Guest Post: Couchsurfing – A host’s perspective

by Kate on September 25, 2012 · 8 comments

The world is at your doorstep… are you willing to let it in?

Ever since I was little, I had wanted to be a teacher. I worked hard, studied hard (and okay I’ll admit I might have partied hard along the way too), but in the end I made it happen. For both my undergrad and post-grad I went to universities pretty far from home which allowed me to live in a different part of my own country and the world and experience a new way of life each time. I got my education as I was expected to do, but I also got to travel too; sounds like I got to have my cake and eat it too, as they say.  I think I had the best of both worlds really, studying and traveling. I was educated not only in academics, but culture as well. I consider myself to be pretty fortunate for the countless amazing opportunities and experiences I’ve had thus far in my life.

LOUNGING ON DECK Now as I continue my expat life, working hard to educate and inspire the local 6 year olds and to save money to make new dreams of travelling come true, I find myself reading heaps of different travel blogs of all sorts of people who are off seeing the world. I can’t help but be inspired to be meeting all these different people, trying the various delicious foods and making friends from all over the world… but then I remember I’m stuck living at the beach, in New Zealand. I know, you’re really feeling bad for me, hey. Don’t you worry, I’ve found a way to stay put, keep saving, AND meet new people from all over the world!  You, too, can share new experiences and build new friendships from all over this 3rd rock from the sun, without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Shed your inhibitions and give CouchSurfing a go.

I said get rid of your inhibitions, not your common sense. Yes, strangers can be scary; committing to staying with or having one stay in your home can be daunting and I’m sure there are lots of valid reasons not to. Some people are adamant about not picking up hitchhikers, while others stop for each and every one. I have picked up hitchhikers before and had a great conversation. Do I accept every couch request that comes into my inbox? I sure don’t.

Based on my own experiences, I personally believe that the majority of the people that use the CouchSurfing network are genuine and sincere people looking to share and experience the local culture of the place they may’ve worked so hard to get to, deeper than the typical hostel shenanigans where you’re simply surrounded by other foreigners. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who sign up just for the free accommodation.   But the interaction can be priceless. The more I talk to other travellers, my bucket list continues to grow with more cool things to do and see, and we share cool tips on what to do and lessons we’ve learned the hard way so that others don’t have to.

LOUNGE COUCHSURFING WHAT DO I GET OUT OF IT?
I am a firm believer in karma, what goes around comes around, in treating others how you’d like to be treated. When someone stays with me, I like to show the hospitality that I would like to receive. Since being a member of CouchSurfing, I have been gifted the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing strangers by welcoming them into my home. Watching the reaction of people who have turned up in the dark, wake up next to the sea or just relax watching the sun set over the bay is really cool. We’ve thrown a ‘classic kiwi 21st’ for a fellow Canadian, picked up a hitchhiker while camping in Spirit’s Bay who also turned out to be a CouchSurfer, hosted a couple who were riding their bikes across the country and  shared many great meals and conversations with interesting people I would have otherwise never met.  I have all these priceless memories simply because a risk was taken to turn a stranger into a friend.

IS IT ALL GOOD?
Obviously in life, you’re going to come across people that you just clash with. I’ve hosted well over 40 different groups of people in the 2 years, and among those, only 1 person stands out as a ‘bad’ experience. Albeit I was still quite new to the hosting game, and I didn’t have my expectations laid out clearly as I do now, and I felt quite awkward speaking up when I felt ripped off, so I didn’t do much to remedy the situation. It wasn’t a terrible or horrible experience, but definitely a good learning curve for me as a host. I took that as a learning opportunity, made some changes to prevent the situation from happening again and am now quite clear on my profile of what I can offer and expect from guests. I’ve done my best to ensure that neither party is disappointed.

7 TIPS FOR AN ENJOYABLE HOSTING EXPERIENCE:

COUCHSURFIN REFERENCE *LOOK AT PROFILES –I mean actually read and have a good look at what people have said about themselves, as well as what others have to say (in the references).

