Melvyn knows her way around the country. But in due time, she may know her way around the world as well.
As a travel consultant, she has virtually figured out the global road map like the back of her hand. But her recent trip to Europe as a lone backpacker gave her a more intimate insight into other countries to which most of us only dream of going. It also helped her gain a better understanding of herself and how to travel on the cheap with help from a very useful Web site.
You just recently came back from a trip to Europe. Tell me about that experience.
It was great. I finally got to travel by myself. I’ve been dreaming of going on a backpacking trip all my life, and I think I just spent all of my life savings [laughs], but it was worth it. I went to Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands in 45 days. I gained a lot of experience during that trip. There are just so many stories to tell.
Do you think it’s better to travel alone or be with friends?
I used to be indecisive when I was with my friends, but because I went on this trip alone, I felt like I learned to make decisions on my own. Traveling alone is nice because you make decisions by yourself. If you want to do something or go somewhere, you just do it. But I did constantly meet up with people everywhere I went, mostly from CouchSurfing.org
Tell me a little bit about CouchSurfing.org.
It’s a nonprofit organization with members from around the world. Basically, it’s a Web site that helps you find a host who can accommodate your stay in a country you choose to visit. And you can also be the host yourself. To be able to experience a new culture right at your home is cool, but it’s also a good way to meet people. And not everyone just wants to find a place to crash. Some just want travel tips from locals.
You are a couch surfer representing Jakarta. How long have you been doing this?
About two years. I’m living with my cousin, so I can’t always invite people to stay at our place. But being a host doesn’t always mean that your guests have to stay at your place. You can also serve as their guide and take them out for a good time.
Where do you usually take your guests?
Standard sightseeing, which includes going to Monas, the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, the old city and the highlight, of course, is making them eat durian. I also take them out to the city and ride the ojek , the bajaj and the bemo .
Where do your international guests usually come from?
From Singapore, the US, Portugal, Holland and England.
How many couch surfers are there in Indonesia?
In Indonesia there are thousands, but in Jakarta there are only a few hundred. I don’t know the exact number, but I know not everyone is active.
Don’t you think it’s dangerous to invite strangers into your own home?
There are people who think it isn’t appropriate to invite strangers to their homes. But by letting them stay, I think you’ll eventually get to know them better. And there’s a reference system that you can also use. I’m sure there are incidents, but that can happen at any networking site.
Where are you do you originally come from?
I’m from Palembang, South Sumatra. I was born there and I stayed there until I was in high school. I moved to Bandung to study at a university where I took up communications science and public relations. I moved to Jakarta in 2005.
Why made you decide to move to Jakarta?
When I lived in Bandung, I spent most of my weekends in Jakarta. After I graduated, I got an offer to work at a company that was into wedding photography. Then one day I saw an ad from a travel agency, and I thought it could be interesting. I applied, got accepted and I’ve been working in the field ever since.
Tell me a little bit about working at a travel agency.
I work as a travel consultant. I make reservations for plane tickets and hotel accommodations. I’m also into product development and serve as tour leader. I do a lot of research, organize information and get in touch with local travel agencies everywhere that can work with us. I’ve arranged tours to China, Egypt, Thailand and several more countries. I’ve also served as a tour guide for destinations around Southeast Asia.
So you managed to ‘couch surf’ throughout your recent trip?
Pretty much. I was serving as a host before my recent trip, so when it was my turn to travel, some of the people that stayed at my place kind of returned my hospitality. I was sleeping in all sorts of rooms. I stayed in a living room, a guest room with a private bathroom and at times on the floor with only a blanket. You just can’t be picky.
Have you been able to coach-surf around Indonesia?
Yes, at Bandung, Bali, Solo, Semarang and Yogyakarta. Even though I have friends living in Bandung, I stay with other couch surfers because I travel with a guest. This is to meet people from other parts of Indonesia with the same ideas in mind: traveling on a budget.
Melvyn was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Picture by Iwan Putuhena