Staying with locals has to be one of the best parts of my trip so far. Sure, exploring things on your own is fun and awesome and blah blah blah, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends to stay with in almost every place I’ve been, and I’ve become so used to it that my arrival in Wellington (all alone and staying in a hostel) was more of a shock than I imagined.
A friend opening up their house to you is a special thing, and I didn’t realize just how special it was until this trip. Back home, I have people crash on my couch all the time; doesn’t matter if we’re best friends or kind’ve friends, if you’re in Toronto for a few days and it all works out, you’re welcome to stay on my half-broken futon. Until this trip, I figured it was just nice to have a (free!) place to stay, but now I realize it’s a lot more.
Staying with a local, especially when you don’t know the city at all, is practically priceless.* Not only do you not have to worry about forgetting your toothbrush in the bathroom or having strangers root through your bags, but you get that local insight and get to experience things you never would have if you didn’t have your friend by your side.
I’ve had some of the best Greek food I’ve ever had because my friends knew this little place down the road, and I’ll never forget the 45 minute drive up to the Hollywood sign. I got to go camping in the bush, which I’d NEVER do on my own (HELLO, AUSTRALIA WILL KILL YOU). I found the best laksa in Sydney (raved about by locals), which I never would’ve found because it was in some weird food court in Chinatown, and went to a bright, kitschy taco place I can’t wait to go back to. Even things like my friend driving me to a mall so I could buy some jeans…I’d never have known where to go if it wasn’t for her! Locals will show you the best coffee spots and the greatest hidden parks, and with the added bonus of “friend”, they’ll be happy hanging out in those parks with you.
I think I’m going to make more of an effort to be a great host like my friends have been to me. When people come to my house now, I tend to let them do their own thing (unless it’s their first time in the city, in which case I have a whole “Welcome to Toronto!” package for them. Too much?) but maybe now I’ll try taking them to my favourite spots. Even if you’ve been in Toronto for ten years, there are always new places to see and explore.
So to my friends whom I’ve stayed with: you’ve made my trip absolutely amazing. And to those who are going to stay with me one day: I know this great little place…
*at least, if they’re like my friends it is. If they’re total jerks, then…well, why are you friends with total jerks?
Also be sure to check out www.couchsurfing.org if you’re interested in crashing on couches and making new friends!