In the last few years couchsurfing has become a bit of a travelling phenomenon, with the tag line of "Participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time", it claims to offer a lot more than just free accommodation.
Journalist Fleur Britten decided to undertake the challenge of travelling by couch for ten weeks through China, Kazakhstan and Ukbekistan to uncover the ethos of couchsurfing.
Starting off in Moscow with best friend Ollie, her first "kip on the couch" is a tentative, awkwardly polite experience. Five days into travel and Fleur's self-observed British reserve is tested by Polly in Yekateringburg - as well as sharing living space with Polly’s pet rat, there is little reprieve from Polly’s larger than life character and imperious opinions. The only breather comes at night, as Fleur settles down to sleep, top to toe with Polly!
Along the route Ollie bows out due to injury and Fleur braves the sofa elements alone, armed with the gift of chocolates for each host. She finds some hosts gracious and accommodating, un-expectantly so at times, but she fails to click with others, who seem unusual host candidates... though some were kind enough to offer ketamine!
This is not your average travel book in that it doesn’t give any fresh insights to any of the countries. The test of adventure is the personal journey Fleur encounters as she quibbles with the unfamiliar notion of the kindness of strangers. Throughout her travels she is distracted by the anchor of a complicated love interest in London, whom she refers to as 'The Emperor' (this got slightly jarring at times).
Overall though 'On the Couch' is a most compelling book, but unlike some travel books it did not personally endear the idea of couchsurfing. Maybe it’s my Irish reserve! In fact I found myself frequently counting down Fleurs’ weeks, and triple checking her status on the map. I prefer to stay on my own couch riding on the coattails of the brave adventures of others.