• March 19, 2014

Musings: Gabriele Galimberti’s Couch Surfing

Alexa Keefe

“I arrived in Reykjavik on a Saturday, at one o’clock in the morning. In one of the emails we had exchanged to decide where and when to meet, Berglind had sent me a map with some directions to reach a disco-bar in the city centre. “How will I recognize you?” I had asked her, and she said, “Don’t worry, it won’t be difficult. I’ll be the woman in red.” I got to the Club22 by taxi and I entered with my big backpack. Red hair, red dress, red nail varnish, red shoes and stockings. No, it wasn’t so difficult to find her. We danced until 5 in the morning and.then we went to her house, where everything was mostly red, cat included. Besides nourishing her passion for this color, Berglind is an architect. I wonder what color the houses she designs are!” —Gabriele Galimberti

Some people try a new adventure, enjoy it, take a few pictures and walk away. That’s not photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s way of doing things. Galimberti discovered the practice of “couch surfing” on a trip to China. Couch surfing is based around an online service that connects backpacking travelers to hosts who can accommodate them in their homes.

Galimberti says, “In China, if you don’t speak Chinese or if you don’t have an interpreter is quite hard to travel alone and communicate with people, especially when you are not in a major city. Sometimes I spent the whole day without speaking to anyone.”

“The first night that I couch surfed it wasn’t comfortable!” he continues. “I had to sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag in the same room with another ten (or maybe more) Chinese students. Even though it was really uncomfortable I decided to stay one more night and then switch. So two nights later I ended at another host’s house. This time the host was a really rich woman with a huge house. I slept in a guest room with my private bathroom. This woman was the owner of a factory that produces toys for the international market.”

“Within less than a week I had shared and experienced the lives of two different Chinese people, two people on the opposite ends of society. Thanks to couch surfing I was able not just to travel in a unknown country, but I was also able to travel in somebody’s else life, to experience how the local people live in their own place. From that moment on I started to take a portrait of all the couch surfers that hosted me during that trip, and I took notes to write stories about their lives.”

Back in Italy, Galimberti kept these pictures and stories on his desk for a year, and at a certain point, he says, the idea to make this into a larger project came to him.

“I wanted to travel the world for 24 months and never use a hotel. I wanted to share my whole trip with couch surfers. I wanted to meet at least 100 of them, in many different places of the world.  I wanted to make big portraits of this new, young multicultural community.”

Picture of sleeping quarters
Dimitri Procofieff, 22—Geneva, Switzerland. Dimitri grew up all over the world, but now his home is in Geneva.
Picture of woman in TV studio
Brenda Fernandez, 33—Manila, The Philippines. Brenda is unmarried, which she says is unusual for her age in the Philippines. “I live alone and far away from my family, I have a good job, and I get paid more than most of the men around here, and then I travel. I travel a lot, everywhere, and I do it alone… and I love all of these things!” she says.
Picture of pregnant woman in fiji
Nani Marquarase, 29—Barara, The Fiji Islands. Nani lives with her husband and two children in a home made of corrugated metal. At the time this was taken she was eight months pregnant. As soon as I stepped through the door, felt the hot humidity and saw the rainwater shower, my first urge was to get out and get away…but then, after an hour of breathing the atmosphere of kindness and joy in the home of these wonderful, happy, vibrant, simple people, I already felt like a member of their family.
Picture of man and woman in rickshaw
Tom, 30, and Jane, 31—Bangkok, Thailand. Tom and Mary Jane are musicians who play music together and live together but are not a couple. They have a penchant for 70’s style.
Picture of woman in mexico neighborhood
Deisy Medel, 28—Veracruz, Mexico. Deisy works as a photographer for a local newspaper and lives in a little apartment in an area that many consider unsafe, but she’s happy where she is.
Picture of woman sitting in living room
Olga, 22—Kiev, Ukraine. Olga is a vegetarian naturist who gives out free hugs in public.

 Galimberti spent two years in 58 different countries and took more than 100 portraits of couch surfers. This body of work will be published in a book by Random House in June 2015. View more of Galimberti’s photography on his website.

There are 16 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Loz in Transit
    April 7, 2014

    A photographer’s ‘Couchsurfing’ photo was included in the 2011 World Press Photo exhibition. This is an even more impressive Collection.
    For those commenters who are lamenting not having the opportunity to travel, I suggest meeting local CSers and CS travelers in your hometown and drawing inspiration from those experiences.
    CS has been getting a bad rap lately with its popularity diluting the community with people who aren’t always well-intentioned. This collection is a reminder that there is always a kaleidoscope of interesting, open people out there.

  2. Richard Elzey
    March 30, 2014

    What is the name of the book so I know what to look for?

  3. Heather
    March 27, 2014

    I feel inspired and encouraged to try this one day. I get a sense that this is experience is open to all who open that door and embrace our world as one community of human beings. I look forward to your book. It will make a wonderful gift to my children who love and experience life from the North pole in Canada to scuba diving in Spain and camping in Scotland. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Amy Martin
    March 23, 2014

    Beautiful photos and very meaningful to me being a couchsurfer- and I can’t believe it- I stayed with Nani in Fiji!! The little girl she is pregnant with here is absolutely gorgeous- very smiley and runs around happily. So glad I found this!

  5. Eddie
    March 22, 2014

    I attended a nice meeting of CS in a coastal town of Ecuador about 5 years go. This was my first experience with the community. In 2012 I went to Peru and was hosted by a guy who seemed to make a living from CS travellers providing a very unconfortable shared room in a quite unsafe and ugly area. A couple of years ago I realized that CS had turned a business instead of a non-profit organization. Couchsurfing experiences can be diverse, as the many people who belongs to it. But it betrayed millions of members turning pro-profit.

  6. Michael Bullington
    March 22, 2014

    More, please!

  7. dinesh
    March 22, 2014

    “couch surfing” great idea for the travelers. nice to read and good pics. looking forward to ur book, to travel all around the world, with your pics…

  8. Hanna.Kristel
    March 20, 2014

    I find it really inspiring. Actually your story is a very big pointer for me right now. You see, I have always dreamed of doing something like this but for some reason I have had a fear. A fear of something that I cannot really put my finger on..probably the unknown and the fear that I would run out of money. I feel that going on a trip like that is so much more than that and I want to find out exactly what that just might be. And I thank you for this wonderful post and a wonderful idea. You are awesome! And so are your pictures! You inspired me today.

  9. David Soto
    March 20, 2014

    Individualism is happiness. Beautiful scenery.

  10. rocky chaudhry
    March 20, 2014

    beautiful pictures .Post mote please

  11. Helena St.Dennis
    March 19, 2014

    I would love to see more!

  12. Couchsurfing
    March 19, 2014

    We’re impressed with your beautiful travel photograph. It allows others to see places they can’t go through your lens. Thanks for sharing the photos!

  13. Ann
    March 19, 2014

    Great pictures

  14. Sunshine
    March 19, 2014

    I could never couch surf due to my addiction to privacy, but I can couch surf vicariously through you. You do have far interesting experiences that way. Looking forward to your book!

  15. littledarling
    March 19, 2014

    I love travel around the world but I know the dream never come true. What a pity!

  16. tikku
    March 19, 2014

    Thanks to N G for being able to see the world. Not possible for an Indian commoner to roam around like some people can afford. I find it charming, beutiful.

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