Couch Surfing – Still Not Sure?

Couch Surfing – Still Not Sure?
November 28, 2011 Lainie Liberti

Is it for me?

We love Couch Surfing!

Why? Because we love people. We love meeting people, learning about new cultures, connecting in an authentic, meaningful way…

We love having friends in every country and from around the world.

Group of couch surfers from around the world hanging out on the beach in Taganga, Colombia

But if you’ve never tried it, the idea of staying with strangers in their homes can be daunting to some.
All I can do is share our experiences with you and let you decide what’s right for you.
Miro and I have had nothing but positive experiences. We’ve been involved in the project since 2007. We have hosted, surfed and attended and arranged events. Let’s look at these 3 ways you can participate:

Hosting

Miro posing with our Couch surfing guest Kadir in 2007

Having people in your home requires a level of trust from within yourself. My philosophy is ‘mi casa es su casa’. I know you’ve heard that before but if you can’t feel it, really feel it, than you are not yet open to the experience. Open your home, your heart and treat your guests like a family member (one that you like). But first, back up. I think the first thing you have to ask yourself is are you comfortable with people in your space? The question is not about ‘strangers’ but about sharing your space.

To be clear, this is more than just your physical space, it’s your personal space too. If you can feel comfortable opening up your space, opening up your energy and opening up your ideas about sharing and giving, the experiences will run smoothly. I firmly believe if you go into this with hesitation,  or the expectation that someone will do something wrong, you will indeed manifest those experiences and set yourself up for a disappointing interaction.

When we lived in Guatemala for 8 months, we rented a big house and always had couch surfers in it. We loved sharing our home with other travelers from around the world. We had keys made for our guests, had maps of the city ready for our visitors and always took the time to give them a tour, via the map. When I had time, I’d walk them through the beautiful walled city and showed the the route on how to return.

We had the same attitude about sharing space in our Los Angeles  loft , where we first started hosting, only it was a bit trickier because  of the size of the city and the transportation issues. But knowing those limitations, we only hosted when we could be sure we had time to show our guests around which limited our hosting to weekends.
In essence, you gotta be clear about your own expectations, and your own comfort level is essential to a positive experience.. You aren’t doing your guest a favor if you aren’t clear about those things first. As a reminder, your  experience with your guests will reflect your inner attitudes, so BE CLEAR.

Surfing

Miro with our host and professional bird watcher Beny, in Panama City. (See Podcast #13)

Traveling? Have an invitation to surf with someone? Great! Now you it’s up to you to  be a good guest. But how? Well, expect to spend time with your host. There’s nothing more annoying than a guest arriving, and heading straight to their ‘room’ and shutting the door. There’s nothing more annoying than a couch surfing guest treating your home like a hotel, and the host as the inn keeper. As a guest, or a surfer, it’s your responsibility to engage with your host. Got questions? Ask them about their house rules. Inquire about your host’s past   Couch Surfing experiences and most importantly,  ask what their availability is.

Good communication is the key.

What’s better than having all expectations up front and on the table? As a guest, you should let your host know up front what you are interested in doing or seeing while you are there.  Ask for recommendations, ask about the kitchen, the bathroom, etc. Then, ask when you can treat your host for a meal, either by cooking for them or buying them dinner. After all, you aren’t paying for your accommodation, and this is a clear gesture of gratitude.
Surfing is not a free room. Nor is surfing an opportunity to take advantage of your host. This is a cultural exchange and remember your experiences are different and likely interesting to your host as well. Share!
We love couch surfing! Miro and I have met the most incredible people,  from students to families. Use the opportunity to communicate via email before you arrive to get a sense of who your hosts are. That way you have some common ground when you arrive.

Events

Couch surfing potluck event we hosted in our home in Antigua, Guatemala

Couch surfing potluck event we hosted in our home in Antigua, Guatemala

The community forms are wonderful for participating and creating meet ups. Miro and I participate by meeting people either while we are traveling or while we find ourselves stationary in one location for any amount of time.

One way to participate is by arranging a meeting with a local resident.  Many people are not able to host in their home, but do create a profile inviting travelers to their city to contact them. They are available to meet for a coffee, a meal, or an afternoon of showing you around their beloved city. Just send them an email through the couch surfing system and let them know you will be in their area and see what they suggest.

Another option is meeting up with other travelers that are planning outings in the same area you in. Sometimes Miro and I meet people who have already panned a trip to the local volcano, or a hike, and have done the research, etc. and we get the benefit of meeting new and interesting people and have already done the local research.

Couch surfer friends Cyndi & Lainie sharing a beer in the back of a pickup truck in Belize

Even though we are traveling full time, we don’t always couch surf (or stay with people) full time. But we do appreciate the community as it’s been so wonderful for us to already have a friend in a new city before we arrive. When we do stay in one place for a period of time, we love to stay in touch not only with the participating couchsurfing hosts and travelers that are coming through that area.

Benefits

I guess the real issue here is, you gotta like people, have to be interested in meeting new people, regardless of how you utilize the community. And I use the word ‘community’ literally. Couch surfers are a world-wide community of like minded people, many of whom are just as interested in learning about you as you are about them.

