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I recently joined the website couchsurfing.org. The basic premise is that when travelling, you stay on people’s couches for free. Likewise, you host “couchsurfers” for free in your city.
There are several safeguards. Each host/surfer is given a reference from their hosts/surfers – i.e. when someone stays at my place, I give them a “surfer” reference, and they would give me a “host” reference. There are three options – good, bad, and neutral – and room for a few words. You use their references when deciding whether to let someone stay, and when deciding who you, as a surfer, would like to stay with.
As well, you are not obligated to let someone crash on your couch. When contacted, you can decline, for any reason. Maybe you’re busy those days, maybe the person creeps you out, maybe you just don’t want company. Whatever it is, it’s up to you. However, you are expected to respond to the person, even if it is just to say “no.” The site keeps track of the requests you respond to, and that percentage is shown on your profile, another way to designate a dependable host.
As a host, you can put any (reasonable) limits on your guest. The number of nights they can stay, how much access they have to the house (i.e. the kitchen, your room. Basically, anything beyond the couch and the bathroom), any hours they cannot be in your house (e.g when you’re at work, when you’re giving piano lessons, when you’re bathing fluffy the iguana.), you can even state which gender – females only, males only, or either.
These limits, as well as other conditions surfers need to be aware of (pets? Your hours – are you a morning person, or night owl? Are you willing to act as a guide and show them around during their stay?) should be written in your profile. These (should) help ensure that there are no surprises for either surfer or host during the stay.
Shortly after signing up, I was contacted by a guy in France, who was looking for a couch mid September, for two to three nights. And after him, a girl from Germany who was hoping to find a couch for the weekend of August 27. The last one was a little short notice – I got the request maybe a week before the intended dates (it is currently one day before her arrival). I figured I might as well jump in with both feet, and said yes to both.
I have since put my couch as unavailable. I’d like to see how these two stays go before I entertain the idea of more. I also need to determine what I’m comfortable with – once a month? More often? Less? Would I prefer someone only on weekends, or is during the week ok? How long am I comfortable having someone else in the apartment?
Potentially, I will try the opposite in December, when I travel to Costa Rica? Canary Islands? Wherever I end up. I’m hoping to couchsurf at least on city – perhaps not the entire trip, but one portion of it, to see the other side of the coin. If I enjoy it, I can always do it again in another country at another time.