A bizarre, but beautiful idea
Person 1: Right guys, I’ve got an idea… we’re going to create an app in which people allow random strangers to stay in their house’.
Person 2: ‘Nice idea, how much will that person charge?’
Person 1: ‘No no, they’re going to allow these random strangers to stay for free!’
That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind the wonderful ‘review-based trust’ traveller communities such as Couchsurfing. Communities such as Couchsurfing or Trustroots have their premise based on a counter-intuitive, but beautiful, business model that relies on the good nature of like-minded people that wish to exchange stories and experiences, rather than money, in order to make memories.
This short article is going to give you an insight into these communities so that you can see if you’d like to try them out. My name is Jonas by the way and I have a project called Seeds of Adventure
which is the place where anyone can be an adventurer if you have the spirit to live it… come say hello on Instagram or Youtube, after you’ve read this article of course. Shameless plug complete, into the good stuff…
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Are these communities for you?
Travelling has changed significantly as technology has evolved. ‘Back in the day’ people would leave home with a bag on their back, their lonely planet in their pocket, and wonderlust in their heart. They would leave with so little information about anywhere they were going that it left room for adventure to blossom into uncertainty. As a modern-day traveller it is much harder to get such a raw experience because of our infinite access to information through the internet. Communities such as Couchsurfing allows you to place raw adventure back into the heart of your travelling trips with the click of a button.
Using these communities is for the adventure-spirited souls. These communities have deep roots in the essence of the adventure itself by offering heaped servings of uncertainty, opportunity and intrigue for those curious folk looking to expand their minds through experience. The idea of staying with a random person in their house in a place you do not know sounds so ridiculous that it can only be fantastic.
These communities are groups of travellers searching for real experience and human interaction through the magic of the moneyless guest-host relationship. By using these communities, you are
transcending all tourism and delving deeply into a beating house of someone’s life to gain insight into the sights, smells and feels of the place that you are moving through.
Now, all that hyperbole to one side, I must also note that such great doses of adventure and uncertainty can undoubtedly come with great angst and worry if you easily spook. You must be a brave and trusting adventurer to stray into the unknown and untrodden paths of the people unbeknownst to you. You have to be able to roll with the punches, sleep on the short couch and be open minded about ways of living that may be different to yours. But, if you can do this, if you are courageous, if you do rise above and trust, then there are rewards so great that money cannot buy.
If you’re anything like me, your next question will be… is it safe to stay with strangers?
Couchsurfing and other similar communities are an incredible innovation in travel and adventure. They allow people to connect and meet without monetary transaction and without a middle man
company getting in the way. But, you may wonder ‘if there is no middle man company, who is stopping all the murderers from coming onto these sights?’
Well, the difference here is that these are adventure apps and when you are on an adventure you are responsible for yourself. The apps delegate the risk assessment to you, but they provide you with two useful tools to do this with. Firstly, they are ‘peer to peer’ platforms which means that you contact a person directly through a message function. Secondly, they have review systems so you can see for yourself what other people thought of the people you are connecting with. What these things do is put the risk analysis directly into your hands so that you can decide what you deem to be an acceptable person to stay with.
With these tools, you can almost create your own personalised inclusion/exclusion criteria, coupled with a general feel for how someone interacts with you over the direct message, for you to then
decide who to stay with. For example, you may not stay with someone with less than 10 reviews, or 100 reviews, it’s up to you. Whatever you decide it is important to actually read the reviews because there is a significant difference between ‘ Nice guy, had a nice evening’ and ‘Oh my god Jonas is the most friendly person I have ever met!’. They both may look like ‘good reviews’, no problems here, however I the first would bring to be cautious because it has nothing special about the experience to note for me to think I would want to stay with that person. In truth, the person writing that review could have easily had a bad time and been too polite; bloody English. Remember, the most valuable part of these apps is the heartwarming social interactions so look for that in the reviews and you’ll find good people.
