if you just surf the net on your mobile device when you arrive.
For me, travel has always been about more than just moving from place to place and seeing different things. It is a philosophy based on the premise of living with less and being more in the moment. It is about learning to surrender to things you can’t control, and seeing who you are when the ground is moving beneath your feet. So, I was taken aback to find that the Internet seemingly has robbed this new generation of travellers of the hundreds of experiences they might otherwise have had.
For example, I’ll never forget the seven hours I spent in Nha Trang (Vietnam) searching for somewhere to stay. Everywhere was booked for the New Year and I must have spoken to more than 50 people as I wandered lost and confused through the city. Yes, at the time it was awful, but I saw more of the city than I ever would have by booking online. I even went for drinks with three of the people I’d met that day. When I eventually found a place to stay, and negotiated a price, it felt like a genuine achievement; there’s a certain romance to following an outdated map in a distant land and discovering accommodation, but there’s little romantic about tailing a blue dot on Google maps towards a reservation you made on Hostelworld.
As far as I can tell, the one part of travelling yet to be hijacked by the Internet is hitchhiking. A Korean girl, who couchsurfed at my place, took great pleasure in sifting through my bins, finding a huge piece of cardboard, writing Prague on it, and then standing on the side of the road trying to hitch a lift. However, I’m sure it won’t be long before this too is a thing of the past. Someone will create a hitchhiking app called “Pick me up” or something (which sounds like a not so secret way to get sex club).
But for all my old-man complaining, being a Couchsurfing host hasn’t been an altogether negative experience. When my guests do unplug, we share many of the kinds of conversations and experiences I remember so well from my own backpacking days. And for that reason, I haven’t deleted my Couchsurfing account just yet. So if you’re passing through České Budějovice and need a place to crash, then by all means send me a couch request. (Just, please, no guys).