By every standard of normality, *Couchsurfers are insane.
I can say this because I’ve Couchsurfed before and, if you know me, you know I only believe in insulting things you’ve tried. Honestly, the potential negatives of couch surfing are pretty transparent; all primal instincts scream that finding a complete stranger over the internet and staying with them/letting them stay with you is ridiculous. And, in a way, they’re right. But ridiculous is not always a bad thing.
The first time I Couchsurfed, I had approximately everyone tell me I was going to die/be abducted. After all, how DO you avoid ending up on the “Missing Persons” page of the Times? Or, better yet, how on earth do you sleep soundly curled up on the couch of a complete stranger?!? Well, beyond the logical safety measures (3 C’s: Communication, Comments, and Contact) I would say it comes down to one thing – trust.
Reality: everyone you’re friends with now was once a stranger. Maybe you met them at work, in high school, or maybe your parents semi-forced you to be friends by having playdates every weekend of your childhood. But regardless, there was a time when you knew absolutely nothing about them. And whatever the circumstances, you had to start from nothing and build trust with that person.
Or, if you want to get more cozy – let’s talk dating. Because everybody likes blog posts about dating. When you first start dating someone, how much do you know about that person? If they were a friend before you started dating, probably more than most. But, more than likely, you met at some kind of event/location and then ended up going out with this complete stranger until the two of you either decided to get more serious or one/both of you bolted.
By these standards, Couchsurfing is actually an upgrade. You get to look at reviews, talk with the person beforehand (via Skype, email or text), you see pictures of the place you’ll be staying, read bios and gather information. AND THEN, and only then, do you choose to stay with them – or continue to peruse the thousands of other profiles. If you’ve done your research (which was practically laid out in front of you) then you’re more than likely in the clear.
For me, when I first started Couchsurfing, I did it because I needed a place to stay, wanted to explore and didn’t want money (or, rather, the lack thereof) to be a reason I couldn’t visit a place I wanted to (the other half of the reason is because I absolutely love shocking people).
My first trip I didn’t really know what to expect. I was picked up at the Greyhound bus station by my host and her pug and driven to her house, which was not too far away. I didn’t really know what the protocol was, so I just decided to act like we’d known each other for forever and were just meeting up again after not seeing each other in ages (#storyteller).
This, as it turns out, was actually one of the best things I could have done. That, and bringing pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I had baked the night before. After munching and searching through the newspaper for things to do, I quickly decided that she and I were going to be friends. Anyone who offers to teach me how to make books, and has a giant ginger cat, is fine by me. During my time there (Montana), we ate, we danced and we laid out under the November night sky for hours looking for shooting stars. It was sublime.
After that trip I knew I had to Couchsurf again, and every time I do I walk away with new friends and beautiful stories. I’ve gone line, Cuban salsa, and traditional Scottish dancing and I’ve loved every minute. I’ve eaten sheep intestines, seen Les Miserables in London, stared at originals by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Monet and had cooking lessons on how to properly make a “raw”/vegan meal.
I feel so enriched by all of my experiences as a Couchsurfer, because throughout them all, there is the overwhelming sense of (get ready for the cheese) love. As a Christian, I’m told to love my neighbor as myself, but it wasn’t until I showed up on the doorstep of a complete stranger, and she insisted on me taking her bed, while she slept on the couch, that I understood why.
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” Matt. 25:35
When we place others before ourselves, it’s not just an act of courtesy. It literally changes a little piece of that person and with them, the world. It makes others feel valued, loved and accepted when they might not, otherwise. And, my favorite part, it allows them to then take that love and pass it on.
You might not have the means to make huge gestures for changing the world around you. You might feel stuck where you live, or not know exactly how to make a positive impact.
But, here’s a tip from one friend to another – value a stranger. Let them hang out on your couch. Listen to their stories and show them around your town. It might seem small, like a mustard seed, but sometimes that’s all it takes to plant a tree of hope, and change the life of a stranger.
*N O T E: Couchsurfing.org : Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home; fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect, and experiencing the world in a way money can’t buy.