“One of the great things about travel is you find out how many good, kind people there are.” –Edith Wharton ✬
I’ve been a host through Couchsurfing.org for just over two years now, and my experiences with my guests (and a few times surfing myself) have been nothing short of amazing. Since couchsurfing is such a big part of my life, both at home and on the road, I figured I would dedicate a page to it in case you’ve never heard of it and would like to know more. Also, I use the words ‘surfers’ and ‘surfing’ quite frequently in my writing–I’m referring to couchsurfing, not water surfing. You’ll pick it up. 🙂
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing.org is a hospitality exchange site. Users create profiles as either hosts or travelers (although you can switch between them as your situation changes). Travelers can request a place to stay in a city they’re visiting, and hosts can accept or deny the request. All plans are made independently between the users; the website just serves as the platform for finding each other. Couchsurfing is free, and hosts aren’t supposed to expect anything in return (no asking guests to clean the house, etc). It’s just the act of someone being nice and helping out a traveler.
Aren’t you afraid of having a stranger in your house? What if they steal something, etc.?
Short answer: No. I’m never afraid. I review my guests’ (and my hosts’) profiles before accepting them, and read their references. I can tell from a profile whether someone is genuinely going to be a cool person or if they seem shady. Obviously, I just don’t accept any requests that I don’t feel comfortable with. In the past two years I’ve hosted over 50 people and every single one of them has been courteous, kind, generous and all-around fun. It’s important to consider the kinds of people who are comfortable using a service like this: often they are frequent travelers, usually under age 35, with a low budget for traveling. This means they are extremely grateful for a place to stay, and will go out of their way not to inconvenience you as a host. They’ve also got lots of fun stories, and are friendly, outgoing people. I’ve hosted teachers, students, freelancers, and full-time travelers.
Why do you do it if you’re not getting paid?
I started hosting because I was living in South Dakota, very isolated from the outside world, and I just wanted to meet some interesting people. Anyway, I figure that the hospitable thing to do when you have a couch that you’re not sleeping on at night is to let someone else sleep on it. It really doesn’t put you out much at all, and it is immensely helpful to the traveler.
I love to cook big meals, and living by myself I rarely bother. I love cooking for my couchsurfing guests, and as an added bonus, they almost always insist on doing the dishes. 🙂 I’ve also discovered that I’m much more likely to go out and explore my own town when I have guests that I would like to show around. When I don’t have couchsurfers, I stay at home more often than not. It’s a win-win.
And then there’s the most obvious answer…many of my couchsurfers have become my friends. I have met up with several of my previous guests in other places, and as I prepare to launch this huge road trip in September, I’m already lined up to stay with many people who have stayed with me. Some of my couchsurfing guests have become, in all seriousness, some of my favorite people in the world.
Where have your guests been from?
I’ve hosted and met up with surfers from Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, the UK, Israel, Turkey, Iran and Egypt. I’ve also hosted guests from all over the US. Thanks to my guests, I have learned how to say at least 1 phrase in 12 languages!
What is your advice for hosts?
If your current living situation is pretty stable and you have a couch or spare bedroom to offer, I’d encourage you to give hosting a try sometime. Here are some tips:
- As a general rule, don’t offer to let someone stay for more than 2 nights before you meet in person. Once they’ve arrived and you’ve spent some time together, feel free to extend it, but never offer a longer stay before you’ve met in person. If someone requests a longer stay, just offer to host them for part of their visit and suggest they find another host to cover the duration of their stay. People do this all the time.
- There’s no reason your guests need to be in your home when you’re not there, unless you’re comfortable with it. They’ll be more than happy to leave and do their own exploring while you are at work or carrying on with your own life. However, I typically give my guests a spare key and let them come and go as they please. Totally your call.
- You’re not expected to pick up guests from the airport/bus station/etc. They’re more than happy to find their own way. I often do pick them up though, if it’s not inconvenient for me.
- Your guests won’t expect to be fed. However, they are often on a budget and some may really appreciate it if you offer to let them use your kitchen should they prefer to buy food at a grocery store and eat at home instead of a restaurant. I often cook for my surfers, but that’s just because I love to cook. 🙂 If you host a lot and don’t have a coffee machine, you might consider getting a cheap one. It’s nice to be able to offer at least a cup of coffee in the morning.
- Buy a guest book! I did this waaaayyy too late in the game. In fact, my guest book was a gift from two lovely girls from Denmark who spent 4 days with me.
I think you’ll find that hosting is really a really enriching, fun experience, and you will get to learn about countries and cultures from all around the world. Feel free to ask me any questions, I’m more than happy to share my experience!
And of course, if you’re traveling, give surfing a shot!