When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.Leonardo da Vinci (via Alessandro Fruscella)
May I spoke too soon about CouchSurfing…
Well, not really. But I learned my first lesson: last-minute CSing can yield some surprising accomodations if done with too much haste.
Let me start off by saying that the arrangement I am referring to was, in general, very positive. It produced a lot of laughs, great conversation, yummy (and free!) dinner and a comfortable night’s rest. But as a rule, I usually don’t prefer to surf with 19-year-olds…or their parents.
Ugh. So how did this happen?
When I arranged my stay with my original A’dam host, we never discussed how long I would stay. When my trip drew nearer I asked which days he could host me and was offered 8/18-21, the first three days of my planned stay. Three nights, weekend, very standard. But when I decided to reschedule my trip to three days later, four hours before my flight I assumed I needed to find alternative arrangements… FAST.
Usually when I search for a couch there’s one more piece of criteria I look for that I forgot to mention: Age. There are a LOT of college-aged CouchSurfers, naturally, who host in addition to surf. While I love young people (doesn’t that make me sound like some kind of politician?) I now officially, at 26, feel like the token creep should I find myself inside a dorm room.
But alas, when couch searching for last minute accomodations in A’dam I was doing so hastily and forgot to set age parameters. When age came up at the dinner table, and I learned my next host is only 19 years old, it did so in front of an old friend and my host from the night before. It was clear that I wasn’t the only one shocked. But not until it was too late to catch a train back to Amsterdam from De Haag (where he took me to) did he reveal that we would be staying at his parents’ house.
Now, I have to say, up until this point in my trip I feel as though I have been uncharacteristically easygoing for a female, American cityslicker. I’ve experienced London during the riots, worked a job in a country where I don’t speak the language and slept in a camp where the only showers are co-ed and stall-less. But this is where I started drawing a line. If for no other reason than I couldn’t imagine having to handle advances from a 19-year-old. After all, he could be one of those. And maybe that’s why he chose to host me.
After making it clear that I would not be meeting parents tonight, it turned out to be just a minor speed bump in an otherwise lovely experience. My host was actually quite mature, had a really smart sense of humor, and took very good care of me. Before that whole revelation, I enjoyed a delicious 3-course meal at the social club where he’s worked since he was 15. Since there was only room for me at an already occupied table, I had the pleasure of taking part in a really interesting conversation about poverty in Peru and pirates in Portugal with Gary and Dick, two middle aged friends from England and Holland, respectively. And as it turns out, I stayed in Theo Jansen’s home, with his son :)
So all in all, my CouchSurfing experience with the 19-year-old was a good one. The advantage of staying with a student? They know the ins and outs of budgeting (whereas older hosts tend to enjoy pricier dinners and entertainment that can spoil your week’s budget).
But if the thought of parents or the “I’m too old for you” talk is going to scare you away from CouchSurfing, or maybe you don’t want to stay with anyone old enough to have their own college student, simply set an age min/max when couch searching. And always clarify ALL of the details surrounding your “couch.” Problem solved :)
By the way, he’s actually 21, tomorrow. But that’s another story.
Isn’t couch surfing dangerous?
So far? The answer is a big, fat “NO.” It’s day seventeen of my trip and already I have stayed with three CouchSurfing hosts, all of whom have been some of the most trustworthy, respectful and generous people I’ve ever met in my 26 years.
Some answers to the FAQ’s:
- How did you find these people? I of course used Couchsurfing.org, more specifically, the CouchSearch functionality. For each city I planned to visit, I did a search for everyone who had photos and whose couches were listed as ”available.”
- How did you narrow your search? What other criteria did you use? I definitely favored those who had hosted/been hosted before and had positive reviews. I also checked when they had last been online and what their reponse rate was. A well-written profile is also a plus. And honestly, I did somewhat choose people based on their appearance. Why? Because I have the perception that attractive people who resemble my friends/family/colleagues are more trustworthy and may have more in common with me. That may disappoint some, but hey, just being honest.
- Why have you been surfing with men exclusively? I would say that 70% of the requests I sent were to men, 30% to women. This is mainly because there are more male CouchSurfers and more that meet my aforementioned criteria. But also I tend to prefer the company of men and I believe they tend to prefer mine. In my defense, maybe one of the requests I sent to women yielded an acceptance. Although everyone I’ve stayed with has been super respectful, many people use CSing as a dating site. Just look at GAYMENONLYPLEASE’s profile.
- How did you know these people could be trusted? I obviously didn’t really know that, but I used their references as a first checkpoint, then Skype (in most cases, in some I made last-minute arrangements with no time to Skype). For me, Skype at least gave me a peek into my hosts’ personalities and verified, to some degree, that they were who they said they were. It was also a good way to get some of the preliminary “what do you do for a living?” kind of conversation out of the way. Plus, Skype is so fucking cool!
- How do you arrange payment? You don’t. You reciprocate generosity how you please and pay it forward. CSing is about free accomodations, period.
- How long do you stay with your hosts? It depends. Understandably hosts tend to only want to host you for a couple nights. After all, what if you turn out to be a total slob/pervert/Nazi? And for the most part, that’s all I needed. But I think Andreas (Sweden) could tell that we’d get along so we planned for seven nights. That turned into 10 :)
- Where do you sleep? On the couch, stupid! Well, OK, truthfully… in some cases you may share a sleeping surface either out of necessity or as a result of a really strong bond you form. Sometimes you know ahead of time, sometimes it’s spontaneous. But most of the time, you stay on the couch.
- Would you do CouchSurfing again? Yes, both out of necessity and because it’s really fucking awesome. I love all three of my hosts so far. I hope we remain friends for life :)