An Ode to Couchsurfing

Have you heard of the website couchsurfing.com? Because I truly believe it has changed my life. I got on it after a traveler I had met in Palolem visited Bangalore and stayed at my place. I have an extra room and I didn’t want a flatmate really, so couchsurfing seemed a great way (as one of my couchsurfers put it) to get some karma points.

I’ve hosted more than I have surfed, mostly because, my travel after I got on the site has been restricted to within India, where hostels are cheap and convenient. The one time I did surf was after a last minute hostel cancellation because of overbooking, and despite the hurriedness, it was still an awesome experience.

In the time between, when the spirit to travel has been willing but I haven’t had the time or money, I’ve hosted travelers at my house. I’ve hosted 9 people so far, which, compared to the hundreds that others have hosted, is quite modest. But I have loved every one of my guests for a variety of reasons. For some it has been because they helped me see my city with new eyes, some engaged me in conversations that made me reconsider ideas that I had previously believed in. Some cooked for me, some left the place cleaner than it was when they got there. The one thing that was true with each of them is that they stopped being strangers after the first hello.

Maybe it is a traveller thing, or maybe it is just a human thing that we never really consider, but I had not anticipated the ease I would feel with having people I had never met before stay in my house. It helped that everyone I hosted could speak English, so conversation was easy, but with each surfer, it felt like I was meeting an old friend.

I’ve had a lot of people who react with shock when I tell them about the website. Some say that I should go on AirBnB instead. I might sometime in the future, if I ever have the luxury of a spare room again, but I don’t think I will ever give up completely on couchsurfing. There’s an element of trust that surfers and hosts place in each other, and I think I’ve had 10 examples of how that’s not such a bad idea after all!

I do have advice for novices, when it comes to Couchsurfing so here goes.

1. Invite : Travelers on the site often post public trips, so you can see who is visiting your city and you can invite them to your house. The alternative would be for travelers to look for hosts and ask if they can stay. I’ve always found the former option easier, simply because you know you are free on those dates and there’s not much of moving around that you have to do. I knew I needed references before people would ask me to host them, so all my inital surfers were invited to stay . It was only after I had hosted 3 people that I started getting requests. So yup. That’s tip number 1. Start off by inviting people and then see how it goes!

2. Read the profile and references: it’s important to read someone’s profile and references even if it’s just to have something to talk about when they’re at your place. I’ve declined quite a few surfers because of an inadequate profile, so I guess along with reading profiles and references, it’s important that you write a good profile for yourself as well. Not too long, not too short and most importantly, honest!

3. House Rules : It’s important for you to know before hand a few things that will help you and your surfers feel comfortable in your house. No surfer expects a free rein over your house, so instead of making them wonder what they can or cannot do, just tell them!

4. Don’t run yourself ragged : It’s nice if you have time to spend with your surfers, but there’s no need to bend over backwards. They will understand if you’re busy or just want to be alone for a while. That being said, I think it’s best if you avoid hosting if you know you’re going to be super busy because a guest will only add to your stress.

If you’ve ever considered it, I suggest you go ahead and take the plunge. Try it out! It will definitely be a learning experience!

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