Sometimes I ask myself what my life would have been like without Couchsurfing. Where would I be and what would I be doing? I try very hard to find an answer, but it seems impossible - because this special community was exactly what I needed for my life. It made everything I dreamed of when I was little possible, when I stared at the world map on my wall every day. I was further away from travelling than most of us. I lived in a tiny village where even the next town was miles away. I never got in touch with different cultures or languages.
When I was 16 years old I found a book with many photos of Moscow. I was so impressed with all these pictures and all I could think about was travelling there one day. Sometimes I even had dreams about being there and when I woke up in the morning I was all sad because it was just a dream. But once you are obsessed with a place your soul won't give you a rest until you achieve it. I felt the same and standing in the Red Square overlooking the colourful domes of the St. Basil Cathedral is all I wanted in that moment.
I had just turned 18 years old and I was in the middle of my compulsory German Army service. We got four weeks off during the summer and I took the train back home to my humble little village. At the train station I bought myself a little photo guide of Moscow. It had been two years by now that there wasn't a day that went by where I didn't think about travelling to Russia.
I went from page to page and I knew the right moment was closer than ever. I had nothing to lose and I could no longer just dream about it. Finally I had to do what my soul was asking me to do for a very long time. I arrived at home and I told my friends "I'm going to Moscow tomorrow". They laughed at me and pretty much just ignored me. I went home and packed my backpack, 300 euros in my wallet and no idea what I was going to do. But for the first time in my life I was going for an adventure. I felt great.
In the morning I started to hitchhike, I had never done it before but at that moment I was just happy to embark on a journey I would not easily forget. I made it to Prague and I decided to take an overnight train to Warsaw. Everything just seemed so easy and I already saw myself standing in the Red Square taking lots of photos. I was just one train ticket away from my biggest dream. I went to the counter to purchase my ticket to Moscow but the lady asked me for my Russian visa. I had no idea what she was talking about. But in this very moment I knew that this was it. No Moscow for me and many more nights not wanting to wake up because I was dreaming about it, fearing the truth the next morning knowing that it was another dream. I booked a ticket back home for one of the saddest journeys of my life.
A few years passed by and I stumbled upon a website that would change my life for good. It was called Couchsurfing. I signed up and I became a member not knowing that this would change everything in my life completely. This community would send me on a lifelong journey I would never forget, full of adventures, friendships, sharing and love.
I immediately searched for Couchsurfers in Moscow and I started getting in touch with them. I was amazed at all of the replies I got and the help they offered me. I knew that this would be my ticket to Moscow and this time nobody was able to stop me. I booked a flight, organised my visa, but the most amazing part was knowing that I was going to stay on someone's couch!
Germanwings flight 944 was ready to board. Flying to Moscow and staying on a complete stranger's couch, yes! That was what I called a proper adventure and I was ready for it. I landed in Russia's capital and I made my way into the city. I was only a few meters away from entering the gate to the Red Square. I took a deep breath and I passed the gate. I felt like a gladiator walking into an arena. It was a feeling I will never forget in my life. I had spent a lot of time waiting and dreaming about this moment and it then became reality.
My host Nikolai met me shortly and shared this moment with me. "This is what I have been dreaming of for many years" I said. Nikolai looked at me and answered "This is just the beginning my friend, let me show you the real Moscow". He took me to places only a local could have possibly known about. We shared, we laughed and we became friends. I was no longer a tourist or a backpacker, he made me feel like a local too. I was part of this town.
This was an experience that made me rethink my life in many ways. I didn't just want to travel anymore. I wanted to become a local, more importantly, a Couchsurfer. One couch at a time. I went for trips to Dublin, Stockholm and Bologna. I realised that the experience I made in Moscow repeated itself everywhere I went. It wasn't just travelling anymore, it became a lifestyle and I was part of it.
'What goes around comes around' - this saying took on a completely new meaning for me. I opened my door to the world, and many travellers from all over the world were able to experience the same hospitality I was given on my trips. It changed my view on life and no longer was I willing to pass up all the couches out there that the world had to offer. So much was waiting out there for me.
I started to hitchhike around the world and surfed my way from couch to couch. I officially became a Country Ambassador for Couchsurfing and I spread their message all over the world. After surfing 300 couches on five continents and hosting more than 500 surfers from almost every possible country, I was no longer the young inexperienced boy from a tiny village up in the mountains, no I was a man of the world, full of joy and life experience.
After seven years of being part of this community there is nothing I haven't experienced. I was invited to many TV shows all over the world to share my story. People wrote touching stories about me, I met Casey, the founder of Couchsurfing a few times, I made many long lasting friendships and today I sit here in Australia knowing that my journey still hasn't finished yet. But I think it was definitely time to reflect and say thank you to an amazing community that made all this possible.
Without Couchsurfing I wouldn't have been able to see all these places, to meet all these people and live a life full of travelling. I'll be grateful for all the doors this community has opened for me and despite all the recent changes that has happened that people may or may not agree with, I will always believe in the spirit of Couchsurfing, the power of sharing.
Thanks for being part of my life and thanks for making me what I am today, a Couchsurfer!