I first heard about CouchSurfing.com on the BootsnAll message boards last Summer.
Unfortunately, it was around the same time the website crashed. For a short time, it seemed I would not have the opportunity to participate.
And then, user demand helped resurrect and relaunch the network.
The Phoenix Story documents the series of events that lead to the project's 2.0 version being launched after all of the previously accumulated user data (profiles) had been lost.
So with the network back up and running, I filled out my profile in December 2006, intent on exploring the concept as both guest and host before my upcoming trip around the world.
I waited and waited some more. The Washington, DC message boards advertise a happy hour a month; however, I've yet to make it to one.
My first “friend” and positive reference came from Stefan, whom I met in Costa Rica in 2005.
A few weeks later, a guy from Texas with tons of positive references e-mailed me needing a place to stay during a conference he was planning to attend.
He said he wouldn't be around much, though it fell through when he found a host in a more convenient location.
Still, he left me a positive reference for my e-mail efforts and offered to host.
Then in March, Sonia e-mailed me out of the blue.
She lived a few miles from me and suggested we get together for a cup of coffee, as she was planning a trip around the world too.
I met her and her boyfriend for coffee soon after, and we exchanged plans, advice, and travel tales.
It felt great to talk to someone at the same stage of the game as me. We then left each other positive references, and have stayed in touch.
A young guy on an impromptu road trip e-mailed me next; however, he wanted to stop by the same week I had my dental implant drilled into my jaw, so I declined him politely.
It didn't quite feel right, and while he indicated having stayed with many people on his trip around the eastern US, I didn't see a lot of positive references on his profile.
So by the time Andre contacted me in May, I had fostered some good comments to help vouch for how swell a guy I am.
For those interested in hosting, with a low tolerance for risk, I would suggest an approach similar to what I've taken (by happenstance).
Once you start to hear others talk about their surfing experiences, you begin to feel a little more comfortable with the idea.
I thought Andre's visit went well. We both demonstrated the etiquette (and safety) advice, which is part common sense, and part available via the Tips section on the web site.
My Tips for a Positive Hosting Experience
Look for positive references on his/her profile before agreeing to host
Feel the surfer's personality out through the profile and e-mails. Does this person seem independent, or do I suspect he/she will be stuck to me like glue? Do not feel obligated to host a person just because he/she contacted you.
Communicate the rules of your home in advance. Smoke-free? Shoes off? Liquor cabinet off-limits? While unlikely, the potential guest may pass if he/she feels they can't abide by them, which is better than having them arrive at your doorstep ready to party.
Do not feel obligated to give someone a key to your home. Guests are lucky to have you offering a free place to stay, and will certainly understand if you are a little nervous about leaving them unattended. It wouldn't hurt to mention accessibility in advance, as it may be a deal-breaker for some people.
Follow the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated. While I've only hosted one person, I feel as though the effort I put into making his experience fun and comfortable was returned to me through his frequent appreciation.
My Tips for a Positive Surfing Experience (or what I expect from those who stay with me, and myself when the time comes)
Communicate travel plans in detail, and don't assume your host can pick you up (at the least, ask politely, and accept “no” without debate)
Air on the side of independence. Your host has a life, so take your cues from him/her as to how much time you'll be able to spend together. I hung out with Andre quite a bit because we were getting along, and I enjoyed showing him around and seeing him experience silly things like American coffee, air conditioning, an ice cream sundae, and a soccer match.
Say “thank you” and smile a lot. It will help put your host at ease.
Arrive with an offering for your host (Andre brought beer). Showing respect for your host will open new doors of kindness. You may get back far more than you find yourself giving.
Leave a minimal footprint in your host's home. Keep your belongings in a small part of the area where you'll be sleeping, and keep your toiletries under control.
Do not eat food unless you're invited to chow down (with or without your host around). When in doubt, ask first.
Respect your host's rules. If your host doesn't communicate the rules, ask!
I picked up much of the etiquette from the CouchSurfing tips section, however much of this is just common sense!