CouchSurfing Explained

My CouchSurfer (CSer) has left.  With that I breathe a sigh of relief.  Even with the best of personalities, it becomes a chore to host someone for more than a day or two.  Also consider that we shared one room for 3 days and 3 nights and maybe you will start to understand.  Basically living non-stop with a stranger in your little apartment.  But what is CS?

The most basic definition is that it’s a social experiment.  CS is a website that creates a community of travelers and hosts willing to meet each other.  Travelers can send messages to potential hosts and ask to stay with them.  They can also just request to meet up, have a cup of coffee, or see something specific in the city with the host.  Hosts can accept or reject the request to surf their couch.  Those are the basics.

If you’re like I was, you are raising a skeptical eyebrow right now.  “You mean, you actually let a stranger come into your home and STAY with you?!”  Yes, that’s right.  The important part of CS is not the what but the how.  It is based on a reference system whereby you can screen anyone who sends you a CS request to find out if the person is trustworthy, polite, and many other adjectives.  After having a CS experience you leave a reference for that person and often receive one back in return.  The reference system serves two important functions:  the first is guest screening like I mentioned.  The second is that people are more likely to behave in a good way because they don’t want you to drop a bad reference on their profile.

Of course this system creates a chicken-and-the-egg scenario coming out of the gates for new members.  With no references it could be hard to find someone willing to host you/surf your couch.  Have no fear, you can also have Friends on CS just like Facebook.  If you have some Friends people are more likely to trust you too.  And you can leave a reference for someone that you know but haven’t surfed with.  So in my case, I had a few references from other PCVs as soon as I opened my account, which really helped me get going.

Why use CS?  It’s a great way to meet people from different countries.  It allows you to show off the place where you live.  It gives you an interesting and cheap way to travel.  And it harnesses the power of the internet in a very cool way.

For example, I knew I was going to Tbilisi in April.  I started sending out messages to CSers there asking if they could host me during that time.  Some weren’t able, some didn’t answer, but I did find someone willing to do it.  And she was a great host that really enhanced my experience.  There’s nothing like walking home through the city not to a hotel, but to a typical house situated in some non-descript neighborhood that you would otherwise never visit.  It’s also a serious way to save some cash.  It gives budget travel a whole new meaning.  If you remember, my 4 day trip to Tbilisi cost under $200.

CS is a risk of course.  I’m not sure how I would feel about it in the US.  I might still maintain my profile, but be much more selective of who I take in.  In Vardenis, I don’t have to worry too much because people who want to come here all seem to fit a similar mold.  Not only is there the risk of theft or assault, but also of just getting a really weird guest.  I’ve heard some interesting stories.  But the person’s profile is a great indicator of the personality.

So far in Vardenis I’ve had 3 guests.  The first was a French guy who was raised in America, so it was like having an American guest.  The second two were both Dutchmen.  All three were my age or younger, hitch-hikers, and very bright.  They’ve all been enjoyable guests.  The first two stayed just one night, which is perfect for me.  The most recent one stayed for 3 nights and I definitely felt myself shut-down socially sometime during the 2nd day.  That’s just too much effort for me, especially with a person you don’t know that well.  Actually, it was funny.  The first day we were chatting like a couple on the first date.  By today we drank our tea in silence like an old married couple with nothing left to say to each other.

I would say the Vardenis archetype is “Young Male Adventurer” with a subclass of “Night-elf Cleric”.  If you zoom out a bit and just start browsing profiles, you find a few more types, which I recently joked with Ben about.  There is the “Fun Loving Hippie Hitchhiker” (which basically envelops Young Male Adventurer), “I’m Going to Visit Every Damn Country Guy”, “Desperate Extrovert”, and of course, “Creepy Eurasian Using CS as a Marriage Tool.”  Yes, there aren’t many types there.  Hippieism seems to be the flavor of the week.  As a person weird enough to do Peace Corps, but also not as liberal as most of my PC brethren and perhaps somehow firmly rooted in reality, it is interesting to interact with such people, but at arms-distance.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me and CS.  I think I’ll be active for the next year or so.  I want to use it more for surfing and less for hosting.  I plan to use it on my next trip to Poland.  Beyond PC I’m not sure how much I’ll host, but it’s nice to have the hosting record under my belt in case I want to do some surfing.  Kind of a karma thing I guess.  I know as I grow older and have a family it will probably fall by the wayside, but for now it’s a fun thing and a great way to make friends from other countries.

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