Couchsurfing: an online community connecting more than 5 million members from all over the globe.
Its mission: to create inspiring experiences.
If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, basically you can host travelers from all over the world who would like to stay on your couch for free. And in return, when you travel you can stay on other people’s couches! It’s all about connecting locals and travelers.
Friends of mine received people from France and loved the experience, but even though I’d been a member for a while, I had not tried it out yet.
December 2012. I was flying with a friend to Mexico. Since I was not traveling alone, I felt safe enough to contact people through Couchsurfing and give it a try. I wanted to taste the culture of Mexico through meeting locals.
First we went to Jonatan’s, who waited for our arrival until 1 a.m. His apartment was beyond our expectations; very clean, urban and cozy. The best part was the day we spent with him. He took us around in Mexico City, showing us places tourists don’t necessarily go, like a big food market where we ate tapas and drank wine in the middle of piles of shrimp, humongous fish, plucked chickens and piglets. We gained an experience to remember and a new friendship.
Two nights later, we moved to Oaxaca where we met Andres. As soon as we arrived in his neighborhood, we noticed it was quite run-down. Andres brought us to his place. Sheet metal walls, no light, a single bed and a real mess. There were things everywhere and speakers on the bed. We thought it would be a pretty interesting cultural adventure—until we met his cousin. He didn’t stop talking about drugs and crossing the border illegally (something he said he tried a few times already), and he asked us for Canadian money. He lived next door to Andres and God knows that a lock on a sheet metal door is not the safest thing in the world. At the risk of being rude, we decided to leave that same day for another city without telling Andres why we chose not to stay.
So, what did I learn from that experience that I’d like to pass down to you?
1) Always look at references when choosing a host (or before having a guest over). Both Jonatan and Andres had no reference as hosts, but we saw in Jonatan’s profile that he was an experienced traveler. Andres had nothing.
2) Exchange a couple emails with the person beforehand. Interacting through emails gives you a better idea of who the person is than just looking at a Couchsurfing profile.
3) Look at the pictures. What kind of pictures does the person post? Crazy? Adventurous? Serious? Combined with words, pictures help you confirm what you felt through email exchange and references.
4) Trust your instinct. Deep down, you know when you should trust somebody or not. Don’t let fear lead you, but be sensitive to what your little voice tells you!