So, as the title suggests, the big thing that we tried over the last couple of days has been CouchSurfing. What this means is you stay with a stranger that you met over the internet for free. Sounds dodgy huh? Well there’s a few things that the website puts in place that makes this far safer than you think. They do an optional, but visible verification process that means that the hosts and surfers alike can prove their identity, address, email and phone number so that everyone is somewhat accountable. Another, more solid way of being able to trust people, is the review process. It is customary to leave a review for every person you stay with and every person who stays with you. So if you’re confident, you could take on someone with no reviews and leave them an honest one so people in the future know what to expect. If you’re nervous, you can choose to only stay with or host people who have 10+ to even 250+ reviews. It may still sound dodgy to you, but can I emphasize here that there’s not many circumstances out there that allow you to have 250 insights into a person before you have to place trust in them. From our experience, I completely stand by this community.
Our first couchsurfing host was called Sean, and he had a housemate called Manfred. Both of them were in their early 30’s and had a bachelor lifestyle. They had a big apartment which they decked out for house parties – they even built a bar for it! When we first arrived, there were eight people milling around and it was intimidating at first, but within half an hour nearly all of them had made an effort to talk to us. Sean is one of those hosts who has 250+ reviews, so him and his friends were clearly used to having strangers come into their home and seemed completely chilled out about it. We were still nervous though, as this was completely new territory for us. Should we have come with a gift? Should we have offered to cook? We basically wondered what was in it for them. Sean was quick to clarify that he used couchsurfing to ‘pay it forward’. When he went travelling, he stayed with people and so he was now returning the favour to other travellers. For him, that was it. As long as we cleaned up after ourselves and made a bit of an effort to socialise, there were no strings attached. And it remained that way throughout the stay, where we were welcomed to watch them make beer and watch a game of baseball with them. When asking him how to thank him for our stay, he just shrugged his shoulders and said “there is no right or wrong way to thank a host, it’s all good”.
From what we’ve seen of other profiles online, you can’t expect that from every host. Some do expect you to bring something, and some even messaged us back to say they’d now moved on to AirBnB and would charge us a ‘special’ rate for getting in contact with them on couchsurfing. As you could probably guess from the fact that it’s an online website designed to bring strangers together, some expect even more than that. I first discovered couchsurfing when I was 19 and in Uni, so its not new to me. I even met another girl on the site, as a way of getting a reference from someone deemed trustworthy. She was a cool girl and we hung out for a few months. She did have some horror stories to share with me, as I was intending to travel alone at the time. One of the scarier ones, was about her friend that was attacked by her host while travelling alone. There’s no point in keeping that information from you, just like she deemed it necessary to tell me so that I had all the information I needed to make my own judgement on using the platform. However, she was very keen to tell me that after looking at his profile for five minutes, it was obvious he was a creep and several reviews were there to warn other guests not to stay with him. So yes, there are massive downfalls to the site, but if you keep your eyes open and scour each profile, you should be fine!
During our first day after staying with Sean and Manfred, we went looking around Toronto, with no real aim or anything specific we were hoping to see. What we did come across was a cafe called ‘Snakes and Lattes’. You could probably guess from the name that it was a board-game cafe. For $5 each, you could play as many of their board games as you liked for as long as you like, and they had hundreds of them! I’d really recommend going somewhere like this if you’re feeling a little burnt out/tired/ill. Looking around the room, it was really pleasant to see tables full of people looking up instead of on their phones, and young people letting their geeky side out without fear of looking bad. There was a great atmosphere there, where no one was being obnoxiously loud and screaming ‘Down it’ or ‘Drink you wankerrrsss!’. I feel old before my time, because people like that piss me right off, but it was nice to see that young people can still play nicely.
After that, I wanted to keep the niche cafe ball rolling by suggesting we go to a cafe called ‘Tot’s cafe’. Now this cafe did not contain board games, but cats. The idea was you put a lid on your tea, go inside a room filled with cats, and pet them until you were bored or 45 minutes had gone past – whichever happened first. Dan was not as interested in going here and pointed out several times that there were far more cats in the streets than board games. I should have listened to him, because this was our experience.
We were just ignored. Not only that, but there was a thick coating of hair everywhere, which meant sitting down wasn’t possible, and the only times the cats stirred was to go and use the litter box. So after half an hour of awkwardly standing in a room full or fur and the smell of cat shit, we decided that enough was enough. It actually made me feel a little uneasy, knowing that these lethargic animals were probably tired because they’d been petted/poked and prodded all day and weren’t allowed outside. That and the owner didn’t think hoovering was very necessary. I ended up finding entertainment in the decoration choices that he’d made.
I probably wont go to another cat cafe.