Sleeping with Strangers (Hong Kong Edition)

Sleeping with Strangers (Hong Kong Edition)

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My eyes flickered as I scanned the profiles, carefully considering each one. I am generally picky and have high standards in all areas of my life, and this occasion was no different. Besides, as the saying goes, you never forget your first.

I set very explicit filters in my search parameters because, after all,  I am a girl who knows what she wants. Carefully, I selected a particular age range.  A specific part of town. Oh yes, and a requirement that he spoke English. As I hit the search button, about 30 profiles popped up.

The world was suddenly rich with possibility. 

(Yes, I’m quoting Jack Kerouac. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. There are some books, that come into your life, at precisely the right time, and have an astonishing impact on the rest of your days. This book was one them.)

But, back to my search.

I knew in an instant who I wanted. His name was Martin and he was ten years my senior. A British ex-pat who spoke beautiful English and lived in the Central district.

In reading his profile, I quickly learned that it was his first time, too. I tested this new uncharted water cautiously by sending him an email, which is the digital equivalent of dipping my toes in. I asked him bluntly, “What is it that you do for a living? And, do you have any references?”

His reply came quickly. “I’ve sent you some references. As for what it is that I do, that would be best recanted over dinner and wine. Are you interested?”

I certainly was.

I made the decision, then and there, that this was going to be one of those experiences that I would regret not having.

Knowing that I would most likely chalk this up to “stupid $&#*” that you do in your twenties didn’t deter me.

I was going to do this.

Ok, we, as in my husband and I, were going to do this.

The “this” that I’m referring to is couchsurfingAre you familiar? Couchsurfing was created with the idea that each of us have friends, all over the world, that we simply haven’t met yet. It’s a platform that connects travelers with hosts literally the world over.

The best part? No money is exchanged. That’s right – strangers host strangers, in their home, for free. Why on earth would someone do that?

Because it’s fun to show people around your home town. It’s an interesting experience. A great way to meet really cool people. It also brings together like-minded people, because let’s be honest – it takes a certain type to consider such an exchange. There’s something so refreshingly idealistic about the whole situation – the nomadic traveler, relying on the kindness of strangers and the reminiscent host, reliving the days of their own youthful adventures through shared stories of the road.

That being said, it’s always a good idea to take as many precautions as you can. It’s best if you have a travel partner. It’s a good idea to ask for references, and read online reviews. And make sure you’re going through a platform that does verified background checks on both parties. It’s also a good idea to have enough funds on hand that if needed, you can make alternate arrangements.

Our experience flying half-way across the world would not have been quite as magical had it not been for our dear Martin.

He opened up his beautiful home to us and treated us like family. He showed us around Central Hong Kong. He treated us to an awesome dinner. Shared many bottles of wine. Hiked side by side all the way to the very top of Victoria Peak.

What we anticipated would be a single night’s accommodation turned into almost a week. And as we packed up and said our good-byes, he connected us with his good friend in Malaysia. And then she connected us with her good friend in Singapore. We traveled to each country and met up with these perfect strangers who quickly became good friends. Yet another reason I love to travel without an itinerary.

So tell me – have you ever couchsurfed? Would you dare?


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40 thoughts on “Sleeping with Strangers (Hong Kong Edition)”

  • Thank you for writing this. I was not familiar with the phrase couch surfing before reading your post.
    Very well written too. It was a refreshing read and I’d love to read more.

  • I would have 100% done this when I traveled through Europe post college! Now as a parent…. well I think I still would but my husband probably wouldn’t allow it. Lol

    • it’s true -the dynamics change with little ones. I wouldn’t either as I’m not sure my 5 year old would appreciate the “cultural coolness” of it and also, she really digs those mainstream hotels because of the POOL. It’s the highlight of every trip she takes, lol. Oh, the sacrifices we make as parents….LOL!

  • I have friends who couch surf, but I’ve always found the idea intimidating. I’m pretty sure there’s no way my husband would go for it either. But I love what a unique experience it gave you!

  • Hi Mal,

    A happy new you to you and yours 🙂 Better late than never. Right?

    Awesome and thought provoking article. Would I couch surf?
    Not a chance…I wouldn’t dare 🙁

    I must say that you and your husband are very brave!!!

    Well done, and thanks for sharing 🙂



  • I’ve been using couchsurfing to meet up with locals whenever I travel solo. I had tried staying with a local once and it was a nice experience, like I was living in their own city. It is a good platform to have a look into their world.

  • It’s not something that I have ever thought to do, however I am always travelling with my four kids, so a self contained apartment is more up my alley.

