Couchsurfing gone wrong

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.

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Mike and I with 2 of our awesome couch surfing guests in Australia

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:

Hosting requires:

Patience-Understanding-Compromise-Compassion 

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.

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An amazing dinner that a couple who stayed with us made one night. Learned some new dishes from some of our guests! The best experiences.

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!

32 Comments

  • JC Gibbs says:

    That’s such a shame. I’ve considered couch surfing mostly because of the experience and to meet others and what happened to you is one of the reasons it throws me off.

    I wish I could offer a couch. I live in a tiny studio with barely space for myself, so hopefully someday I’ll be able to host!

    Maybe the next time you only contact couch surf hosts to meet for lunch when visiting a town to at least enjoy that side of hospitality besides hosting fir others. You guys are wonderful and if I ever couch surf with you I’ll share some Panamanian recipes :)

    • Mica says:

      Aww thanks JC. Would love to learn some Panamanian recipes. And definitely will try to meet up with people for lunch or a drink instead of asking for a couch. Others have had great experiences so I’m sure it can go either way. Your website looks amazing, I’m checking out your recipes and following you on FB now! So nice of you to get in touch here :-)

  • I’ve only couchsurfed once in Indonesia, and since it was a particularly awesome experience, I’m hesitant to try it again. Especially after hearing what a cow you stayed with. I figure it’s best if I just get out now with my “win.” :)

    • Mica says:

      Yup I don’t know where I went wrong but damn that lady for making me feel like I was imposing. Good to get out while the going was ‘good’. I feel burned now so unless I see an awesome host in the future, don’t think I’ll do it again. Although this lady got good reviews and she was a Journalism teacher at the Uni there. So not sure. Meh.

      • Gunther Blokienspell says:

        After reading all the way through your story Sir, i can see nothing at fault from your part. This person is clearly in Couchsurfer for all the wrong reasons. Either that or she’s putting her expectations way too high, Or she just has plain old mental health issues.

        I got a negative rep from a fellow German person, she said that i was sleazy around her and came onto her every minute of the 1 day she spend in my house. For the record that was complete and utter bullshit on her part, Because i am gay for one thing, I am not interested in women, Least of all women who look like justin Bieber.

  • Jill says:

    Oh man, that sucks :(

    Did this person get good references from previous surfers?

    I hope you gave an honest review. It’d help future surfers.

    • Mica says:

      Hi Jill, she had good reviews from others yup. She had similar interests I thought- she was a professor at the University, loved the outdoors, ect. The whole thing started because I left her a nice review and I didn’t ever get one back, so yesterday I wrote her to ask her why and when she sent me that nasty letter, I flipped out. I didn’t want to leave her a super honest review because I didn’t want her to leave me something mean and ruin my chances to surf again, so I thought I’d take the high road. But I guess she thought different. I went back after I wrote this post and erased my review for her. So just going to leave it at that.

  • Jill says:

    Just reading this made me feel so uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what it was like to actually live it and then receive the feedback. Obviously, you couldn’t have done anything to please this host. Hopefully, other future hosts will read your tips and other situations like this can be avoided.

    • Mica says:

      Hi Jill, I hope so. I was so stressed, having just left Australia (where I’d been for the year), seeing my partner who I hadn’t seen in 5 months, staying with a stranger, then the phone issues. The last thing I needed was this lady and her attitude. I can afford to stay in a hotel so I definitely wasn’t doing it for the free couch, which ended up being a tiny inflatable bed on a floor with a super uncomfortable pillow, and I saw roaches in the night. So for me it was pretty bad! And Mike was saying what you are saying as well- I was going to write her and argue with her and he was like, just forget it. Obviously she’s made up her mind already. So I decided to vent my frustrations in this post. I do hope other people read this and I wish no one ever has to go through a host like this ever again.

  • What a shame! I’m sorry to hear your first Couchsurfing host wasn’t all you thought might be. Sometimes that happens. My first surfing experience was before I had ever hosted (about 2 years ago) and I was so nervous about being the “perfect” guest that I was stressed the whole time. But I was still hooked. My hosts took me out to dinner, let me play with their dog and sat and chatted with me for hours. I’ve never had an experience like yours, but I’ve definitely felt like I’ve inconvenienced people in the past.

    I totally agree with what you say about how Couchsurfing hosts “should” be. However, with 6 million members there always going to be a few folks who’s ideas of CS won’t align with yours. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t surf again! Obviously you need to do what makes you feel comfortable and welcome, but not all CS hosts are like that. You yourself are the perfect example! Remember, don’t forget to leave a reference for this host!

