couch surfing

Domestically International


My Bucket List

Years ago I sat down to write a bucket list. When the ideas slowed, I hopped online to see what other people had come up with.

Two things immediately caught my attention. First, I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought I was. Top items included getting degrees, getting married, having kids, living in other countries, and becoming fluent in a second language. Check, check, check, check, and checkity check.

The second thing I noticed was how many lists were loaded with multiple travel aspirations. What I found noteworthy about that… is that personally, I had none.


In fact, I hate travel. I don’t like airports, planes, or jet lag. I don’t mind seeing new places and getting out of my comfort zone, but I always feel like the travel portion of traveling ruins the entire experience.

Why I Hate Traveling

Weeks before you travel are spent on preparation and packing. There are nerves and logistics galore. The next step is sitting around mindlessly and endlessly in an airport, after undergoing an unnecessarily invasive investigation. Where else in life do you give someone an insane amount of money in exchange for being treated like a criminal?

If you make it through the airport shakedown, you get the lovely experience of hours of being cramped in an uncomfortable plane with nasty food and constant interruptions from a pilot who thinks the altitude is more important to you than watching Eddie Murphy’s latest film.

Hopefully you’re among the lucky few who isn’t dehydrated with stuffy ears and an achy back from the experience. Now you get to move on to the oddly long wait for your luggage, assuming that it actually arrives. And we’re off for several days of fighting off exhaustion and breaking through jet lag in order to be able to properly enjoy the vacation.

And when all the smoke clears and you’ve fully enjoyed your trip, you get to do all that crazy one more time.

Now, I’m aware that some people are far better at traveling than I am. Hell, I don’t even like to travel to other cities! Nevertheless, all this is why I can’t bring myself to be excited about travel.

Knowledge of Other Nations and Cultures

Yet, I noticed in recent months that I experience travel in a completely different way. Despite my aversion to actually going anywhere, I devote an uncanny amount of time to gaining an in depth and profound knowledge of other nations and cultures.

I read books and articles about history and regional differences. I study geography. I’ve hosted hundreds of people for lodging and meals from all around the world, and I seek to really understand where they’re coming from. I look for subtleties in behaviors and mannerisms, ask questions about languages, and I’m always learning fascinating things about cultures.

(Fun side notes: Did you know that in Spain, they use the word “tortilla” completely differently than in Mexico? In Spain, it’s something more comparable to an omelette! And in the very not superstitious Germany, they still have a couple of odd ones. Never wish “Happy Birthday” before the actual day. And ALWAYS make eye contact when saying “Prost/Cheers”, for not doing so is a bad omen for seven years of bad sex.)

Studying Languages

I study languages. Lots of them. Sadly, I have not been blessed with any gifts at picking up foreign languages at all, and cursed with the desire to speak about a dozen of them. But I don’t get discouraged easily and I will continue to push forward every single day, always learning a little something, even if I know mastery is unlikely in my near or even distant future. Just because I love it.

And so here I am. A guy who over the next decade or so will be wildly familiar with world geography and history, familiar with multiple languages, with connections around the world and insights into culture and customs everywhere… with no obvious use for any of it.

So why do I do it? How did I end up this way?

To be honest, I’m still not sure. There’s plenty of room for exploration. I’m mulling around two potential theories at the moment.

Why am I Domestically International?

First, I like the idea of being safe and comfortable no matter where life takes me. If my job wants me to take a trip to Germany for a conference, I want to be able to order a coffee in German, understand the person sitting next to me making fun of my haircut, appreciate some local television, and not embarrass myself by doing something culturally inappropriate. Furthermore, one cannot truly appreciate a foreign nation without speaking its language. Growing up in America it’s easy to feel like you speak the only language anyone could ever need.

However, I have met countless people who can barely eke out a sentence in English. There are countries where few people speak English or where different generations do not speak English well. How miserable would it be to visit a country and only experience 10% of what they have to offer because of my own limitations?

