I’ve been using CouchSurfing a lot lately. Actually I have been a rather active member for more than 8 years now and I can say I formed strong friendships and had some amazing experiences both hosting and surfing. Lots of people nowadays use the hangouts feature of the mobile app in order to meet with fellow travelers or local people. When me and my friends started using CouchSurfing, there wasn’t a mobile app, I didn’t even have a smartphone. I had a lovely 30 euro worth LG phone that used to last for a week on a single charge. So we had to stop to internet cafes or use the hostel’s ancient computer to check any pending messages. Feels like the stone age now, doesn’t it?
So, CouchSurfing has evolved a lot since then. CS is a social network but with a little extra, could say it is like Facebook since its main purpose is to connect people. But unlike Facebook, in CS people, strangers actually meet each other. So is it like Tinder? Well some people do use it that way. Especially the last few years the user base of CS has greatly increased but the number of quality profiles and active users has remained the same or has declined.
Most of all, CouchSurfing is a community, or at least it is supposed to be.
Well it started like one. Furthermore, the vibes were so different when I started using it back in 2010. Members had a unique interest in getting to know you and share experiences. Also, I loved the old reference system with the old school badges. It was an honor to have those badges, it was like you belonged to very special club. I used to have more authentic experiences back then. Nowadays, there are 3 types of people that host.
The ones who create a profile to get a free place to stay while traveling while they have no intention of hosting whatsoever. So they are basically freeloaders. You should avoid them but they sometimes make nice guests. The problem is when you are a member of a community you have to give and take. And those people only want to take. Then there are those who try to get laid. For an experienced user or simply for someone with common sense it is very easy to recognize and ignore those people who are usually middle aged men with many selfies on their profiles. Ohh and they usually pick female as preferred hosting gender. There’s a third type of CouchSurfers, the ones that host people but have no interest in interacting with their guests. I recently heard a really sad story from a couple of girls that were hosted by a guy in South America. Long story short he let them in his apartment, gave them the keys, the wifi password and went out with his friends. The girls told that the two nights they spent there had almost no conversation with him. I didn’t know that type of CouchSurfers even existed until I had the pleasure of meeting one during my last trip in Santa Marta in Colombia.
First of all I knew that guy was a diver and the owner of a hostel. He responded really fast and he was thrilled by the fact I was interested in Scuba diving and said that we should dive together. I’m not an experienced diver but I have a PADI open water diver certificate, so to me when a CS host offers to dive together, in my mind it means to me that we rent some equipment and.… go dive together. Sadly, he simply wanted another client for the diving agency he is working for. “It’s fine, I thought. Maybe he would give me a discount but even if he won’t, maybe we will do a special or less commercial dive”. Instead it was a pretty normal dive, we were in the same boat with 10 more people and 2 more instructors, I ended up paying 30.000 Colombian pesos more than the price I was promised, he didn’t explain a lot of stuff about the equipment while we were on land (imagine there were people who were doing it for the first time) and I was nervous because my Spanish is not perfect and I couldn’t immediately understand what he wanted me to do. All in all, I was very nervous throughout the dive and I didn’t enjoy it much.
Well, the fact that he wasn’t clear about details of the dive doesn’t make him a bad host, not even a bad diving instructor. Even though I was hopping for a dive between friends, I had an overpriced commercial dive. In fact, I had a horrible scuba-diving experience, but maybe it wasn’t his fault. Perhaps, it was the language barrier that made me feel so nervous. But how was the experience as a guest? I stayed in his hostel for 2 nights for free, which was great but you don’t use CouchSurfing for the free bed, do you? Well, I do it for the interaction between the host and the guest, the cultural exchange, the prospect of making a new friend(s), to practice the local language and maybe see something special that is not included in the lonely planet travel books!
The interaction between us was only about what was necessary. To give me the keys of the place, to let me know the Wifi password and show me where the bathroom is. His English wasn’t that great but I tried from the beginning to talk to him in Spanish but the vibes I was getting weren’t good. He didn’t seem interested in sharing time with me. I was just another guest in the hostel, and it wasn’t even that busy.
Nevertheless, I ended up staying for 3 more nights there because the location was amazing and I really needed to chill out for a few days. Of course I payed for those 3 extra nights and that was my decision. I remember the last day, I tried talking to him again and we had a nice conversation in Spanish about learning English but that was it.
That guy had like 20-30 references mostly moderate good. One or two references were really good saying that they had so much fun going out with him and his friends and finally one reference was negative but I feel it was the outcome of a misunderstanding.
In the end of the day, I don’t count it a bad CouchSurfing experience. It was more of a boring and neutral one. I wrote a polite positive reference, where I mentioned that I stayed in his hostel and nothing about the time we (didn’t) spent together, so I hope other surfers will get the hint. To make things worse he didn’t write me a reference, I guess he forgot about it or simply doesn’t care. I still wonder what’s inside that guy’s mind. Why is he using CouchSurfing? Despite the experience, It didn’t seem fair to me to write a negative or even a neutral reference, because the guy was nice, punctual and polite. But is this what CouchSurfing supposed to be? If you were in my place, would you write a negative reference?