I’ve been a member of the online travel community for about 4 years. I generally use it as a means to connect with people before I arrive in another country. There’s nothing quite like the reassurance of knowing you have a friend on the other side. It really does make the world seem a smaller place…
My first experience ‘couchsurfing’ in fact wasn’t with the site. I put out an ad for a ‘house swap’ for a week or so (think The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet). Living in central London can really take its toll and I desperately needed out. Somewhere quiet where I could gather my thoughts. The countryside. I got a response from a lady in the Czech Republic saying she and her daughter were coming to London in a few weeks. If I could host her, she’d be happy to host me in her family suburbia home in near Usti nad Labem. That lady is Kamila, and her daughter Helen was 12 at the time. I’ll never forget the look on her little face when I turned up at Victoria station to pick them up… (did I forget to mention I’m black? Opps!). Now she’s almost 16 and her favourite music genre is Reggae (and mentioned during an African dance workshop last year that she fancied the drummer… The only black guy in the room)!
My couch has had it’s fare share of surfers! To be honest the poor thing is sinking slighty, and I can never help but cringe when someone plummets on it expecting a firm surface. Never the less I refuse to get ride of it for sentimental reasons. It was one of my first ‘expensive’ buys when I first moved into my flat. When you buy your own full-sized couch you know you’re an adult! So, it’s not going into the trash until its sunk to the ground! Besides, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have called the slight ‘sink’ comfortable.
The guests. Well, my first ‘official’ guest from couchsurfing site was just the ideal guest! Renee from Valencia, Spain (see, I do like Spanish people!) We laughed, eat together, and she was into salsa dancing to we spent an evening at bar salsa dancing the night away. Its not always a song and dance when hosting. And I’ve accepted less guests since becoming a student. However my overall experience hosting has been good. Having said that I’ve had to make it clear on my profile that I use the site for cultural exchange. I’m trying to avoid the ‘freeloaders’ as much as possible.
My home is my temple. Not a hostel.
I can understand why many of my friends, especially females friends are skeptical about using couchsurfing to host or travel. Lets not beat about the bush. You’re letting a stranger into your home! But for the best of it, it’s felt like I’ve been letting friends into my home. How do I know it’s safe for me? Gut feeling. And references are a massive help. I’ve been lucky that I havent been put in any compromising situations. At the very least my guests are respectful, even if it turns out we don’t have much in common.
And it’s not a dating website!… But I’m meeting more and more people who’ve found their partners through the site! Sure, if there’s a mutual attraction who am I to judge? And besides, the common connection is often travel. Tania, a Mexican girl I hosted two yeas ago, told me that she was talking with a guy from CS. A month ago they got married! He moved to Mexico and they got married! Now that’s pretty cute.
But, no it’s not always cute. There are many men (and perhaps women but I’m yet to discover that) who use the site as a way lure in prey. It’s quite sickening and gives Couchsurfing a bad name. My advice is if you ever feel uncomfortable in a hosts home- leave!! A guest I had told me horror stories about having to lock herself the bathroom until morning after her host (male) tried to advance on her while she was sleeping! I urged her to leave him a negative reference to warn other potential guests about him.
If I’ve put you off couchsurfing, that wasn’t the intention! Like I say about the site- it’s a good idea. Let’s keep it safe and honest!