Final points on this… you can, if you wish, take the risk reduction a step further and ask for phone calls, social media or facetimes to reassure yourself about the person being who they say they are.
Now, that said, some may think that even if someone has 200 reviews they could still be a murderer waiting for you to come until they decided to do it and yes that risk, like getting eaten by a jellyfish, still exists. But, it just doesn’t make sense, and sometimes those are the sorts of logical calculations that need to be made with adventures like using Couchsurfing. What’s more, the modern world has so many safety adjuncts, such as ‘find my friends’, so it is now much easier to let family/friends know where you are and if you feel in trouble.
Summary for safety:
- 1. Figure out how to mitigate risk so that you feel comfortable
- 2. Read the reviews and really think about what they say about the experience
- 3. Always let someone know where you are going before you enter someone else’s home
How to approach your first time – guests, hosts, hospitals and ghosts
The title of this segment could be quite misleading, however, you will not find that information here. Actually, on the topic of sex (smooth segway, I know), it seems relevant to state here that these
communities aren’t ‘hook up’ sites. This might sound like grumpy grandpa, but it is important because the communities rely on trust with strangers which is so deeply dependent on being good-natured rather than sex minded. In summary, your first time Couchsurfing should not be your first time… On the topic of your first time with these communities, I think it is important to understand your role as a guest or host. In order to understand this I think it helps to quickly look at the history of the words… it’s quick and interesting I promise!
Same same but different
The words guest and host are now separate words with different modern connotations, but that hasn’t always been the case. Huh? Yes, you heard me right, they are actually the same word. Well,
they are cognate, which means they were once the same word thousands of years ago, and over time they have evolved into the different words with different connotations that we know today. Other words that are cognate with guest and host include hospital and ghost. If you notice, all these words have a similar sense of meaning and concept to them.
What’s this got to do with anything Jonas?!
Well, the reason I think this is interesting and relevant is because it shows that the meaning of being a guest or host is rooted in a shared and equal relationship because when the words first were used there was no distinction between them. If you were a guest in someone’s house or you were hosting someone you would use the same word and therefore act the same. This shows the blurred lines between the roles which is how you should approach Couchsurfing.
In summary, whether you are a guest or host, you have an equal duty in ensuring the good experience of your opposite number. It’s a two-way street, a mutually dependent relationship and a magical thing if you get it right. My recommendation is dispose of any preconceived ideas of your ‘roles’ as guest or host and just get stuck in and build a beautiful guest-host relationship by being kind, hospitable and polite to one another.
I think that is enough blabber from me so to finish this article off, here are some of my own quick-fire tips – other opinions may vary:
- 1. Plan to amuse yourself for the day until early evening, if you are invited earlier to drop bags etc then great, but don’t plan on it
- 2. Ask them what their dinner plans are, offering to cook/eat together is a good way to build the relationship before you arrive
- 3. Another way to build the relationship pre-meeting is to go to a shop before arriving so that you can ask the host if they need anything buying, it’s an easy way to show generosity and your positive intent for the evening
- 4. I think that early evening is a good time to arrive, I like 6/7 PM because it gives enough time for chat and dinner at least
- 5. Let evening plans unfold naturally, you may stay in, you may go out for a walk or drink, go with the flow of the evening as much as you can.
- 6. Spend time getting to know that person, ask questions with curiosity and listen to their story with an open mind, give yourself the opportunity to be inspired
- 7. For your first time, plan to spend just one night
- 8. Have a backup plan – Couchsurfing is inherently flexible and plans change. Be aware of that uncertainty, expect it and be okay with it, it’s all part of the adventure.
If you are reading these words, thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you liked what I have written and want to read more/know more about me and the Seeds of Adventure project then please see the links below.
Instagram handle – @seedsofadventure_
Youtube – https://youtu.be/-lYmXFxNlDo
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Read another article that explains what is Couchsurfing or visit the official website. 🌐
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