As my husband and I planned our trip to Iran, we realised we had few personal connections there. I was registered on the Couchsurfing website and decided to get in touch with some local Iranians to meet up with. We decided to spend our first few nights in Tehran with host couple, Zahra and Mobin. We’d never couch-surfed, and didn’t know what to expect by staying at the home of what were, at that time, strangers.

Couchsurfing is an online platform to connect with hosts and travellers across the world. The concept is that you can stay at the home of a local at no cost at all. The philosophy of the site is pretty brilliant, and encourages a really meaningful exchange of culture, friendship and hospitality.

The ideal situation is that you find an appropriate host on their website by first following the safety procedures of reading their references and profile information. There has been a darker side to couchsurfing where guests or hosts have been mistreated, but generally, if practiced with caution, you can be hosted well, shown around, and save money on accommodation. I felt safe to couch-surf having my husband with me, and we carefully selected our hosts, feeling most comfortable staying with families rather than singles. We’d booked hotels for everywhere outside Tehran, but continued to meet up with Iranian Couchsurfers, leading to many positive experiences.

After arriving in Tehran, we had quite a bit of difficulty finding our host’s home. When we eventually did, we found they were at work since we had arrived late. We then got our first shot of incredible Iranian hospitality. Our host’s neighbour, a lovely older lady, took us in and served us tea and fruit, letting us pray, while she watched Quran recitations on television. Staying with Zahra and Mobin was a treat. On the first night, they cooked us Iranian style pasta, and invited their friends over. We shared our lives with them, connecting over similar interests, experiences, and teaching each other our respective languages. They asked my husband to recite Quran for them before we ate, and we bonded over our shared faith.

When in Mashhad, we decided to meet up with Fereshte and Pezhman, a very jovial and warm couple who organised a dinner, cooking delightful traditional foods, and who later insisted we abandon our hotel for one night and stay with them. And so we did, and would never regret it. In one night, we shared our life stories, our fears, ambitions, and became very close friends very quickly. Fereshte was our guide the next day of surrounding sights, and Pezhman delayed a train trip just so he could join us in the evening for dinner before we left for the next city. They were incredibly gracious, and we left feeling an immense admiration of Persian hospitality. It inspired us to revive the beautiful Muslim tradition of hospitality towards travellers, and we aim to pay it forward to travellers back home in Sydney, inshaAllah.