    • Mica says:

      Hi Marian,

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. I know the community has grown so much and there will always be people who won’t ‘jive’ with others. That’s totally normal. I was just all the more disappointed because I had spent time going through all the hosts and picking, what I thought, was one that matched closely to my interests and personality.

      I don’t expect hosts to go as far as we do with our duties with hosting- I don’t have kids and I love to mother people. And it helps that I am a chef, so I always had muffins ready for them to take when they left, and I made huge dinners and breakfasts with homemade waffles and things. I loved making people feel welcome. However, I had left a reference for this host. I said lots of nice things because she had lots of positive references and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. After a while, I noticed she had not left me a reference which was why I wrote her a message asking her what was up. Her nasty email made me so angry I decided to write this article.

      Also, perhaps I was expecting too much? I got a small inflatable bed with a tiny pillow (not really a pillow) and there were roaches I saw in the night. But as no one had mentioned these things in any references, I think people believe since they are getting a ‘free’ place to stay they can’t really complain about those things so I didn’t mention them. In any case, I don’t want her to leave me a nasty reference like she did in her email so I just erased the one I had left for her. I’m over it, I took out all my anger in this post. It was therapeutic and I just want to forget about it. If I go back and write all these things, she might go back and leave me the same kind of reference. So no one wins. Either way, I hate arguing with people so I’ll just leave it at that.

      I might try it again in the future, but I will be on the lookout for any of these things that happened before. Maybe the second time won’t be as bad.

  • Vicky says:

    Such a shame you had such a negative experience. i can’t believe she sent you such a nasty email. We’ve couchsurfed both in Asia and Europe many times throughout our trip and have only had positive experiences. I guess sometimes you do just a bad host but don’t let that stop you from couchsurfing again! The hosts aren’t all like that!

    • Mica says:

      I know, everyone keeps saying the good ones are out there! Thanks for the encouraging words Vicky.

  • Sofie says:

    Wow, I think I’d feel REALLY unwelcome if I’d been in your shoes.
    I haven’t couch surfed before and although I’ve read a lot of great stories about it, this is an off putter:/

    • Mica says:

      Sofie I didn’t even know why she bothered. But she had good references. You just never know with people!

  • Mia says:

    I had such a bad CS experience that I definitely will never do it again. Plus the stories I heard really put me off. It might be a good idea for some but for me it’s a no no. If you want to know about it you can just find it on my blog. I have to say there must be good hosts out there and I am sure not all surfers had my experience. Regarding your article I agree with Mica, why she accepted in the first place I will never understand. If you’re not willing to be hospitable don’t do it.

  • Freya says:

    What a terrible experience you had, unbelievable what some people are like. I never tried couchsurfing and not sure I will after reading quite some bad experiences.

    • Mica says:

      Hi Freya,

      I don’t understand some people either. It won’t stop me from welcoming people into our home whenever we get the chance, as I still love the idea of couchsurfing and giving back to the travel community. We love meeting people so it works for us, this is what happens when it doesn’t work for others!

  • Que agua fiestas! Your host, that is. I’m sorry to hear about your awful couchsurfing experience. It’s supposed to be a fantastic way of meeting people when traveling (or vice versa, when you’re not, lol). Your host definitely seems a little anal-retentive. Maybe AirBnb would suit her better or… not hosting at all!

    • Mica says:

      Ugh I know. I still think about how I could have done something different ….and then I go no. Nope.

  • Lee Carter says:

    We have couch surfed a few times with mostly amazing experiences. I find picking the right person to request in the first place is half the battle.

    • Mica says:

      Hi Lee,

      Yes I think you made a very important point. I spent 3 days researching CS to find what I thought was going to be the right person. We had the same interests, close in age, and I liked the things she wrote on her profile in general. Even if you find what you think is the right person, things can always go wrong! I think its luck for the most part.

  • Berba says:

    Couchsurfing is still great but there is 10% men being a problem on the site. In Dubai for example, if a woman is raped, she would be jailed for this. It is like in Pakistan where 80% of the women jailed are jailed because having being raped. The same law applies. Every time I try nicely to inform women about this, as I surfed not knowing, and took stupid risks, the men on the site, mostly from Pakistan, always delete my comments. And the thing is the safety team seems to always be on their side, saying no women rights activism. In fact it was so obvious the last letter I received from the safety team from a certain Caytee, that I started to have doubt about this Caytee being a woman and being based in United States. As we all know a lot of companies locate their on line services in India. And in India, a lot of workers are from Pakistan as well. So I thought but would it be possible Caytee would be a Pakistanese man, based in India? And if yes, so is it legal from Couchsurfing to pretend to have a safety team run by women in United States when it is in fact men based in India? Which would explain the lack of banner and information in Dubai and the will to not inform women about their rights.