The World Through the Languages and Cultures of Others

Second, experiencing the world through the languages and cultures of others is a quick way to their hearts. True, some cultures do not want to hear you breaking your teeth on and butchering their language (you know who you are, Frenchies!). But most of the world loves that you took the time and effort to appreciate that their world matters too.

Try it. Learn how to say “hello” in Russian. Say it to the next Russian person you meet. Watch their face light up. It’s worth it every single time! It’s fairly likely that the next moment will be a little embarrassing as they then sputter out a million sentences in Russian, and you stand there smiling and clueless. Still worth it.

When you take the time to interest yourself in the language, culture, and history of other people, you step into their realm. You become a part of their world. You become a stronger and more tolerant member of society, and you generate feelings of belonging for all those around you.

I might tour across Europe or other parts of the world one of these days. It would be nice. But even if I don’t see the world out there, I’ll be satisfied so long as the world out there still becomes a part of who I am.


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Posted by jaffeworld in couch surfing, opinion, personal story, travel, 0 comments

Six Things I Love About Israel

Love about Israel
So… anyone who’s been paying attention for a bit may have noticed I’m a bit harsh in my criticism of Israel. Well, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, recently a friend of mine challenged me to come up with ten things I love about Israel.

I love a good challenge… and this certainly was one. And sadly I wasn’t able to come up with ten, but I think six is a healthy place to start.

Please please give me more ideas. I can’t tell you how much I want to love living here!

1) The Produce

When I arrived in Israel in 1997, there were several types of vegetables I did not like, and some fruits I had nothing interesting to say about.

That was until I took a bite of some of them in the Holy Land. One bite and I realized why I didn’t like the cucumbers and tomatoes in the States. They taste awful! Flavorless at best. The produce in Israel may not look the part. The colors aren’t as vivid. The shapes are often funny. And there are plenty of items not available year round.

But the flavor is off-the-charts incredible. And the prices are uncharacteristically amazing. One of the only things cheaper in Israel.
If you’re here in the fall, try a mango. You won’t regret it. It’s like eating candy. It’s the way they’re supposed to taste!

2) Ease of Religious Lifestyle

My last year in the States was pretty rough, as far as scheduling was concerned. The last two jobs I had were for major corporations, but I was a contracted employee. This had a lot of complications, the biggest being that I was paid hourly and received no paid holidays or vacations. What this meant was the company was closed for every American holiday and I was not paid for those days, and I needed to take off and not get paid for all the Jewish holidays as well.

Every once in a while the same companies would give us free food, food that was very much not kosher. One of the companies had a program where different employees would give a lecture and the company would then give everyone a free lunch. Even when I volunteered to give the lecture, the food was still off limits to me.

I can go on and on about the complications in trying to make it in the professional world out there when you have a whole assortment of religious restrictions. But I’ll leave it as this: One of the biggest advantages to Israel is that the country’s system and schedule is by and large based on Judaism and the Jewish calendar. I’m never rushing home on Friday to make it in time for Shabbat. Nor do I miss out on countless activities because they’re all on Saturday or Friday night. Nope. Things here are designed around my schedule, and I absolutely love it.

3) A Walking Culture

I’m aware there are places in the States where people still walk, but for the most part, it’s a rarity. I grew very accustomed to driving everywhere, even relatively short walks. I even drove to my gym that was a 20 minute walk away. To my gym!

Now the old train tracks in Jerusalem are essentially my backyard. I walk on them about an hour every day, and it’s always filled with people doing the same. I’m a happier person if I avoid cars and buses here. They are stressful and can get quite expensive. And with traffic and a whole lot of other variables, they strip you of control of your schedule.

Not only can I walk to every place I every want to be, but I’m joined by others doing the same. I love living in a culture that encourages and normalizes the best method of transportation ever created.

4) Dealing with the Big Stuff

Years ago I sat next to an American doctor who led a team of medical professionals to Haiti to deal with a humanitarian crisis following a giant earthquake. The team got together, and showed up with pride and joy to save the day… only to find Israel had long ago sent a team that was fully up and running and making the world a better place.

