Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Couchsurfing in the 21st Century

I have been a proud Couchsurfing host since 2007. 

making moussaka with y very FIRST couchsurfer
Couchsurfing is where you stay with total strangers using the Couchsurfing website in order to connect on-line, matching hosts to travelers.

I probably host 20 surfers a month, but that is nothing compared to the requests I receive daily. I tack it up to living in a world-class city, but also there just aren’t too many reliable and willing hosts. In the cosmic balance of things there are way more travelers than those offering a couch.

Why do I do this—when of course it takes up a LOT of time. 1) reading the requests 2) responding to the requests 3) then the actual hosting? Because I love to meet people. Not always, and especially not when their train, plane, bus is late and I have to get up early the next day. But, because I have a memory of traveling and wishing I could get inside a culture.

There was a time (and probably still is) when I wanted to go and live in Italy. To change my country, to change my life. To be someone else.

At none of the ex-pat websites was I able to find people who wanted to adopt a 40ish-year old woman with meager savings.

But I did discover Couchsurfing and because I didn’t have plans at that moment to travel I decided the next best thing was for me to host. And that was the beginning of a never-ending parade of guests from everywhere.

Really, everywhere. Little islands in the Pacific. Small towns in the south of France where the village school only has about 20 students. We met a man from Iran here on a student visa studying engineering who carried a dream of writing a story in English. He inspired me. We’ve hosted different kinds of family traveling with their children to explore other ways to do things. I can say that I have fallen in love and wanted to adopt a good many of my surfers.

We even stay in contact to this day. Are Facebook friends. Have visited one another since that initial visit. This is what couchsurfing to me is all about.

I have also learned to take the bad along with the good, knowing the cosmic reality and acknowledging the disproportionate balance of things.

Lately though I have been getting an overwhelming number of requests from people without a profile, who don’t even phrase a request in such a way that they acknowledge that they are asking you a favor. They think it is an app like Uber and are dialing me up to stay in my house. Sometimes hours before they actually arrive in the city.

This is scary. Like I would automatically take in a complete stranger without references. Yeah, sometimes, but always they have to be able to communicate via their request and tell me in a completely filled-out profile who they are. The question is: Why aren’t people doing this?

I have a form response I send back explaining how—and they still write me that they CAN’T—“can you help me with this?” And, I think, have you NEVER filled out an application for a job, school, fellowship, on-line dating. Do you not update your status on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Tinder. It’s hard to image in this digital age that there isn’t something out there that even in a pinch they can snatch and grab and paste.

What really is freaking me out is the number of women, young, naïve, pretty who say they don’t care if it is a bed or space on the floor they are so desperate for a free place and I am worried for their safety. Is a free place to stay worth the risk of staying just about anywhere??? I am not going into detail because the stories and facts belong to the individuals—but I get urgent requests from women who have gotten themselves unwittingly into danger. I tell them to leave IMMEDIATELY. Do not base your actions upon if I have a place for you. Always get out of danger.

The question I really want to ask—is even if you think it is an app, does that mean you stop thinking, that you stop using common sense, that somehow technology, your cell phone, something will save you from a truly harrowing experience. That perhaps another app will rescue you???

I would love to tell the women who request to stay with me, like some wandering orphans, empower yourself. Fill out an interesting profile, communicate to your potential host that you are a traveler, someone who is interested in cultural exchange, who wants to understand the what and why of a locality. Tell them you are more than someone who needs a bed for one night.

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