  • Max says:

    Seriously, it’s called coach-surfing. Are you genuinely expecting everyone to adapt to your needs? If you are allowed to enter and sleep in the home of another person you should be grateful and try to your best capacities (and not coach surf if your capacities aren’t adapted for basic social interaction with other humans or animals), to listen to what persons needs i.e. try to be the less of a pain in the ass to the host.

    Cheers,

    • Mica says:

      Hi Max,

      Thanks for your comment. But seriously, it’s called Couch Surfing. Not coach surfing. And if you read the article, I was not expecting this host to adapt to me. I’m plenty grateful. I’ve hosted dozens of people in my apartments all over the world. I know how to host & no one was being a pain in the ass. Except the host. Ha!

  • Chandra says:

    I hope in the future you do not leave a good reference if that is not what you experienced. The whole point of referrals is so that someone else does not end up in the situation you where. To mislead people to get a good reference defeats the whole purpose and would make you an unreliable reference.

    • Mica says:

      Hi Chandra, thanks for your comment. I think you missed the whole point of my article. Other than my personal opinions on roaches and being woken up, I thought I had originally had a decent time with this host and her friends. There are roaches all over islands- in most parts of the world. And I most certainly did not leave her a good reference to get one myself, I have enough of those. I didn’t get murdered at her apartment so therefore it was a safe decent place to stay. The other stuff that came out after she refused to leave me a review- well, I can’t help but think I should not have written a review at all. It is everyone’s right to leave a review or not. My experience wasn’t unsafe or scammy, so I could just have said nothing. Things happen, there is confusion, but yes I think in the end saying nothing would have worked for me. She had so many good references you’re not always going to like every place or get along with everyone. I was just genuinely surprised by her reply to my review about how she said I was a bad guest. As far as I know, I was not. So it all comes down to he said she said. Perhaps the person before me had a great time and the person after had a great time as well. I have learned from this experience though and I won’t be making the same mistake again.

  • menina says:

    Unlike everyone else, I do feel a bit of sympathy with the host. It is really up to the surfer to figure out what the host is offering. In particular, saying “Mistake #1: If you don’t really want to do anything other than offer a couch, you should not be a CS Host” is unfair. This person is opening their house to you for free, and it really is on you to be as non- invasive and accommodating as possible (ie, getting there by yourself at the time they suggest). If she´s being unclear about the time then just text and ask her to clarify, ONCE. She clearly was irritated and inconvenienced by your stay, and although part of that may be on her, it was your first stay too and you should try and take it on the chin and learn from it. She was decent enough to not write you a public reference and ruin CS for you in future.

    What both the host, and you, need to learn here is what are your expectations of your time in their home. I have surfed for years, and always ask people if they prefer me to do my own thing and mind me coming back late, or if they would like to make plans together (people will reply honestly with “ywe´ll give you the key so you can come and go” or “I love showing people around”, its simple and quickly allows you to get a lay of the land).

    I have also hosted people for many years, and always always say in advance ” although I would love to hang out, I am a freelancer and work odd/excessive hours” and “this is probably best suited to travellers who are independent and don´t mind getting on with their own devices”. I STILL sometimes get people who turn up and expect me to pick them up / stay in with them / go out with them / show them around etc. You are getting a place to stay for free, and I am happy to chat and offer suggestions and tips but also have my own life and career. If you want or need to socialise in a group then pay for a hostel. Your host even offered to take you hiking, which you turned down!

    • Mica says:

      I wasn’t asking to socialize in a group. I was merely trying to see what it felt like to be on the other side of couch surfing. And I always liked to socialize with my couchsurfers when I could. I believe that is a key part in hosting. If the person doesn’t want to interact or socialize with their guests then the guests should probably get a hotel. I feel the opposite of you, I think. Yes I turned down a hike, she didn’t offer to take me, she was already going with a group and I wasn’t up to it. Not a big deal. I did spend time with her and her friends at another time. So many things went wrong during that sit, most of all she promised me a bed in her room as she had a room mate and didn’t want to disturb him, also I’m in a relationship and I value privacy so that was a big deal to not be exposed or bother anyone since I really did want a private place to sleep, and when I arrived there was no private space, it was just a tiny blow up bed in a dirty living room, and her room mate got up at 6 or 7 am every day and made breakfast which woke me up. I have money to pay for a nice hotel. I just wanted to experience couch surfing. And not be misled. I’ve never promised a guest anything and then didn’t deliver. Anyway, thanks for your comments, love to add to the conversation, that means someone is still reading!

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