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Couchsurfing - A Crash Course

By Edited Dec 16, 2013 0 0

When I first heard about Couchsurfing.com, I thought it sounded fishy. Some adventurous travelers got together and formed a social networking site where people can offer up their couches to strangers, or conversely find free couches to crash on. In premise, couchsurfing is a good idea. The website, while going through its share of glitches over the years, is simple and easy-to-maneuver. You can create your own profile, list your own couch as open to surfers, state your availability, the number of people you're willing to take on and for how long you're okay with them staying.

The immediate questions creep to mind. Is it safe? How do you know they aren't serial killers or thieves? What if they do steal from you? And what if they smell? Well, basically there are no guarantees. Couchsurfing.com has instituted some safeguards to help keep people secure - they'll ensure your identity through credit card verification and send out mass email warnings about questionable users. It's supposed to work on the honor system, with people trusting and being trustworthy in the good name of travel.

I kind of like that aspect of couchsurfing. When you are traveling, you are away from home and shelter and you are always dependent on other people at least for some things. If travelers can trust travelers, that makes the world a little nicer, at least to my mind.

So, when I first tried it out, I was living a lonely foreigner life in a very small Chinese town. I thought couchsurfing might be a cool way to meet people, hopefully other foreigners traveling through, and if all else failed, I figured no one was realistically going to want to come to my town. I was sowing good couchsurfer karma without actually making myself the target of a serial killer. Besides, a serial killer would have to work really damn hard to even get to where I lived in China, so I felt that even if I had some takers they would be legitimate couchsurfers. Plus, the Chinese authorities are, shall we say, liberal in their application of coercion and punishment for capital offenses.

I got my first surfer about 5 months later. This American guy was traveling through China alone, couchsurfing as much as possible to save money. He was young - 19 - and we chatted a few times on MSN before I agreed to host him. He had passed all of my internet-friend-making tests - good grammar, speaks in complete sentences, doesn't type in all caps (IAM A NICE PERSUN _ TRUST ME YOU CANN), can coherently express himself without using internet shorthand, has a photo up on couchsurfing and a completed profile.

He stayed for two nights and, in that time, ruined my couch, strewed crap everywhere, complained about the restaurants I took him to, asked me to do his laundry and, when he finally departed, he left empty food wrappers all over the living room. I was disgusted and vowed never to host a couchsurfer again.

The next time I considered it, I was living in Dublin and a female friend had come to visit from the home. I wanted to impress her, but we were dead broke and we'd already bought cheap tickets to Denmark for 3 days - not a well thought-out plan - and had no place to stay. We looked desperately for cheap hotels but could find nothing on short notice. Couchsurfing suddenly became an option again. I found a couch with two Danish girls who lived right smack in the middle of Copenhagen (yes.. it sounded quite interesting). They were both down with couchsurfing and had good reviews from previous surfers on the website. Cool, we had it made.

The first night in Denmark was fine. We crashed on the two comfy couches in our couchhosts' ultra-hip apartment, surrounded by messy artwork, TV remotes and term papers, and a slice of pizza on a plate of unknown vintage. We had no expectations about where we were staying beyond a couple of couches to crash on, so a messy house we could easily live with.

The second night, we came in (they had even given us their key - unbelievable!) to an empty house. We were tired from an entire day spent on the town trying to have fun with no money and me attempting to dazzle my friend with my local knowledge of which I really had none. So, when we got back to the couchsurfing hosts' place, we went to bed early on our couches. We were broke, remember. At about 2 am, one of the two housemates returned with a guy and proceeded to get it on in the room right next to us. There was no door separating our room from theirs, just an open archway.

After their rendezvous, they got up, turned on all the lights and started banging things, talking loudly and smoking [not cigarettes]. Their chatter continued until 5am, leading us to the conclusion that they were simply being rude. We couldn't bear to face them the next morning, having listened to every agonizing moment of their impassioned affair and been made fools by their endless overnight noise, so we got up at 6, wandered around the city for the rest of the day and spent our third night sleeping on the floor of the Copenhagen airport. At least that was fairly quiet after a point.

I've hosted couchsurfers since the Copenhagen incident and it's been smooth sailing. Two very sweet American girls took my couch in Dublin for a couple of nights, for which I made sure they had privacy and also always offered to chill out with them, take them for pints or generally be a good host. But those first unfortunate couchsurfing experiences still linger in my mind.

So, here's what I've learned. First, if you are couchsurfing at someone else's place, always make sure the room you are staying in has a door. Secondly, be a good couchsurfer - pick up your trash, be quiet and grateful. Third, never plan a trip to Scandinavia to impress a girl when you're broke.



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