*TRUST YOUR GUT – you know that little voice inside your head often has a little switch that either clicks ‘yep they seem ok’ or causes warning bells to start going off. I use the same feeling to decide whether or not pick up hitchhikers. You have that reaction for a reason and it can be pretty accurate. Don’t feel that you have to say yes to everyone and anyone that asks! It is okay to say you’re out of town, busy or not even give a reason as to why you can’t host.

*LEAVE REFERENCES – whether you’ve hosted or surfed, after your experience  make sure you take a minute to reflect to post something about your time with the other person, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. I call karma documentation. And it makes for a great/easy way to remember all your CS adventures, and people you’ve met.

*BE HONEST about your experience – the reference system is the backbone to the whole idea and what makes the CouchSurfing community safe, so if you have a truly negative experience it is important to document this. If you have a personality clash with someone but they were a suitable guest, it’s okay to give a neutral reference.  I have read a couple dodgy profiles that have set off those warning bells in my gut, and after reading further found references that confirmed my unsettling suspicions. At times like those, I REALLY appreciate that foresight from others!

*BE CLEAR about what you can and can’t provide – Whether you’ve got spare bedroom at your house, a couch or even an air  mattress for them to sleep on, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you have to give away everything you’ve got. You don’t need to feel obligated to feed guests the entire contents of your kitchen, or use all your petrol driving them around.  Just let them know nicely from the beginning, it makes it so much easier and less awkward.

*SET LIMITS (and stick to them) – how long you want people to stay with you, how many at a time, where they can go in your home. Most people will totally respect this, as those who are using CouchSurfing for its original purpose will generally just be grateful for your hospitality.

*MAKE TIME – in my opinion it’s best to make sure you’ve got some time to spend with the person who will be staying with you, so that you can exchange your travel stories, and get to know the stranger that you’re welcoming into your home. Of course, ‘real life’ has been known to get in the way and we all just do the best we can.

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canuckiwikate Kate Clarke is a Canadian expat teaching in New Zealand since 2009. Lover of beaches, sunsets, food, interesting people, traveling, roadtrips and couchsurfing.  Here to share her stories and connect with like-minded travellers, her expat life teaching in New Zealand continues to be the biggest adventure of her life (so far)!

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike September 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

Great advice! Thanks for sharing! Safe Travels !!!

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Kate - CanuckiwiKate September 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Thanks Mike!
Kate – CanuckiwiKate recently posted..Photo Friday! Week 35: Looking down the Steepest StreetMy Profile

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Liv September 26, 2012 at 1:49 am

This is an interesting insight into the couchsurfing world!
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Kate - CanuckiwiKate September 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Thanks, Liv! I know the idea isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s so worth a shot!
Kate – CanuckiwiKate recently posted..Photo Friday! Week 35: Looking down the Steepest StreetMy Profile

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Melissa September 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I’d love to send a massive THANK YOU out to Kate for contributing such a great, informative and well written article. <3

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Kate - CanuckiwiKate September 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

You are most welcome! I’ve learned from the best, you know!
Thanks for all your website/blogging teachings so far 😉
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Kyle Goes Global September 26, 2012 at 8:05 am

Great read, I’m currently working on updating my Couch Surfing profile for being on the road and looking to host a few travelers coming through Chicago in the next 5 weeks prior to my departure! Thanks for the advice – and I really do think the “trust your gut” is one of the best ways to tell.

Couch Surfing’s a great community and I’m really looking forward to diving into it!
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Kate - CanuckiwiKate September 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Cheers, Kyle! My profile is a bit out dated now and could probably do with a sprucing as well.
“trust your gut” will get you pretty far, and the more you listen, the more you reliable it becomes. Can’t go wrong with some good ol’ common sense, hey!

You are too right, the CouchSurfing community is quite awesome and definitely something worth being a part of! Good luck on your RTW and if/when you find yourself in NZ – you know how to find my couch!
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