Couchsurfing Attitude: It’s A Bit Like An Arranged Marriage

I personally love Couchsurfing. It’s a great resource for budget travelers or just people who want an insider’s perspective on a new place. You get to spend a few nights at someone’s place for free, and plus a chance to meet some truly outstanding people. But it may also feel weird for newcomers, as well as for experienced hosts and surfers sometimes.
I caught myself thinking that Couchsurfing could be compared with an arranged marriage: you kind of have an idea what you’re getting into, but no clue how it plays out. Once, after an exhausting journey, I ended up in a beautiful new area of Copenhagen, cooking dinner with my host and a friend who surfed with me. It was springtime, and we sat outside on a little wooden platform floating on the canal that accommodated a table and three chairs, with an apple pie just out of the oven, vanilla ice cream on top, and freshly brewed coffee to help us put up with the wind. Afterwards we turned on the wall projector and watched a movie. At some point I got astounded at how normal it felt – going through regular daily routines with a complete stranger. But it’s not always like that.
Here’s the deal with Couchsurfing: you get to see the person’s profile, to learn a bit about his or her interests, and to read the reviews other people left. But it doesn’t mean anything. Most likely, the person you meet will be completely different from the image you created in your mind. So the moment you ring the doorbell or meet the person in a designated place can be a total game-changer. Will your host be cheerful or gloomy, extraverted or introverted, talkative or quiet? Will you get along? Will it feel awkward? Should you just be yourself or play an appropriate role?
Just like a freshly married bride that is joining a new family not knowing what to expect, a couchsurfer starts with evaluating his host and the environment. Some hosts would shower you in attention and do their best to make your stay unforgettable, whether the others would be too busy with their lives to spend any time with you. But no matter what, your job is to fit in. Your host lets you into his house and his life, and for these few days that you’re staying at his place you must be a respectful family member. Usually, it’s fun. Imagine you’re a party animal, and your host is a quiet old lady. Or you’re a pathologic introvert staying with a local DJ.
Here are a few simple rules that will help you (and your host) have a good time:
1. Be respectful to your host’s house rules. That might include noise levels, coming home no later than a certain hour, closing the toilet cap so that the dog won’t drink out of it, etc. Many hosts would also be busy working during weekdays and would expect you to entertain yourself.
2. Don’t be that person that just comes home and goes to bed/dives into the smartphone without even trying to start a conversation. No one would like a guest like that. Couchsurfing is about exchanging experiences, sharing your culture, and making new friends. Don’t be shy to talk and ask questions. Unless, of course, your host asked not to be disturbed.
3. Bring a small present for your host, if you can. It can be anything, just a souvenir from your country. But don’t feel obliged to. I usually travel super light, and can’t fit in extra stuff. So I just use step 4 instead.
4. Ask your host if he’d like you to make dinner/take him to a bar or something. Cooking some native food from your home country can be a great icebreaker. But not all people like strangers in their kitchen, so make sure to inqure in advance.
5. A good guest is an invisible guest, says I, in terms of mess that you make. Don’t leave your stuff all around the place, including the bathroom; make sure to keep your luggage in order and out of everyone’s way; always wash your dishes and throw away your garbage; keep the clothes you’re not wearing in your bag; make your bed, even if it means just straightening the blanket on the couch.
6. If your host has free time, ask him whether he’d like to join you in your adventures around the city. Not all hosts are exciting travel companions, but it’s just general courtesy. In the end, you can always part your ways if you feel that your interests differ, and do it politely – for example, say that you have some shopping to do.
7. Your host’s friends are your friends; it’s a common thing to be invited to join a party or share some activities together. However, that doesn’t mean that your friends are your host’s friends. Never ever bring anyone to your host’s place or your host’s event without asking him beforehand. Especially if you’re trusted with the keys. It can be your best friend we’re talking about, bur it’a still a taboo.
8. Should I even mention that touching your host’s stuff without permission is a complete and total no-go?
9. Even if your host was unsocial and/or boring, make sure to thank him when you’re leaving, and write him a mild positive reference. On Couchsurfing, even neutral references are viewed as sort of negative. Don’t leave him a neutral reference unless there was a problem, and never leave a negative reference unless there’s a serious reason. Surfers always read the references left for their potential hosts, and it’s easy to determine whether the negative one was a real deal or not.
10. But – never stay quiet if you got harrassed or something equally unpleasant took place. Couchsurfing is not a hookup platform, and you owe your host absolutely nothing. So if you got harrassed, or asked for money, don’t you dare stay quiet and soften your reference. It’s your duty to warn other surfers. No references can be removed from a person’s profile unless they’re proven wrong to the Couchsurfing web team. Should I be telling you that it’s police and not Couchsurfing you turn to in the unlikely case things get really bad?
Having said all that, I heartily encourage you to give Couchsurfing a try. It’s not just a great platform for getting free accommodation in a foreign city/country, but also a great social resource. The more you pay attention and observe, the more interesting things you discover. You get a chance to encounter different cultures, traditions and individual habits, and meet all types of personalities, which is quite fascinating. And, by following the simple rules, you can make your short-time «marriage» work out just great!

Loading Facebook Comments ...

2 Comments Add yours

  1. burningice2866 says:

    Still a pleasure to read your blog! 🙂 I’ve given out your Couchsurfing related posts and advice to a countless of friends.

    And, oh yeah, I still feel humble when i get mentioned in such kind and positive ways. It sure was a good few days and i even had the pleasure to host your friend again two weeks ago.

    Hope you’re rocking wherever you are!

    1. LovingStranger says:

      Thank you Pauli! And I hope that we meet again soon! My couch in Moscow is always open for you=)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *