I had another post lined up for today, which included lots of pretty photos of flowers and dragonflies. Screw that right now-I’m in the mood for a rant thanks to an unexpected response to an email message I sent on couch surfing. If you surf, or host, or both, then this post is for you.
*Note: I was motivated to write this because I had left a nice reference for this host, and a few months passed, no reference for me was ever left. I really wanted to know why she didn’t leave me one, so I wrote her a nice email and asked her, and her incredibly nasty response was what prompted this blog post.
I have hosted many couch surfers over the years. Last year alone in Australia, we hosted about 20 people in the 6 short months we were in our apartment in Cairns. When I moved to a remote part of Tasmania later on, I hosted again. Suffice to say we love meeting people and really enjoyed hosting all those lovely souls- some of whom we are still in touch with. I think couch surfing is a great idea, but unfortunately my only surfing experience in O’ahu, Hawaii was pretty shitty. I have heaps of hosting experience now so I’m offering some tips to others looking to host.
Mistake #1: If you don’t really want to do anything other than offer a couch, you should not be a CS Host.
Clearly this is the most obvious thing about couch surfing- people will come from all over the world with different thoughts, ideas, and habits. Assuming that all of your guests will have the same needs will only result in headache for you and the person you are hosting.
How this affected me when I surfed: I received this feedback from the host: “You were not very independent and consistently asked for things that were above and beyond what should be asked for.”
The story: I had arrived in O’ahu (Waikiki) with a reservation to stay at a hotel for the first 2 nights. I was to stay with this person for the next 2 nights. We made an arrangement for me to arrive at her apartment sometime in the afternoon. If you have ever stayed at a hotel, you KNOW check out time is usually in the morning. I had no problem with putting my stuff in storage until it was a good time to arrive at my host’s house. My host went out to the beach. I called her around 5pm to ask when was a good time to come over. My host informed me that she was at the beach still and was coming back to her home ‘soon’. At this point, it was getting late and I was feeling a bit unwelcome. Which brings me to mistake #2.
Good host fix: Remember that you have offered to host someone in your home. Just because they are not paying you does not mean they don’t deserve a bit of hospitality on your part. Remember that no one has forced you to open your home, YOU have decided to do so. Think of your guests’ needs as if you were traveling in their shoes.
Mistake #2: If you can’t consider the feelings of your guest then you do not need to be hosting.
Couchsurfing is even more daunting then sleeping in a dorm. You are in a new, unfamiliar place staying with a total stranger. It takes little effort to make your guest feel welcome in your home.
How this affected me when I surfed: I asked my host what time she was getting home and she said “soon.” I had been out of my hotel all afternoon, walking around in the heat. I was pretty tired and I wanted to recover my things from the hotel storage- they had said they would only store my things for a little while- so I was anxious to move on to my next destination. When I mentioned I had my stuff in the hotel storage, my host responded with “I will be leaving soon, but if you want I can leave my friends right now and head home so you can come and bring your things.”
The story: When she said that to me, I pretty much felt like I was inconveniencing her. I was walking back to the center of town and was actually going to be passing the very place (a park) where my host said she was at. Instead of possibly waiting for me, which would have been a great way to introduce herself to me, knowing it was my first time surfing- and we could have walked back to town together- she fled the park in a hurry, making me feel terrible, as if I had somehow forced her to abandon her friends to run home so she could be there when I arrived. I felt so bad about it as soon as I got back to the hotel I checked in for another night and told her I had jet lag and I would come the next day. Nothing like making a person feel unwelcome!
Good Host Fix: If you agree to host someone, put yourself in their shoes if possible. If you know it is 5pm chances are the guest would like to head on over to your place and maybe shower, or eat something, or even be excited to meet you. The point of surfing is to meet locals, so if you know the person has been out walking around all day in the heat- think of what you would want in their position. We always tried to make sure we were home when we had couch surfers coming over. When we knew they were arriving, we would meet them at the door, offer them a nice welcome, a shower, some food, anything. The point is to make the guest feel welcome- since YOU have invited them into your home.
Mistake #3: Know what your role is when hosting and what you expect from your guest ahead of time.
Now if you have a job, and are really busy, I understand that. You have agreed to give this person shelter in your home so be clear what you need or expect from them in return.
How this affected me when I surfed: I also got this little nugget from my host- “You were stressed throughout, and that stress seeped into me during the stay.” I was definitely stressed out. It was my first time surfing, and I had already received a less than friendly welcome. The following day, my host told me she was going on a hike with some friends who had a car and she invited me, saying it might rain but they were going anyway. I declined, wanting to spend the morning sorting out some things and honestly I didn’t want to wet my brand new hiking boots. I believe my host was put off by this. I called her later on to ask her if she minded picking me up on her way back (since she said she was with a friend who had a car) she declined, so I took a taxi. For me it was not a big deal, but it must have been for her since she wrote: “picking you up at the hotel even though I had explained I didn’t have a car and had given you detailed directions of where I lived.” Well I only asked because she mentioned she had a car that day! Geez! The next day I was going to pick up my own rental car at the airport. I asked her the best way to get there and she told me to take the bus. After writing down which buses I needed to take (she offered to look it up) I asked her if she wanted to come with me- it was a nice sunny day and I could buy her lunch, or take her anywhere she needed to go- she declined, afterwards writing this: “Taking the bus with you to the airport that would have been at least a 90-minute round trip.” I was trying to be nice! If you really felt put off by helping with directions, or by me offering you lunch, or wasting 90 minutes of your day- then you should not be hosting! Seriously!
Good Host Fix: A host is someone who wants to show you around, or is willing to help you with directions and not complain about it. When we hosted people, we gave them directions on how to get to town, made meals together, HUNG OUT. If you don’t want to do any of those things, then reconsider being a host.
The end of the story:
During one of our outings at the beach, I met a friend of hers who I agreed to take skydiving to the North Shore in my rental car. We had a nice lunch, of which he paid for at his insistence. We blasted the music to sunny skies as we sped over to the North Shore, where we noticed the clouds. The sky dive was cancelled. Bummed, I told the friend I was staying at a hotel on the North Shore beach that night and since I had to take him back to Waikiki, he offered to help me find the hotel in the daylight, saying it was harder at night to find some of the smaller hotel entrances in the dark. We arrived at the hotel and I had no cell phone service- which meant I’d be spending 3 nights without being able to work online or talk to Mike, who I was luckily meeting after not seeing him for 5 months. I was devastated. He offered to go with me to a cell phone store and they were unable to sort out my problem, and it did take longer than I had wanted it to. Nevertheless the friend entertained himself by purchasing a Go Pro 3 (it was a Radio Shack) and seemed pretty relaxed. I drove him back to his apartment and that was the end of it. My couch surfing host sent me this in her email:
“Also, I spoke with X about the trip to go skydiving, and he explained what happened. The fact that you dragged him to a store to deal with your phone instead of going skydiving, which you had mutually agreed to do, was a waste of one of his few days off. It’s not like you had a fun alternate adventure together. He just watched you deal with a phone that really could have been put off for another day.”
I’m sorry what? I can’t stand blatant liars. I wrote her back and explained what really happened, but I was wasting my energy so I decided to put the rest of it here. Ultimately, you can’t force things from anyone but in conclusion this is what I believe to be true:
I thought I did everything right since I had hosted so many times before. I went out to dinner with my host & her friends the night I stayed with her, paid for myself, laughed and took photos. Her friends were nice and I thought it was a great evening, which ended with her confiding in me about how horrible her roommate’s girlfriend was for him and all sorts of other things I really didn’t need to know. I didn’t make noise when I woke up in the morning to get the rental car, made no mess, cleaned up my stuff, and overall I thought I was a good guest. Unfortunately she didn’t see it that way.
I don’t really feel the need to couchsurf as I love having my privacy and I only did it for the experience of saying I had ‘surfed, not to take advantage of anyone’s hospitality. I won’t be doing it again. For all the bullshit I went through, and then her nasty email, I’d rather pay for a hotel as I have always done. I will continue to host though. I love feeding people, listening to their stories, and learning about their lives. I mean we even had a girl stay with us for 2 weeks! We understood her financial situation and we just love helping out. I think some people just host couchsurfers for the wrong reasons. I’m sure I can have good experiences with others in the future but honestly the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth and I’m in no hurry to repeat it.
What do you think about my couch surfing experience? Have anything similar happen to you while surfing? Anything to add about being a good host or guest? I want to hear about it!