Hannah from Caravan of One started blogging around the same time as I did. She’s one brave girl whose solo journey around the world has just begun. In this guest post Hannah recounts her experiences couchsurfing her way through the Middle East. Taking a bed for the night in a strangers house may be a foreign concept to some but others wouldn’t travel the world any other way. Couchsurfing gives you an instant connection with a local individual or family which allows you to delve deeper into a community and culture than the average tourist. Read on and find out more about couchsurfing in the Middle East.
“Middle East? CouchSurfing? Alone?!”
This is the typical reaction I get when I tell anyone about my 3-month trip through the Middle East. Most of my friends, family, and random acquaintances can’t fathom how anyone in their right mind would travel to a region that usually finds itself splashed across the evening news along with the words bomb, terrorism, protests, extremists, or some combination thereof. If my decision to travel to the Middle East doesn’t get a reaction from people, then the fact that I CouchSurfed alone for the majority of the trip usually does.
The Safety Issue
The question on everyone’s mind when it comes to travel in the Middle East is safety. So most people are surprised to learn that I actually have felt just as safe or even safer traveling and CouchSurfing in the Middle East than in anywhere in Europe.
Of course, there are dangerous places everywhere, and the Middle East does have its share of them. But with a little bit of research, one can easily find out which places are truly unsafe and avoid them. Likewise, CouchSurfing isn’t guaranteed to be 100 % safe wherever in the world one is traveling. Then again, stepping outside the door in one’s hometown in the morning isn’t guaranteed to be 100 % safe either. Stick to common sense and intuition, and everything will most likely be fine.
For me, safety and enjoyment of a trip all comes down to the people involved. I can be in the most beautiful country in the world, but if I don’t feel welcome, I won’t enjoy myself and I might even feel unsafe. That being said, Middle Eastern people are probably the most friendly and welcoming people I’ve met in all my world travels. CouchSurfing in the Middle East gave me the opportunity to meet loads of amazing human beings and is, thus, one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Experiencing Middle Eastern Hospitality
CouchSurfing in the Middle East exposed me to a new level of hospitality and generosity. People offered me whatever accommodation they could give. In Syria, I slept on the floor in a room with four other people and awoke to a rooster crowing and a cockroach crawling across my foot. In Amman, Jordan, I slept in the same bed with a snoring granny. These experiences just made me feel more humbled and grateful than ever. And the hospitality didn’t stop with a single host. In turn, relatives and friends of my host would visit and insist that I too come to eat dinner and stay with them.
Indeed, there is a common tradition in Middle Eastern culture that you are obligated to lodge and feed travelers for three days without even asking them about their business. But more than an obligation, I felt a sense of passion and pride on the part of my hosts to show me their country.
It’s All About Food
For those of you who aren’t familiar with CouchSurfing, there is one important point you should know. CouchSurfing rules only stipulate that the host provide their guest a safe place to sleep for the night. Providing food or transportation is optional. However, in contrast to many of my experiences CouchSurfing in Europe, CouchSurfing in the Middle East inevitably involved food. And lots of it.
I had to check myself out in the mirror several times to see if my appearance wasn’t in fact that of a small giant, as I was continuously served meals of gargantuan proportions. My hosts would serve me piles of fragrant rice, chicken, fish, falafel, and cakes. They would go out of their way to make sure I was full and comfortable. One of my hosts in Istanbul even owned a chain of restaurants and insisted that I could eat there for free whenever I wanted.
Food became more than a means of sustenance; it also enhanced my travel experience. Food helped me understand a different and simpler way of life. In a small town near Nablus, Palestine, I CouchSurfed with a family who lived on a farm and produced most of their own food. Every morning, we ate homemade goat’s milk cheese and freshly baked bread dipped in homemade olive oil for breakfast. In Aleppo, Syria I gathered with the women one lazy afternoon as they rolled grape leaves into dolma and talked about life. At the time, I felt so far removed from the fast pace of Western society.
During my trip, I also found that food served to bridge language barriers. One morning in Konya, Turkey, I awoke to find that my host’s elderly father had cooked me breakfast. He didn’t speak a word of English, but as he happily placed the platter of food in front of me we both smiled at each other. His eyes were welcoming and said, “Please be my guest!”
So, in conclusion, here’s what I’d say to anyone contemplating a trip to the Middle East:
CouchSurfing in the Middle East gave me the chance to meet some incredibly friendly and amazing people. The experience has only made me more eager to return and continue exploring the region. Precautions do need to be taken, much like anywhere else in the world. However, with a bit of common sense and preparation, CouchSurfing in the Middle East can be very rewarding. Maybe, like me, you will find the Middle East even more welcoming and safe than most European countries!
About the Author
Hannah is a self-professed travel addict who left her life in Texas behind to travel solo around the world. She has no plans of going back, as she pursues her quest to get off the beaten path and visit some of the most uncommon places on earth. You can visit her travel blog, Caravan of One, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
What do you think about couchsurfing? Do you do it? Would you? Is there anywhere you wouldn’t feel comfortable couchsurfing? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.