Our world has shrunk a great deal since the globe went on lockdown for the coronavirus. Blindsided by the sudden changes, travelers had to make some tough decisions mid-adventure. Amidst the chaos, I knew there would be some people out there who remained kind and trusting of virtual strangers. People who would keep their doors open when they were told to keep it shut. I’d been thinking about the people showing or experiencing hospitality under such extraordinary circumstances.
So I asked around looking for stories from both hosts and guests to share their experiences. Many people responded with their stories, which I have compiled in this article.
Please keep in mind that the rules have differed massively from country to country. Some people have gone out of their way to show hospitality to strangers in a tricky situation, even when it wasn’t exactly according to the rules. Others are moving about very freely because the government didn’t impose many rules. If you feel the urge to judge, remember that none of us have read the playbook of how to act during a pandemic. It’s a super absurd situation for all of us.
- 1 Stories and Experiences of Hospitality in Lockdown
- 1.1 A Couchsurfing Miracle in Japan
- 1.2 Hosting a Couchsurfer for Three Days in Canada
- 1.3 Hosting Two Couples at a Homestay in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
- 1.4 Experiencing Comparative Freedom in Belarus and Germany
- 1.5 Garden Camping with Horses at the Andean Precordillera in Argentina
- 1.6 Bouncing Around Russia
- 2 Wild Read? Share These Stories on Social Media!
- 3 Want to Submit Your Hospitality in Lockdown Story?
- 4 Join a Hospitality Community Like Trustroots
Stories and Experiences of Hospitality in Lockdown
A Couchsurfing Miracle in Japan
I’m a strange breed. I was born in Russia, my grandparents come from Romania and I lived in Israel for ten years. You see, I’ve got three nationalities, but I don’t feel like I belong in any of those countries. I’ve been globetrotting since 2014, so when in early spring 2020 they told everybody to “go home” I realized that I couldn’t do that. I’ve been “home-free” for too long.
Last October, long before the world started shutting up and shutting down my partner and I snatched some amazingly cheap tickets from Moscow to Tokyo at an airline anniversary sale. The dates were perfect. We would be arriving just in time for the sakura season. So we spent half of the winter in Morocco and the other half on Madeira and then got back to Russia for a week-long stopover.
Just as the sun rose on March 14 we landed at Narita airport with quite a few other foreigners. There was not even a hint that the country was hit by some unknown disease. No temperature checks, no quarantines, no people in full astronaut gear. Our journey around Japan seemed completely feasible though a little uncertain. I’d say it was a bit unclear, as if we looked at it through the morning fog from the window of the regional train that was taking us from the airport to Chiba. We had already found couchsurfing hosts for two weeks but as the worries were spreading around the country faster than the bullet train, we were not sure they’d actually accept us when the time comes.
In any case, the first four days were set. We were staying with our friends whom we met through couchsurfing three years ago. Satoshi-san and Yoshie-san live in a small village in Chiba prefecture and this time they offered us a whole separate house. His 89-year-old mother used to live there but she moved to a nursing home a year ago. It’s a big wooden Japanese house with tatami floors, sliding doors, and a beautiful stone garden. We were happy to rest there and shake off our jet lag after a long flight. While half of the world was already locked down we, surprisingly, could still freely travel around the area and enjoy the walks in the fields of the Kanto valley.
When it was time to move to our next host in Tokyo, Satoshi-san told us “We understand your situation and you are always welcome back”. What could we say? His offer was precious! It meant that we didn’t have to fear being stranded, that we’d have a roof over our heads, and the kindest people close to us. We waved goodbye and got onto the train but this time already wearing masks.
The next two weeks were full of sakuras in full bloom. We saw the skies through the cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. It felt weird – the peak of the tourist season but with no tourists at all — and reminded “A feast in time of plague“. Finding couchsurfing hosts was getting more and more difficult if not impossible day by day. Eventually, we found out that our flight to Korea in April was canceled which made our return to Chiba inevitable.
On April, 4 we came back and we’ve been self-isolating here for more than a month now. We still can’t believe how lucky we are to spend the lockdown in this spacious comfortable house full of light and breeze. Just as our days here are simple and light. We cook miso soups, bake bread, work in our green garden, and listen to the frogs croaking in the rice fields nearby. Since the quarantine rules in Japan are quite relaxed we can still talk to our friends but through the masks. Usually, we exchange homemade dishes and thank each other, keeping a distance. Thanks to this gift of friendship that we built up while traveling, we feel completely safe during these turbulent times. It’s a miracle that happened to us!
Contributed by Katya from Tozhe Ya. Visit her Russophone travel diary/blog, where she’s been writing for ten years!
Hosting a Couchsurfer for Three Days in Canada
In early May, I hosted a couchsurfer for three days at my home in Canada. We’ve been in quarantine since around March 20. I’m a massage therapist – which is a close-contact profession – so I haven’t been able to work since then.
