Are you coming home to an empty house for the first time in 20 years? Why not liven up your evenings up by meeting or hosting a traveler through the free website: couchsurfing.com
When I accepted an invitation to stay with my new couch surfing friend in Thailand, Darunee, I had no idea she was going to reveal to me that she had just ended her relationship on three years and felt like she lost most of her friends in the breakup. Always a compassionate yet cautions person, I asked her about her relationship and found out her boyfriend was American like me, and that she was committed to living her life to the fullest by connecting with Couchsurfers after this breakup.
Smart lady! While many of us want to ply our friends for details and perspectives about our ex partner, Darunee went a different route. She reached out to people that she liked at Couchsurfing events, and then invited them to stay with her or going on trips and excursions with her (within a day she gave me a key to her apartment and two weeks later we took a weekend trip to an island I never heard of; we both felt totally safe after so many vulnerable conversations and sharing her small apartment).
If you are craving companionship, adventure or diverse perspectives, you can also set up a Couchsurfing profile for free, without making any commitments to hosting strangers in your house (this is only a fraction of the activity that occurs on this international network). Like Darunee, you can start by going to public events to meet new people.
Facts About Couchsurfing
- The Couchsurfing website was set up as a free non-profit network for arranging free places to stay for travelers; it has since evolved into a social network that is a B Corporation and is used for surveying international professionals, jobs, interest groups, travel information and more.
- There is never an obligation to host; you can "couchsurf" (stay in a home for free) with no obligation of ever hosting.
- You can use the new "hangouts" feature to join or arrange an informal meeting with traveller and locals who wan to meet in the area
- Large cities and tourist destinations have Couchsurfing Meetup Groups in public where people socialize, often with no interest or intent of finding a free place to stay.
- Many couch surfers are fluent English speakers with cars on road trips who would be happy to stay at your suburban home while they make day trips to a nearby city.
- You can leave positive or negative Couchsurfer and Couchsurfing Guests and they can leave reviews of you, but you are rarely able to edit them after submitting
- Couchsurfers vary in age and lifestyle. I have been hosted by a retired US Senator, and I have hosted men and women on business conferences and on road trips. Once, a surfer asked if I would be a witness at her city hall wedding!
Scan Reviews for Demographic Trends. Does this man only host young, attractive women? Are all 10 positive references written within the last month from people in the hosts' city? These are clues that give you some ideas about the hosts's past experience and preferences.
To meet people, but not host them, go to the search bar and select "travelers" near (your city) and you will find travelers who made their trips public; browse them and message people who seem interesting to you and offer to meet them for dinner or take them to an attraction.
To meet people, but not host them, post and discuss in local travel forums near your city. Example: SF Bay Area forum has posts such as "free the weekend of April 24-26" or "Who wants to get tacos in the Mission next week?" or "Any other grandparents looking to connect?"
To get more reviews, search for your current friends on couch surfing and ask them to review you (I get 10 requests per day, so I don't check them very often); you can ask travelers you meet for dinner to leave you a review as well.
Pre Screen Your Host Through Video Chat. I've never done this, but some folks do it. Do note that some experienced hosts who received a lot of requests might find this to be an irritating sign that you don't trust them. For example, if someone has 20 reviews spread throughout the past two years, and they received other surfing requests from people who trust them without the video chat, they might not want to deal with this extra step. The reviews are supposed to indicate trustworthiness, not personal chemistry.
Have a plan for door-locking, key exchange, etc. My routine is that I plan to spend at least an hour with them before I reveal my temporary garage code; usually after an hour I have confirmed that I trust them and I know that if I later decide I don't trust them I can change the garage code back to the original and they will never be able to get into my house again.
Be clear and communicate your expectations about when your home needs to be quiet, if you your guests can eat your food and what your limitations are for accompanying them on trips. I spend a couple minutes showing them how to lock our door properly because it has been an issue.
Have fun and consider the payoff of meeting new friends from around the world! It's often very worth the loss of temporary privacy.