  • I did it already in Argentina. I was traveling with my best friend, and we stayed with total strangers. I tell you the first house gave me goosebumps. It was in the middle of nowhere, no curtains, just trees around, and our host wasn’t even their the first night. We could hardly sleep, all I heard were monkeys, birds and who knows what else running around the house. In the daylight looked everything fine though 🙂

  • OMG This is the best Travel post I’ve read in a while. I laughed so hard when I realized you were talking about couch surfing… Totally thought this article was headed in a different direction lol.

  • I have couchsurfed a few times and loved it. I know there are dangerous out, but I have only met awesome people. It’s so nice to have a home and friend to come back to at the end of the day.

  • So great to hear you had a wonderful couchsurfing experience. I’ve done it three times. The first two times were with an Indian man in Dubai. He had about 150 glowing references on CS so I had no concerns about staying with him. We’re still friends several years later and hope to meet in Amsterdam this year. My third time was also with an Indian in Dubai, this time a woman who was great.

    I’ve hosted a few times too and loved it.

  • How thrilling! I have vaguely head of this idea, but you brought the concept to life for me. I love having privacy and quiet time to be alone while traveling, so I’m not sure if I could bring myself to do it.

    • yes, and we are the opposite! When we’re traveling, we love to meet strangers and connect with locals over a meal, drinks, or some hiking. Most recently, we were in a tiny mountain town in Bellano, Italy. We stayed with an English teacher, and her family. She showed us around the city, and even welcomed us to Sunday family dinner. It was so much fun and such a different experience to just staying in a hotel.

  • We’ve never couchsurfed, because it’s always difficult when traveling as a couple. But it’s an interesting thing to do for solo travelers, and possibily better than staying in hostels. 🙂

  • I have hosted on Couchsurfing a few years ago, but decided it was better to wait until I was in an English speaking country. I have yet to stay at someone’s but I would love it, I’m sure.

  • I have never couchsurfed because we travel as a family of four which makes the hook-up more difficult. But I love the concept. It really goes back to ancient times when people were always ready to welcome a traveler, who back then, really had to rely on the kindness of strangers. Glad you have had so many great experiences with courchsurfing.

  • We have never tried Couchsurfing, probably because we are very finicky about our privacy. However, have read pretty interesting accounts related to Couchsurfing. I also knowabout friends who have met amazing people and had amazing experiences while Couchsurfing. Maybe someday we too may test the waters.

  • Ha ha love the set up of the post. Clever. I have yet to sleep somewhere through couchsurfing but I have attended some social events in cities I have travelled to. One friend I am still in touch with.

  • Wow! Crazy. I don’t think I would ever have the balls to do that. I traveled to Japan, solo, back when it wasn’t even a thing, but staying with a stranger, nope. That is such a great experience and a wonderful story. Maybe I should consider giving this a try. Hmm you’ve given me something to consider.

  • I have not heard or read the Jack Kerouac book but I am definitely going to check it out now. I have been travelling and working continuously for over 14years now and I have never couch surfed if anything I have only ever really heard strange stories about it. I am glad that Martin was a great host for you guys in HK and that he made your trip more enjoyable.

  • This was fun to read. I have never couch surfed, but I see the allure. You get a totally different view of a place if you stay with someone locally. It probably would have appealed to me in my mid-20s in theory, but I would have probably worried too much about safety to actually do it.

  • Couchsurfing does open so many doors! Glad it worked out really well for you. My first one was a flop because I felt rather sexually harassed (well, almost) by a fellow guy in Japan. The succeeding ones were truly marvelous!

  • That’s how simple to do couchsurfing? Sounds so positively easy! Or were you just lucky? Have you had any negative experiences though?

    • I have never had a negative experience (knock on wood!) in the 10+ years I’ve couchsurfed. I’ve been on both sides – guest and host 🙂 Most recently, we stayed with a lovely lady in Italy – she taught physical education and English and even invited us to take part in their traditional Sunday dinner. It was awesome!

      I do make sure to the read reviews and always travel with my husband. Also, if you want a partial experience, without committing completely, another fun thing to do would be to just meet up with hosts in the city you are visiting. Not to stay with them, but to have a meal or a drink in a pub, and just chat/ask them about their city. This is something else we’ve done and loved!

  • That is wonderful you had such a great experience and that you really connected with the hosts. I like traveling without an itinerary sometimes and couchsurfing would really be useful for that kind of travel, and of course, saving money. I haven’t done it yet myself, and I’m game to try it.

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