My love-hate relationship with Couchsurfing
Athens, Greece; August 2017
Cristos was my first host on Couchsurfing.
On my second day in Athens, I couldn’t get the keys to work. I texted Cristos, asking if he’d be home in a bit because I wanted to get a shower. The sweltering Athenian heat is killing me. I absentmindedly picked at my shorts, anxious for him to answer. My screen lit up and it’s suddenly not that hot anymore.
He said I used his home as a hostel. He said I didn’t know the true spirit of Couchsurfing. All I did was to ask a friend out in the afternoon and told him I might not be around at night, but we can always hang out after. What did I do? I could only apologize, again and again, hoping I didn’t sour things between us. He was passive-aggressive the whole time, refusing to accept my apology but also refusing to say that he’s mad at me.
He came back in 10 minutes, let me in, and went out again. The only word he said to me was “bye”. My second night in Athens was spent almost crying on the sofa, wondering what I’d done wrong.
Budapest, Hungary; November 2017
Him: “So, what’s going on? You’re still alive?”
Me: “Yeah, I’m great! Going back to Budapest soon!”
Him: “You’ve got to stay with me again! This time as my guest, and not my friend.”
Me: “I was always your guest and friend! I couchsurfed with you, remember? Thanks for the offer, but I’m spending some time with the guy I like in Budapest. We can still hang out though!”
Him: “Looks like I’ve been rejected before I asked. I was going after you.”
Me: “Huh??? What??? When did that happen??? What??”
Him: “Since the first time I set eyes on you.”
Me: “Uh, bruh, I’m really flattered, but I don’t see you that way. Sorry.”
Him: “It’s okay.”
Every message I’ve sent to him after that was ignored. He disappeared from my life.
Cluj-Napoca, Romania; November 2017
I’ve just arrived the home of my new hosts in Cluj-Napoca. The day before, Anna asked if I’m okay with cooking a meal together for her family. The stakes are high. My Asian pride is on the line: a cooking competition is going down. The same stirfry; mine plain and his with peanut butter sauce. I’m a shit cook, he’s the brother of my host who cooks every week for their family like a Hallmark movie.
Throughout the meal, the father of the family kept talking to me about Italy, giving me recommendations about the city. Everyone was laughing and drinking. The cooking competition was abandoned, although I personally think Vlad’s stirfry is better. We went through competitive games of Ligretto. A couple of beers later and suddenly we’re playing charades with the rest of the family. There was a financial presentation as well. Everyone was super supportive and encouraging.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch in the world.
It might not be monetary. I’ve not met anyone who asks for money from me, although I’ve met people who have had hosts like that. It’s an exchange of companionship and conversation, which I don’t mind very much normally. But there’ll always be a point where you’d get burnt out from all the things that you’ve heard. At times, I felt like I was devoid of personality, just listening and agreeing because the hosts just want to talk.
Although some hosts offer a private room, most don’t. I think it adds to the beauty of Couchsurfing, because even with limited means, people want to help travellers. But that also means that most of the time, there is very limited privacy. I can’t put on lotion with my pants off. I can’t leave a mess even though it’s within a 10cm radius of my backpack. It’s an open space, and to use it, you must obey the rules of the household.
The downright ugly
Many female travellers that I’ve talked to worried about the host taking advantage of them. And it can absolutely happen.
I was groped by a host in Macedonia when I was sleeping. It was incredibly naive of me to share a bed with a total stranger, but I was desperate for a place to stay. I’ve never forgotten it. It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had. I never confronted him because I was scared.
You’d have to take extra precautions to protect yourself. I can’t stress this enough: NEVER SHARE A BED WITH A STRANGER.
The saving grace
I love Couchsurfing. Without Couchsurfing, I might have to go home by the end of October. Travelling in a region with a currency five times more expensive is not a walk in the park. Having accommodation taken care of is unbelievably helpful to the whole journey. I’ve saved so much money by staying with people. It helped me explore more of the world.
I was with a host in Bucharest for a week and he never kicked me out. I’ve found hosts who are eager to show me their lives and their cities. There are hosts who are okay with me staying alone in their houses, not afraid that I’ll steal their stuff. I’ve even met people who would give me clothes to make sure I won’t freeze to death. It was a freaking blessing to have met so many amazing people in the world, ready to accept a stranger into their homes. It’s an amazing community. A community made out of the most kind-hearted and generous people on earth. I can’t even start to count how many times I’ve regained faith in humanity.
#1 Read through the profiles carefully
Going on Couchsurfing is a lot like going on Tinder. Everything that is presented on a profile is all you’d get to know about the person, regardless of whether it’s true or not. You’d have to be patient and read through all the stuff on the profile. The length of their profile tells you how much effort they are going to put into hosting you. The tone they use with their description tells you about their personality. Their pictures will allow you to decide whether it gives you good vibes. Be judgemental, but open-minded. Sometimes, friendship strikes with the person you expect the least. But before that, judge everything.
#2 Post on Public trip, and don’t jump on the first person who offered you a place to stay
Try not to do that unless you’re absolutely desperate. Desperation is definitely not the best perspective to adopt when you’re concerned for your own safety. Besides, you might get more offers as the date of your visit comes closer. So, just chill and try your best to write to as many people as you can. But if it doesn’t work…
#3 Have a backup plan
This is an oxymoron but always have a backup plan. Be it a hostel or an AirBnb, you need a place you can go to if you can’t find a host, or if you don’t feel safe with your host. It might put a dent in your budget, but spending a little money for your safety is always better than riding it out.
#4 Use the hangout function to make connections
I’ve had people offer me places to stay after hanging out through the app. It gives them a better feeling about who you are as a person and vice versa. Even if it didn’t work out that way, it’s still mighty fun to hang out with like-minded people.
#5 Be respectful, communicative and have fun
Most people on Couchsurfing are downright sweethearts. But even sweethearts can be bad communicators. Be sure to confirm everything; from your plans to your understanding of their house rules. It saves so much misunderstanding and conflict if everything was just made clear in the beginning. Ask if you can help around the house or if you can get something for them from the grocery store. Be mindful of your host’s needs and expectations and you’re good to go!
Would I continue to use Couchsurfing?
Absolutely. As I’ve said, I love the community. I love how kind people can be and how inspiring their stories are. I love the perspectives that the hosts offer to me and how differently I see the world after talking to so many amazing people. To be fair, a lot of things that happened with Couchsurfing was because I was desperate and callous about my safety. If I had kept a clear head, there won’t be so much shit in my Couchsurfing. Nonetheless, good or bad, these are amazing stories to tell.
Have you couchsurfed before? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! 🙂