For Cyle Zezotarski traveling is not all about staying at swanky hotels and visiting the usual tourist spots. Traveling for him is learning the culture of one’s country or state, being able to meet new people and enjoying someone’s couch.
Zezotarski, a 20-year-old junior majoring in Japanese language and culture, is a couch surfer. Couch surfing is staying at someone’s home and experiencing his or her lifestyle. The Web site, www.couchsurfing.com is where people can sign up, get verified and search around for people and places to visit.
“You don’t really have to pay for accommodations,” Zezotarski said.
His first time couch surfing was in Bangkok, Thailand. He stayed with three people and through them he met around 20 more people and made friends. He said he felt the most at home in Thailand.
Zezotarski said he loves to travel in South East Asia because the people are more personal, open and willing to chat. He spent two months this past summer traveling to Singapore, Laos, Vietnam and South Korea, but was mainly in Thailand.
He stayed with a girl named Mimi who lived in a studio apartment with a big bed and a couch. There were two other people who stayed at Mimi’s apartment, and on the first night, they all slept on the same bed.
Traveling and couch surfing has made Zezotarski a lot more outgoing. Before, he was shy. He would go out, but not talk to people. Now, he said he has learned to be more open, ask questions, approach someone and say “hey.”
Zezotarski said that meeting and spending time with the locals was great because they know everything. He is a vegetarian and the locals helped him find the best food while in Bangkok – something more than just fried rice. The language barrier didn’t bother him much because the locals helped him communicate better and he studied the language beforehand.
“When you hang out with the locals, you see a completely different side of the world. You have a totally different experience and it’s not scary,” he said.
Zezotarski is moderating a San Fernando Valley group on couch surfing and recently he found out that in the past, there were only two incidents that happened that involved the police. The chances of anything bad happening are zero, he said.
“I generally learned that people are all the same. There are people who want to help and people who want to learn about you,” he said.
Zezotarski considers Laos the most beautiful country, but his experience in Vietnam was one of the most visually profound. He didn’t couch surf in Vietnam, but the locals and other couch surfers took him and his friends for a motorbike ride at night around the city.
Also in Vietnam, he had the worst traveling experience of his life. He got food poisoning and was severely dehydrated. All his friends were gone and he was alone. Although he was grateful for those who helped him, he said it was still difficult to find help. No one wanted to help and he was also running out of money.
Ironic as it may sound, Zezotarski developed a fear of flying. When he went to Singapore, he experienced bad turbulence and the airplane went down. He got nervous, freaked out and he even yelled while the rest of the passengers were calm. To overcome this, he takes sleeping medication when he’s flying.
He plans to travel to Taiwan or Japan next.