Written by a friend of mine in the spring of 2010.
If this fine world that we live in is the ocean than my couch is the surfboard. I have been a host on couchsurfing.com since November 2009. In the six months since I joined the online community I have hosted travelers on five different occasions. Every opportunity that I have had to be a host I have taken, and each has been a positive, unique experience.
I had briefly heard about the practice of couch surfing before I moved to Romania, but I had only heard about it. It wasn’t until after I was settled in at site when another volunteer reminded me about it, acting as a host. That evening I read about it and made a profile with hopes of getting a free place to stay and an interesting cross-cultural experience with a host in Belgrade. Well I did have an interesting experience in Belgrade but my couch surfing host fell through. Five months after Belgrade I realized that I have yet to actually “surf a couch” and instead I have been using the site to host travelers from around Europe.
My first guest was an attractive, laidback, adventurous girl from Amsterdam. Originally she had just contacted me for information about snowboarding my area and I didn’t have a whole lot of information to give her. I couldn’t believe that she was going to come to Petrosani and try to get to the mountains without knowing how to speak any Romanian. I decided to open up my small one-room apartment and let her stay with me for a few days. It was a fun few days of showing her my town, snowboarding and hiking with her, and holding long late-night conversations. She ended up leaving me with delicious Dutch cookies, an invitation to stay at her place in Amsterdam, and a new outlook on hosting couch surfers. My profile status changed from “Coffee and a Drink” to “Open Couch”.
My next couch surfers were a couple who were planning on riding there bicycles from France to China and then to India. They arrived in Petrosani before I did on a Sunday, when I was traveling back to Petrosani with a fellow volunteer. I helped them lift their heavy bikes up into my kitchen and then they made us some delicious curry. The four of us stayed up chatting late that evening. The fellow volunteer and I were very interested in their bike-riding adventure, but they were also curious as to why we were living in Romania and what we thought about our new home. Now I can track their progress as they ride their bikes across the continent.
The other people that I have hosted include two really cool German guys riding their motorcycles to Greece, a cute Hungarian couple riding there bicycles to the Himalayas, and a very fun and informative Romanian couple from Sibiu who knew more about my town than I did.
Acting as a host for strangers has obvious risks. How do I know that these people won’t rob me, or even worse, kill me? I don’t, but the couch surfing community offers some checks to help you reassure that you’re not letting serial killers into your home. The first safety measure that I look for before hosting someone is the reference section of their profile. In there references I can read about the types of experiences that other hosts or surfers have had with them. After I am finished hosting someone I usually write them a reference somewhat specific to their stay with me. Other safety measures include vouching and verification. If a person is vouched for it means that someone else trusts them enough to stand by their actions. If a person has verification it means that they have first, donated money to the community, and secondly, officially verified their identity.
So far couch surfing has given me some pretty genuine experiences with people from all over Europe. I have learned about them, heard their stories and adventures, and even told my own. I would suggest hosting couch surfers to anyone willing to give up a little bit of space and some time for an interesting and very short term cross-cultural experience.