All posts by natpjat

surf a couch. make a friend. do as the locals do.


CouchSurfing.org is a social network that allows travelers to have unique experiences with people from all over the world. The website allows users to create a profile and search for, or offer, a place to stay during their travels. The point of the website is not to score a free bed for the night, but rather to create lasting friendships and experience the real culture of a city with people who know it best. Each user profile provides a general bio, photos, languages spoken, interests, countries visited, and references from previous surfers.

The first time I used the site, I was backpacking through Europe with three of my girl friends. We had arranged to stay with two guys in Barcelona, but when we arrived at the train station, we had second thoughts. Staying in a stranger’s house suddenly didn’t seem like such a great idea. However, we soon found out that due to a festival the weekend of our visit, there was literally nowhere else to stay. We showed up at the flat feeling a little nervous, but suddenly realized there was nothing to be worried about. They were people, just like us, with a love for travel and meeting new people. We spent the next few days with our hosts who showed us the best of Barcelona, the Barcelona that many tourists never get to see.

CouchSurfing came handy yet again during my trip to Carnaval in Brazil earlier this year. I was feeling overwhelmed with planning my attendance to the biggest street party in the world, and I wanted to get the most out of my adventure. It took me awhile to find a host that was a good fit for me, and not already booked for the busy Carnaval! I finally found a good match and felt much better about my upcoming trip. My new friend picked me up from the airport, haggled with the non-English speaking ticket vendors for the best deal, took me to the best parties and made sure I was safe the whole time so that I was free to party stress-free, Brazilian style.

Feeling a lack of culture in your life, but can’t gather the funds or time to jet off to a far away land? Why not offer your place to another traveler? It’s a great way to make a new friend, learn about their customs, and share some of your own. We often take for granted the amazing places in our own backyard, that people come from all over the world to see. What a great opportunity to play tourist yourself and learn more about your hometown.

Barcelona Nightlife with new friends

One useful feature of the site, mentioned earlier, are the references that fellow surfers leave describing their experience. To be safe, it’s best to go through the reviews of other travelers who have experience with your potential host or guests before you make arrangements to meet face to face. As a female traveler, I always look for other females who have shared their experience. The site also requires you to verify your name and location when you sign up in order to confirm identity and promote safety.

If you are still not sure about staying with a total stranger, there is the option to just meet up and hang out with a local. Some people are on the site to do just that. If you are traveling alone, or just want to get to know someone who can show you around for the day, this is a great option. You will be surprised how many people are eager to show you their favorite places and learn about where you are from too. I think meeting new people is half of the reward of traveling, and this site is a great way to do it.

give Thai a try. let these guys help.

Bankok floating market with Mr. Somchai

In my recent trip to Thailand, I came across the services of Mr. Joe and the rest of his team: Mr. Tom and Mr. Somchai.  They advertise as a private taxi service, but they are much more.  Not only did they drive us where we needed to go, they helped plan our itinerary, held our luggage, and became friends that I will always remember.

I get lost driving in my home town, so trying to navigate my way through Bangkok and the rest of Thailand seemed like a nightmare.  As soon as I met the trio, I immediately felt at ease.    We were able to go straight from the airport to our desired activities without worrying about  directions, finding the cheapest deal, or what to do with our humongous backpacks.  Mr. Joe was more than happy to recommend popular, but affordable options and stay in the car with our bags until our return.

We also invited our new friends to join us on many of our adventures.  They happily answered our never-ending questions and provided interesting facts that we would have never known otherwise.  Mr. Somchai recommended that we see the floating market outside of Bangkok, which ended up being one of our favorite places on the trip. He helped us barter with the vendors, order the right food, and even taught us key phrases in Thai!

All three went above and beyond our expectations of a personal driver.  We had read in one of our guide books about the roof bar restaurant Sirocco and it’s amazing views of the city, problem was we had no idea how to make a reservation.  Mr. Tom quickly took care of our problem by making a call, and was an even bigger help at the end of the meal.  Still new to the Thai currency, we underestimated how much money we needed for dinner and were about 2000 baht short when the bill came.  Mr. Tom was kind enough to lend us the money until we returned to the hotel.  We would have been in quite a bind without his help!

Overall, our guides were  and took the stress out of our travels so that we could just enjoy all Thailand has to offer.  They relieved our safety concerns by always being where we needed them, when we needed them.  Whenever I am fortunate enough to return to the “Land of Smiles” I will definitely use their services again and I recommend them to anyone doing the same.  It’s a great way to support their economy and with the exchange rate, it is more than worth your dollar!

Contact Info:

Mr Somchai and Mr. Tom (Bangkok area)
Somchai-4797@hotmail.com
086-089-5211, 081-493-4416

Mr. Joe (Chiang Mai area)
http://www.chiangmaiexpertdriver.com
expertindependent@gmail.com