I’ve had enough experience here to avoid doctors’ offices to the best of my ability, but I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be if true tragedy struck. Perhaps Israel became what it is because of necessity, but there’s a reason this tiny nation could mobilize instantly and help another country across the world with seemingly no effort. It’s become a part of the country’s DNA.

When I see something terrible happen here, the first response time is off the charts and the quality of service is second to none. Years ago in Baltimore we rushed my son to the Emergency Room because of a possible broken nose. Six hours later, and $800 poorer, he was admitted so we could indeed find out his nose wasn’t broken. My experience in American Emergency Rooms is they’ve kind of forgotten the definition of the word “emergency”.

I hope I never need first responders or an emergency room… but if I do, I hope I’m in Israel.

5) Freedom of Children

I love that children seem to be released from their parent’s shackles a lot younger in Israel. I mean, they might still end up 30-year old adults who frequently go home for some home-cooked dinner and laundry, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about walking around the streets and seeing young, young kids walking freely, without a care in the world, sometimes picking up groceries for the house or watching their even younger siblings.

It’s kind of like an even better version of what I remember from America in the 80s. Better because it’s even younger. Growing up we went to parks by ourselves and played on old, splintery contraptions, and had the time or lives. All of that has been replaced by boring, plastic monstrosities, and helicopter parents fearing child abduction. Nothing’s actually changed, except attitudes and perspectives.

Kids need freedom to enjoy life and grow into well-adapted adults. A little goes a long way.

6) Hosting Couch Surfers

I haven’t been able to bring all of my hobbies with me from the States to Israel. But of everything that I did bring over, there is one that I’ve certainly made the most of in Israel, and that’s hosting Couch Surfers.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved hosting people in the States. And I certainly loved the people I met. But most people in Kansas City were just passing through, and unfortunately the biggest thing I was providing for them was safe lodging. In Israel I can provide an experience!

I have now taken countless people to see the Western Wall for the first time, showed them all around the city, and given insights into the culture and customs of the country.

Almost everyone who passed through my home in America was from the United States, whereas here I’ve hosted people from over 20 countries. I’m making interesting and incredible connections all over the world.

I’m no one’s first choice to be Jerusalem’s Ambassador, but for these scores of guests who stay in my home, I am committed to making sure their visit to Israel is as incredible as it could be. And watching people fall in love with Jerusalem makes me like it here a lot more as well.


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Posted by jaffeworld, 0 comments

7 Habits of Highly Effective Couch Surfers

Couch Surfers
Last week I wrote about how to be a great couch surfer host. After hosting a whole slew of amazing couch surfers, I’ve definitely seen how several acts, big and small, can make a guest forever memorable, and can improve the entire couch surfing experience.

1) Couch Surfers with a Very Informative Profile

Perhaps it should go without saying that most people won’t host couch surfers with an empty profile. Few or no pictures and minimal information do not inspire confidence that we’re dealing with a real person, let alone someone who is serious about preserving the integrity and quality of the couch surfing experience.

But I’m talking about something else.

My couch surfers have been all sorts of awesome, as are a lot of people picking up and traveling the world. Let us know that we should be super excited about your visit. Let us know someone special will soon be in our home. Give us lots  of stuff to bug you about before you ever show up.

In short, you’re amazing. That fact should be evident from the offset in your pictures and profile.

2) Write a Letter, Surfers!

This was very common among my couch surfers in the United States. A few simple words are greatly appreciated. I’ve saved every letter I’ve received and I plan to save them forever. A few kind, personal words is such an easy and such an amazing gesture, and it often personalizes the experience, since unlike a house gift, a letter is usually written after the fact.
Words from a surfer:

“Thank you for making me feel so at home and comfortable. Thank you for sharing your space and, more importantly, your stories. It has been a pleasure to get to know you so far, and I look forward to keeping in touch!”

