CouchSurfing.org Host Experience

CouchSurfing is an international non-profit organization that has been connecting travelers with locals since 2004. Since then over a million people have met through the site, to share hospitality and cultural understanding.

The benefits of using the site are obvious for the “surfers,” or travelers. They get to stay for free while they travel and save a bundle of money they would have spent on hotels, probably more than $100 a night. They also get to experience much more of the local environment than your average tourist because the hosts show them the best attractions and nightlife. And the hosts usually have local friends who also help immerse the traveler in “the real Hollywood,” or whatever city they’re in.

The hosts’ benefits are a little harder to explain, so I’ll start with the obvious downsides. Most people would not want to be a host because it could put your home and personal safety at risk; after all, hosts usually let surfers into their home who they’ve never met in person. It is an inconvenience having a guest sleep over because you have to worry about door locking schedules, kitchen and common area messes, and quiet hours. The traveler has to use your shower and sometimes even eat your food. On top of all this the surfer doesn’t pay you a dime for your troubles.

Hosting, however, has been a rewarding experience for me. I love to host my local friends after a night of clubbing in Hollywood because I live within walking distance of the clubs, and I think I make a great host. I can’t explain why, but I feel great when I help my friends have a great night, make sure they’re fed and hydrated, and give them a safe and free place to crash. I don’t expect anything in return and don’t really receive anything in return.

Hosting travelers gives me a similar feeling. I know I’m helping the travelers maximize enjoyment and minimize expense, allowing them to travel longer and experience more than they would without my help. I also get to experience some culture they bring with them, view the same old Hollywood from the awe-struck eyes of the traveler, and, in my most recent experience, receive a fancy bottle of Scotch straight from the distillery.

Even to myself I find it difficult to explain my motivation for jeopardizing my property and safety on behalf of a stranger, but I find company in a quote by Adam Smith’s book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

From January 22nd through the 24th, I had the pleasure of hosting Kim de Jong of Amsterdam. She has been a host before and had great reviews so I figured I could trust her in my home. She was traveling alone which made me feel a little more in control of the situation and less afraid for my property and safety. And just like on any review website, CS members don’t want to wreck their track record of positive reviews by doing something shady, so after a few email exchanges I figured I could trust her.

Kim flew from Europe to LAX and cabbed it to my apartment. Even after being up for more than 35 hours straight she had the energy to go clubbing with my friends and me on Friday night. We hit up My House and H.Wood with 4 of my friends, skipping lines and getting in free, saving us a combined $240 between the two clubs. She did return the favor by buying a couple rounds of drinks which are as much as $18 a piece.

Kim spent Saturday exploring Hollywood Blvd by herself, an easy walk from my apartment. Then Saturday night I introduced her to nine of my friends and we had a great time skipping the line and buying a table at Mi-6. None of us had been there before and we were all very impressed and had a great time.

Kim headed out Monday morning for San Diego and is still traveling in California today, almost a month later. We exchanged positive reviews on CS, which makes us both likely to get more activity on the site in the future. I learned as much as I could about life in Amsterdam and the differences in government and culture. Kim works as a Financial Analyst for a well known tech manufacturer, which, for some reason, allows her to travel a lot. In fact she has 24 countries listed in the Locations Traveled section on her CS profile.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and look forward to hosting travelers again in the near future. I also hope my positive reviews will earn me some credibility for the time I decide to travel and take advantage of CS host hospitality. I recommend making an account and exploring the site; and if you have it in you, I recommend hosting a traveler yourself.

http://www.couchsurfing.org/register.html