I didn’t tell my family and only a few friends, because I’m sure it isn’t allowed to host a guest from another city. It made me a little nervous, but he seemed nice and I didn’t want to turn someone away when they probably wouldn’t find another host easily right now. This is especially a concern in my city, which is fairly small and not close to another city. My couchsurfer was from China but has been in Canada for two years.
We spent almost every minute together! It was a very different experience from normal hosting.
Though we were on lockdown, we were able to go outside and do some hiking as it’s allowed in this area of Canada. As long as you stay 6 feet from others. We drove around and I showed him some areas of my city he wanted to see. I did most of the cooking but he also taught me a new recipe.
I enjoyed hosting as I usually do with couch surfing experiences, but there was a small feeling of strain there that usually isn’t. I’m not sure if it was a personality thing, or because we were forced to be inside together so much or if it came from feeling nervous about the questions or judgments of my neighbours. That being said, I would do it again during quarantine depending on the person/situation and feeling safe.
Contributed by Erin. You can follow her on Instagram!
Hosting Two Couples at a Homestay in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
In early March, I had two guests from Romania as well as a Peruvian-Colombian couple. They had found me and my homestay through word-of-mouth and couchsurfing. We went on a three-day climbing and hiking trip to Matobo National Park. There we wildcamped under the stars at the lakes, which was a truly magical experience. We climbed the colorful mountains and explored the ancient painted caves. After that trip, we returned to Bulawayo. The Romanian couple left for the capital city Harare to then take buses to Malawi via Zambia. The South American couple visited Victoria Falls before heading to Ethiopia.
A few days later, the Romanian couple calls me to say they’ve been refused entry into Malawi. They wanted to return to Bulawayo and contact the Romanian embassy to see what they could do. I was a bit nervous from all the crazy corona stories. But then I thought “What if this was me?”
I’m a backpacker. I try to make ends meet, so I could understand this situation and there’s no way I could say no to them. So I told them “Hey guys, yeah, come to Bulawayo. Let’s see what we can do once we get you and hopefully you can get back to Romania.”
The very next day, the Peruvian guy calls me and says “Zuga, my wife’s feeling uneasy with the situation. She feels safe at your place Africa Sun. What’re the chances of us making our way back to your place in Bulawayo?” So I told them about the Romanian couple’s troubles near Malawi. “You guys might as well come back here and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
So yep, they all returned. We were in contact with the Romanian embassy and trying to make the flights work, but it didn’t and eventually, the borders closed. So both couples were stuck here. So the Romanians are now remainians.
It’s been real simple. We split all the costs down the line divided by five. Food, fuel, gas, electricity etcetera. I’m not charging them anything to stay. My pets are being spoilt rotten with all these international travelers just loving them and taking care of them. We’ve been having yoga sessions, drum sessions, every day we’re doing something different. We caught a snake in my pool and released it into the bush. We caught and released birds that flew in through my windows. And we’ve been fire dancing, full-moon camping in my garden, we’ve just been trying to make every minute just beautiful.
I really am enjoying my isolation. I’m happy to be home. I’m connecting with my family, friends. I think this is what the planet really needed. I know everything was just too much, now it has just slowed down. Apparently from Delhi (India), you can see the Himalayas. How amazing is that?!
Well done to the Zimbabwean government and also to the Zimbabweans; they took lockdown into their own hands before the government even advised it, wearing masks in the supermarket. We’ve been in lockdown approximately 4 weeks now, so even before that.
This is how we’re spending our highsolation at Africa Sun homestay:
May 17th update: the South Americans and Romanians are still with me. Our government has just extended the lockdown for another 2 weeks.
Experiencing Comparative Freedom in Belarus and Germany
From mid-March till mid-April, I traveled around Belarus. My original plan was to stay in Belarus for just 10 days. But as the borders shut, I decided to stay longer and travel around Belarus—hoping they would open up again. My initial plan was to go to Poland, then fly to Norway, then back home to Berlin, Germany. For now, I don’t have a German passport yet, but hopefully soon. I have a Russian passport and there is freedom of movement between Russia and Belarus. So I could stay as long as I liked.
Instead, I traveled around Belarus for 35 days, which is also cool. It was a nice experience though, the whole trip. I stayed with a good friend for 2.5 weeks in the city of Brest on the Belarusian-Polish border Especially the Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest in the west, it’s something unique.
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Kinda got stuck in Belarus which turned to be an amazing travel destination, a hidden gem in the (geographical) middle of Europe. Despite the common irritation Belarus is a quite modern European country (not a Soviet 3rd world shithole, these days are luckily gone). Now its opening towards the Western world which is amazing. #belarus #belaruś #brest #sunset #beauty #europe #pond #weißrussland #bialowieza #nature #easterneurope
There was no lockdown because it’s a dictatorship and they preferred saving the economy over the people’s lives. Many businesses themselves introduced measures like distance and hand sanitizers everywhere. The Belarusian people are aware of everything, so many of them wear masks. Almost nobody believes in the president’s lies.