These words will stay with me forever, and so will the memories.

3) Gifts, the Right Kind

Before I say another word, I cannot stress this enough: No couch surfer should EVER feel obligated to give anything at all to their host. That being said, it’s often a lovely and much appreciated gesture. It need not cost much, and can still make a lasting impact.

The best gifts are ones that foster fond memories. My two favorites are regional souvenirs… or a beer.

a. On my fridge I have a bottle opener from Costa Rica. Among my books I have a dessert recipe book from Italy. And in my kitchen are a bunch of coasters from Poland. I love having things in my home from all over the world, and I love that each one comes with a story and reminds me of some of the great visitors who have passed through my home over the years.

b. Whether it’s a beer or a falafel, it doesn’t matter. You’re not really buying your host a drink. You’re creating a memorable experience together. I wander through Jerusalem’s shuk and say “That’s where I hung out with my Newfies” and “That’s where I had Chinese food on Christmas… with my surfer from China.” The beer gets drunk; the experience lasts forever.

4) Do Some Dishes

It is common courtesy for any couch surfer to leave your home the way they found it. And again, no couch surfer should ever feel like they have an obligation to clean anything at all in your home beyond their own mess.

That being said, I have had multiple surfers who were constantly washing my dishes. Even if I protested, before I knew it, my sink was empty. I cannot tell a lie. I am a neat and tidy person, but I absolutely loath washing dishes, and I so do miss having a dishwasher. These fabulous couch surfers know in their heart of hears that when I say “Stop, you really don’t need to do that”, what I’m really thinking is “Oh my goodness, this person is an angel who could and should stay at my home any time they want!”

A great life lesson: If you want someone to love you forever, do their dishes.

5) Couch Surfers Shuld Share Who They Are

As a host, I love experiencing the world through the eyes of people who live all over the world, and people who have travelled and have seen a great deal.

The best thing you could ever do as a guest is to be yourself and share of yourself as much as possible. Pour out information about you and your country’s culture, history, and idiosyncracies. I’m super attentive and I’m soaking in every word. The more you’re willing to let me know who you are, the more enjoyable and meaningful the experience.

And never assume any detail is too small!

I’m still blown away by discovering that in Spain the word “tortilla” means something completely different than it does in Mexico, and consequently the US (There’s no wrap involved. It’s more similar to what we call an omellete. I know right! Mind blown!!).

6) Write a Reference

I’m kind of reference gremlin. I love them. And the more I get, and the more positive they are, the more I just want to keep hosting and hosting.

Some people have told me that they didn’t bother with references because their host already had so many, they didn’t think their own added anything to the host’s profile. This is an error. Every single reference counts, and having 200 is better than having 100. The only way to get there is one reference at a time.

I read every reference I get with relish and excitement. And it’s just about the best way for me to find out how I’m doing as a host. In fact, the only thing that lets me know I’m doing a good job even more, is when I’m asked to be hosted again by the same guest.

7) Report Those Who Deserve Reporting

Couch Surfing is its own little subculture of the world. Many of us take it very seriously and strongly believe in what we are doing.

Therefore, when I hear awful stories about hosts who mistreated their couch surfers in any fashion, it unnerves me. I know for every God-awful host out there, there are scores of fantastic ones. But the only way to let future guests know what they might be walking into, is to write a reference that reflects what happened, or to report the host if what they did crossed lines.

I know that when a traveler returns home from their vacation, dwelling on the negative parts of their trip is the last thing they want to do. And with each passing day, the emotions begin to wane and the likelihood of being proactive lessens and lessens.

There are many reasons why you should hop on your laptop and take care of this right away. Do it because it helps improve the entire Couch Surfing community. Do it because no one should ever not wish to be hosted by someone like me, because some other fool ruined their impression of the experience. Most of all, do it because whatever suffering you experienced should never happen to another person. And it’s your responsibility as a human being to make sure of that!

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Posted by jaffeworld in couch surfing, Israel, 0 comments