We’ve met people from all walks of life, backgrounds, ideals, social-economical situations, etc. I think the most valuable aspect to our travels that has made our experiences rich beyond belief, are the amazing and wonderful people we’ve met along the way. I don’t think Miro would have been exposed to half the ideas, opinions or experiences had we stayed home in the States. There’s no doubt, my son’s experience of the world is positive because of the people we’ve met along the way.

Cultural exchange happens especially when you give up the idea of what is should look like. Our hosts are always as interested in us, our experiences and our take on culture as we are on them.

Outing to Tikal, Guatemala arranged through couch surfing community boards.

Tips

You have to be flexible though, and consider when people are traveling, things change. So if you can’t handle  people not confirming, showing up on time, etc. these things happen. They are not a personal attack, it’s just people enjoying their travels.

Be clear about your expectations as a host:
As for the other problems, you could post on your profile the things you allow in your home and the things you do not allow — and be clear up front with your expectations. It’s a good idea to express what you want out of the couch surfing experience and you can post that on your profile.

Hosting in a popular city: You can even write a question embedded in your profile and say you only respond to replies that include an answer to the question or certain words. Because we had so many requests in Antigua Guatemala, we asked people to write the words “fuzzy turtle” in the subject line to make sure they read our profile and what we were looking for as part of the cultural exchange.. That way I was assured we had a good experience and less ‘canned requests’.

Couch surfer Vladimer & Deb enjoying a breakfast beer

Show your guest’s YOUR city: Take your guests out and showed them YOUR city. That’s why people are there.. One of our favorite experiences was hosting Vladimir from Russia in our home in Los Angeles. We took Vlad to hike up to the Hollywood sign, showed him Downtown LA (and traffic jams), took him to an art opening, went to the chocolate bar inside Wholefoods in Pasadena and had a hipster’s breakfast of beer and pancakes in Silverlake.

But don’t people just want a free place to crash?

As for saving money, of course that’s a given, but in my experience, because people are saving money, they are more likely to share a meal together, cook or treat their hosts to dinner.

Still not sure? Listen to our Podcast about Couchsurfing:

Podcast Episode #8

Sleeping with Strangers

Podcast Episode #8 – Sleeping with Strangers

In Episode #8 Lainie & Miro talk about their experiences with the global project known as Couchsurfing.com

As longtime Couchsurfers & hosts, they have made many significant friendships through the project, experienced a global community, and provided & received the economic benefits associated with Couchsurfing during travel.  Also in this episode, Lainie interviews Tom, Couchsurfing Ambassador from Bonn Germany about his role in the project.

Lainie & Miro talk about their experiences with the global project known as Couchsurfing.com As longtime Couchsurfers & hosts, they have made many significant friendships through the project, experienced a global community, and provided & received the economic benefits associated with Couchsurfing during travel.

Finally, read about our: 

Our Mormon Couch Surf Experience in Massachusetts

13 Comments

  1. Dayna and Kurt 8 years ago

    Lainie I love this! u00a0I came across your site a couple of years ago, coincidentally just after joining Couchsurfing as well! u00a0Your blog was one of several that really moved us to take the plunge at the beginning of this year, and now we are happily traveling and learning as well! u00a0Now that we are hosting again at our temporary home in Croatia, I would agree that communication is really the best tool for having memorable and incredible experiences. u00a0Keep in touch, I’d love to meet someday!n

  2. Ali Sidd 8 years ago

    Hi, nice post! Both the host and the guest need to be enthusiatic and cooperative. I’d suggest you checkoutu00a0http://volunteerstays.com/, the site lets you find and choose guests that best meets your criteria. Everything is prettyu00a0much clearly laid out in the profiles so both the host and the guests are clear about the expectations beforehand.

  3. Sam Kynman-Cole 8 years ago

    Couch surfing really changed my travelling experience. After hostelling for half a year it got pretty tiresome and couch surfers I stayed with really reinvigorated the travelling life. Just try it.

  4. Natoyah 7 years ago

    Great and informative article! These are the types of experiences my family and I hope to have. 🙂 happy traveling!

    • Author
      ilainie 7 years ago

      I hope you’ll try couchsurfing! It’s the best way to create an instant community in a foreign place. If you need any suggestions, please let us know! Happy surfingT

  5. Lynnette Harper 7 years ago

    I am linking all of my friend who think that I am a lunatic for CouchSurfing to your site. This is the most eloquent and wonderful explanation of couchsurfing I have ever encountered. Thank you!
    I have had nothing but amazing and quirky experiences both hosting and surfing. Of course-I am direct to the point of blunt in my profile and in the discussion prior to the stay.
    Everyone’s happier when they know what to expect:)
    Thank you again!!

  6. Vanessa 6 years ago

    Loved hearing your experience surfing and being a host! I haven’t surfed yet, but between this and house sitting/house stays (like Wimdu, etc), I have a feeling there are a lot of cool cheap places/ cultural exchanges just waiting to happen! 😀

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