In the middle of April, the border to Poland still hadn’t opened, so I decided to leave Belarus by plane. I took a flight from Minsk to Berlin for €150, since they don’t let low-cost airlines fly to/from Belarus. I went to the movies the night before my flight home and I was alone in there.
Then in early May, a couchsurfing host messaged me and invited me to come over for one week in total. She lives in Duisburg, across Germany to the west.
In Germany in May, there is not much of a lockdown; the rules still allow you to move across the country. Many federal states in Germany are deciding their own policies. On Monday the 11th of May, the restaurants opened again in this region of North Rhine-Westphalia.
I’m exploring this area on my own, but also with my host. On Sunday the 10th of May, we went on an amazing bike trip in the rain. We cycled some 20 kilometers from Duisburg to Essen with another couchsurfer who lives in the latter. He invited us to his place to have some meals and enjoy after a long cycling outing. My host in Duisburg and I took a train back as it was already night.
We’re still maintaining social distance when outside, but we can meet people and hang out together. The feeling here in Germany is positive, you don’t really feel that something is wrong. Only when visiting shops you notice that things aren’t normal, because you have to wear a mask and wait outside sometimes.
Contributed by Vladimir Adoshev. Follow his adventures on Instagram!
Garden Camping with Horses at the Andean Precordillera in Argentina
I’d like to share our story with you, even though it’s not directly related to couchsurfing or another online platform. We’re being hosted by an old couple in a small village Barreal, San Juan province in Argentina. We’ve been traveling on horseback since July 2018 with our two little children. We came to this village at the beginning of March, before all the craziness has started.
One of our horses cut his leg, so we had to wait here for 2 weeks for him to recover. At that time we were just renting a garden for our horses from this couple and we stayed at the campsite. Then on 16th March, the national lockdown started. We’ve been trapped here ever since. Campsite, hostels, everything shut down. We’ve been quite lucky that we could move to the place where our horses were kept.
Of course, neither we or our hosts expected the quarantine to last that long. We thought it would last maybe two weeks or a maximum of a month. We’ve been camping in their garden, we have access to electricity and water. The river is just down the road, with Andes mountains on the other side. We consider ourselves quite lucky, as our hosts are very understanding and helpful.
They didn’t voluntarily invite us to stay in their place for so long, but they know we have no other choice and our situation as a foreigner is even more difficult now during the pandemic. We’re very frustrated, as the quarantine gets extended more and more every two weeks.
The winter is coming, it’s getting cold here and soon there won’t be any grass left for our horses. We would like to move a bit further away from the mountains before the snow comes. But we can’t. And there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. We even got a certificate from the embassy allowing us to move to a different place, but because our case is so unusual and there aren’t any clear regulations, police wouldn’t allow us to travel. Argentina is on complete lockdown, you can go out only to do necessary things as shopping.
In the beginning, it was quite crazy; people were afraid when they saw a foreigner. The rules obliged them to report it to the police. I remember how grocery shopping would turn into an hour-long investigation because someone called the police. They would ask the same questions, which I already answered last time to a different officer, where am I from, what am I doing here, how long have I been in the country, etc. Now, everyone pretty much knows us, so we don’t bring much attention.
How do we spend time? We take horses for a walk to the river, we play with kids, cook, clean. We exchange food with our hosts. Whenever we cook something special, like an Indian meal, for example, we give them to try. In return, we get a jar of homemade jam or tomato sauce. They also taught us how to make Argentinian empanadas and some other dishes. For now, the quarantine has been extended again until 24th May. We’ll see what’s gonna happen next. They start running out of cigarettes here, so my partner will go crazy soon 🙂
Contributed by Angela. Follow her updates on their Facebook Page for their company Tours in Expeditions.
Bouncing Around Russia
Not sure if it’s exactly couchsurfing but, I’ve been stuck in Russia for a while now. I’m a Brazilian national, but I’ve lived in Saint Petersburg before, so I’m very familiar with Russia. Under normal circumstances, I can stay in Russia for 90 days visa-free. I was traveling until mid-March with a friend of mine when the whole thing blew up and countries began to lockdown everywhere.
On this trip, I first came to Moscow, Russia a couple of days before new year’s. After seeing my trip profile on couchsurfing, a guy from Siberia who now lives in Moscow invited me to stay. He hooked me up with a place to stay for a few days, I hooked him up with a new year’s party at my friend’s place. We got along well, so much that I extended my stay a few days longer than what was first planned and nearly stayed a week.
Eventually, I left for Saint Petersburg and stayed there for nearly seven weeks. My host in Moscow and I kept in touch. I said that if he wanted to pop up for a visit he was welcome to stay at my spacious rental flat in that city. One month later, he came for the weekend and it was nice walking around with him as if it was my time to show “my city”. Eventually, my host/guest left. My friend from New Zealand came to join me on our Trans-Siberian train trip from Moscow to Vladivostok as we had planned. Then the outbreak came.
Because we spent too much time at a few stops along the railroad, we decided that my travel buddy would need more time to complete the journey to Vladivostok. We split up in Novosibirsk, where I traveled onward to Irkutsk and he went to Kazakhstan. As he was trying to renew his visa in Kazakhstan, he got stuck. Meanwhile, the same happened to me in Russia. My train buddy eventually decided to depart for New Zealand. I decided I wouldn’t go anywhere until things improve. At the end of March, I managed to obtain an official extension on my immigration card for the next three months. That’s when my journey to find a place to stay longer in Russia began.
At this point, I was in Irkutsk thinking about going to Vladivostok and move to Japan—which was my original plan. But I figured I am more familiar with Russia. Besides, it’s also a cheaper place to stay for a longer time. So I gave up heading east and instead decided to move a little closer to Europe again.
Check out the post on Instagram
In April, I got myself an Airbnb in Kazan at the Volga river for the whole month to sit at home. After the month ended, I was already in need of a new place. Since the weather in Kazan was awfully depressing I figured I would try to find something in a different city.
I was planning to go south, close to the Black Sea, but not in one go. Then I remembered I had a friend in Saratov – which was on the way down south – who I have been trying to meet for years. I messaged her, she said it would be nice to meet me. So I took a train and came to Saratov, which is further downstream on the Volga river. The weather here is nice; it feels like summer already and I posted something on Instagram about it.
This is when my host in Moscow saw the Instagram post and messaged me. He said that his brother lives here and he could put us in touch if I wanted. I thought it would be nice. I eventually met his brother who then asked me to stay with him in a spare room in his flat.
And that’s my situation now. I’ll be here for a while, not sure how long, but we are both happy to hang out every day.
Contributed by Francesco. Follow him on Instagram!
Thank you for reading! The various contributors made this collaborative post possible. I thank them for sharing their stories and wish them the best in their individual situations. I encourage readers to follow these people on their blogs/Facebook/Instagram etcetera. The pretty watercolor maps come from maps.stamen.com. If you enjoyed this read, I’d love it if you could share it on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Pinterest, or whatever. There’s also a comment section at the bottom of this page.
Want to Submit Your Hospitality in Lockdown Story?
If you’d like to share your story here, you can send me an email via this form. With enough contributions, I’ll make a part two of this post. Here’s how to submit your story:
I’d love to hear about your situation and what your experiences have been starting out as strangers. If you feel uncomfortable to “out” yourself here, please let me know if you want to stay anonymous. This can be for any reason, but especially if you’re afraid to receive backlash or fear getting caught by immigration if you’ve overstayed your visa.
What I’d need from you is something like 150-500 words about your situation. If you can, please include the following:
- If you’re the host or the guest
- How you both came to the agreement to continue hosting during the global pandemic
- What your situation is like there
- How you’re spending time with your host/guest under these circumstances
- How you’re feeling about your situation
- In which country you’re in lockdown
- The guest’s nationality (if that’s something the guest party is okay with sharing)
- What’s that country’s lockdown policy (if any)
- How long have you been in lockdown together
- If you have any or feel comfortable sharing one, a picture related to your lockdown situation
Put in “Hospitality in lockdown” in the subject line. If you want, I can link to your blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, etc. It will take me some time to put the post together. I’ll run edits by you before publishing the post. Thank you for sharing!
Join a Hospitality Community Like Trustroots
For everyone that read this article and is new to the idea of hospitality exchange: welcome!
Already before the coronavirus crisis, the online hospitality communities have been through turbulent times. Long story short: in 2011, the original Couchsurfing.org became for-profit Couchsurfing.com. This alienated a lot of its userbase and volunteers, who enjoyed doing work for free because of the original values. Since May 15th, 2020, you need to pay to be a member. You can’t even access your profile and screenshot your old references without coughing up cold heart cash.
Until this recent change, I’ve never involved myself in this debate. That’s why I recommend all those who are interested in hosting travelers or being hosted while traveling to join the forever-free Trustroots.org. You could make a nice profile now to use it for later!
And no, the people of Trustroots don’t pay me to rep them. I joined Couchsurfing back in 2012 when it was already in decline. I’ve made great memories with my hosts and fellow surfers. But since my own values dictate that I can’t recommend my readers any paid option when there’s a viable free alternative, I have to say that Trustroots is the new place to be.