When I wrote about why Micah and I had decided to forgo a nursery in our two bedroom apartment, I shared that one of the reasons was to preserve a space for guests. We love hosting friends, family, and friend-of-friends that need a place to stay for a few nights. We also love hosting strangers. The problem is, that in the US, having a stranger stay in your home seems creepy. We’ve all been taught about stranger danger, right? Then we stumbled onto couchsurfing.org – where strangers are known as “friends you haven’t met yet.”
The site works like this: you create a profile (here’s mine) where you list some basic information about yourself, including if you’d like to host travelers and how much space you have to offer. Then people can find you and ask you to host them, or you can search for others and send them a “couch request.” Not all couchsurfers are required to host others, but it is encouraged. You can even specify that you can’t host people overnight, but you’d be happy to meet them for coffee to give them the low down on your city/suburb/neighborhood – or show them around. Then people leave feedback after couchsurfing experiences to show others “hey, this person is not a wacko.”
Since the suburbs aren’t generally a highly prized travel destination, we don’t get a ton of requests – in the past 3 years, we’ve ended up having only 6 or 7 people stay with us. We like to call them our “couch potatoes” after Micah’s sister unwittingly created this term. It sounds cliché, but we really enjoyed meeting all of them – from a wind turbine engineer, to 2 separate yoga instructors, to some Chinese foreign exchange students. This week our guest was a return visitor — a musician who travels around and plays in senior centers.
We don’t host everyone who asks – we’ve rejected people if our schedules don’t allow, or if we are getting a weird vibe. And so far we’ve only couchsurfed once ourselves. We tried finding a host for our trip last week to Walnut Creek, CA, but weren’t able to find one close enough to our destination that had space for the 3 of us.
Of course there are some risks, but our experience has been overwhelmingly positive so far – and couchsurfing gives some great tips for safety.
The distinction is full of generalizations, but is (generally) helpful in understanding some basic cultural differences. Cold cultures are more task-oriented while hot cultures are relationship oriented. Hospitality takes different forms as well. In Togo, Micah found strangers who gladly let him and friends camp out in their front yard – in the suburbs of Chicago, he would be seen as a wacko for even asking! Shortly after he returned from Togo (and we began dating-in-person, with engagement and marriage to follow), we both signed up for couchsurfing, a way we’ve discovered to make our cold culture into a hot one. We love the opportunity to chat with, host, and learn from people whose path we probably wouldn’t cross otherwise — without being seen as creeps for inviting them to stay.