I know the idea of sleeping with strangers freaks many people out, but one of the reasons I was excited to move to Colorado and “settle in” for a couple years (despite my hesitation about feeling “stuck” here), was to have a place of my own to host couch surfers. When I tell people there’s such a thing as a social media website similar to Facebook, except that a friend request is actually a request to sleep on a stranger’s couch/floor/spare bedroom, they balk and say something like, “How scary!” or “That’s strange.” I agree. It can be both scary and strange, but I’ve used the site as a surfer numerous times and had some of the most unbelievable experiences. When I tell people about the kind man who took me out to a fancy dinner and loaned me money for a week of travels in northern Vietnam, they can’t believe I met him on Couchsurfing.org. When I talk about the local man I stayed with in Delhi, who then traveled with me to Shimla to stay in his childhood home with his father and sister (overlooking the mountaintops, I might add!) and then back to Kalka where I stayed with his sister and aging grandmother, they’re surprised that our first encounter was as perfect strangers, when he picked me up at the airport. A few months before I moved to Fort Collins, I surfed with a man about my age who is now a good friend. There were numerous encounters with strangers who are no longer strangers in between these memorable ones, and after using the site as a regular surfer for so long, I was eager to become the host and give back the favor.
Last weekend, I was finally able to convince my skeptical roommate (rightfully so) that strangers can be good people, and she allowed me to invite two women into our home. We hosted Jen and Liz for two nights, and had so much fun getting to know each other over beers, wine, dinner, and more beer the following day at Fort Collins Brew Fest in Old Town. Not only was it Katy’s and my first time hosting, but it was their first time using the site. The weekend was an overall success, and I think we have three new believers in the couchsurfing community. Couch surfing has strengthened my notion that people are inherently good. It has made me a believer in trusting strangers, and it has proven that completely immersing myself in a culture is by far my favorite way to travel. With couchsurfing, one gets to see the local lifestyle, eat the local cuisine and speak with the locals about their culture, religion, family, etc. We get to learn from the inside what it’s like to be a local, and almost always the experience is bolstered by newfound friends.
For those who don’t know, users of couchsurfing.org sign up and create a profile, complete with photos and descriptions about self, including interests and philosophy, and sections like “Types of People I Enjoy” and “One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done.” Not everyone fills these out completely, but it’s up to you to determine what that means. Then, perhaps most importantly, there is a references section where people can rate their experience with a particular host/surfer based on trustworthiness, and then leave a review for others to see. It’s important when choosing a host or allowing a surfer into your home that you view a profile and make calculated judgments of character.
And it’s free. It’s not to be abused as simply free lodging, nor should you actually sleep with strangers; it’s a cultural exchange, and should be treated as so. Be the guest you would want to host, and the experience will be positive for all.