Ever wondered what the deal is with couchsurfing? How easy is it to crash on the couch/futon/floor of someone you’ve only ever been introduced to over the internet?
Who better to ask than Áine Goggins, host of the hit Irish language couchsurfing show, Ó Tholg go Tolg. Together with camera woman Maeve Hackett, she undertook an epic trip around Europe, relying only on the kindness of strangers to provide them with somewhere to stay for the night…
Q1. Getting paid to couch surf across Europe sounds like the dream job for most people… How did you land the plum role?
Believe me I had to pinch myself a couple of times to make sure it was all real! The dream was always to present on TG4 so after school I studied Communications in DCU and then did a postgraduate Higher Diploma in Applied Communications as Gaeilge at Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge in Carraroe. I started working in TV and met Red Pepper Productions who were interested in putting me forward for this idea. I love travelling, having backpacked across Southeast Asia, Central & South America so I jumped at the opportunity! After the idea went in we didn’t hear anything for ages so I started telling myself not to get my hopes up! I was driving at the time when I got a call with the good news and I nearly crashed the car with excitement!!!
Q2. What if any, were your biggest worries about the project?
I had never couchsurfed before so If I’m completely honest I was a little wary of the whole concept of sleeping on a strangers couch! A lot of people when you explain to them what couchsurfing is they ask you what kind of weirdos would let strangers into their homes for the night? I’m not sure where it comes from, perhaps the media but we are all inclined to think at times that most people only do things for their own benefit so everybody asks what do they get out of letting you into their house for a night. All you hear about in the media is the bad news so I think that was the most surprising thing for me the amount of generous people out there who don’t get anything out of your visit except your company and learning about your culture yet they cannot do enough for you. It might sound very philosophical but it really is fantastic to know that there are plenty of good people out there. It has changed my outlook completely.
Q3. The series threw up quite a few surreal moments, what was your most memorable?
I remember being stood on a tricycle that was attached to three huskies in a forest in Dresden at half six in the morning while being taught to skijor (riding the tricycle stood up, and being pulled along by the huskies) by our transgender host Anna Catarina and thinking to myself you couldn’t write this stuff! Speaking fluent Irish with Yuri, a born and bred Russian with no ties to Ireland and then playing traditional Irish music with our host Artyom at a session in Moscow with a group of Russians! Every day we laughed to each other about how surreal the whole experience was!
Q4. What advice do you have for anyone planning to go couch surfing this summer?
DO IT!! Put some effort into your profile so that people get a feel for who you are and hosts will be much more likely to say yes! Really read people’s profiles and don’t just send a generic message to 20 people living in Berlin! Some surfers (especially those in big cities) get lots of messages every day looking for a host so if it seems like you haven’t read their profile, chances are they might think you are only looking for a free bed! Don’t do couchsurfing if all you want out of it is a free bed and an internet connection.
Q5. If you could pick anywhere (and anyone’s sofa) to sleep on in the world, where would it be?
Great question!! Tough though! It would have to be Nelson Mandela’s couch! As I keep saying Couchsurfing is all about the people you stay with and the chats over dinner so I think Nelson would definitely have a few interesting stories! Not sure how comfy the couch would be though!!!!!
Q6. Are you still in contact with any of the people who hosted you on the show?
Yes- Our host Ozella from Groningen is coming to visit in August and I am hoping to stay with our Madrid host Israel again this July for a weekend! They watched the shows online and sent us some lovely mails and texts! I think that is what is truly amazing about Couchsurfing you make friends all over the World!
Q7. How would you compare couch surfing to more conventional budget accommodation options such as hostels?
I backpacked across Southeast Asia and Central & South America staying in hostels and I loved it. I always found the best part of staying in a hostel was the people you met and the different experiences you shared with people. My best memories were always of interesting people I met and being sad to leave them rather than the place we were at the time! With couchsurfing you are guaranteed to meet people and get to know them in a way that usually takes time, but when you couchsurf you live with them for two days, talking about anything and everything and you share experiences with people that you will never forget. On top of that you have a local telling you the best places to eat, drink and showing you all the hidden secrets of their town. You spend your whole time backpacking trying to experience the local life and couchsurfing gives you exactly that.
Q8. What do you wish you’d known before you embarked on the project?
I’m not sure, perhaps not to plan as much. It is great to go travelling and really go with the flow but then again we were making a television show so you have to plan! Some of the best parts of the trip happened by sheer chance for example our host Miriam in Berlin was delighted that we were so interested in German history that she offered to bring us to meet her grandparents to hear of how they as newlyweds were separated by the Berlin Wall in 1961. They showed us the fake passport they used to cross the border and told us of all the different escape attempts they made. None of that was pre-planned and it is probably my favourite memory from the trip.
Q9. You took part in some great festivals during the series, La Tomatina and The Palio to name but two, what were your favourites?
I really loved the Palio. Siena is an amazing place steeped in history and it was amazing to experience a festival that means so much to the local people! They want to keep it special and after being there I can understand their reasons for that.
Q10. Finally, was there ever a point during the show when you thought, “I really don’t want to stay here..”?
Honestly, no! We were a bit apprehensive about staying in a squat in Gronignen with 250 others but it was amazing, similar in ways to one big hostel and it was great to see how other people live their lives. We researched everybody we stayed with and made sure that we both agreed that we would like to stay with them. I think that helps as most people explain what type of accommodation you will have on their profiles so if you are a fussy sleeper you will know in advance where you will be sleeping!
- Áine will be dishing out more great travel advice at the Bloggers’ Clinic which is taking place as part of the Lismore Festival of Travel Writing from June 9th -12th 2011.
Video clip courtesy of Red Pepper Productions/TG4