Tuesday, August 9, 2011

CouchSurfing is my Philosophy

Look what I woke up to this morning. Anna made plum pastries and ginger hibiscus tea before I even got up at 7:00, with a map of Warsaw and the keys to her apartment on the table alongside them.
This is what is so amazing about CouchSurfing. Not that you get stuff, but that people are capable of giving. I know that a lot of places have very strong guest cultures, where Guest is God, but that's not really what I'm talking about here, because this type of thing happens in America and other places where it's not as common to dote on guests (or they are expected to cater to the host instead). It's not so difficult to do something nice for a stranger and give them some food or a gift to show them they are welcome, but the unexpected is that people give strangers their home, their personality, their habits, and part of their life. That's generosity.
With CouchSurfing, a host is choosing to let someone they don't know get very close to them and then choosing to trust that person as much as they would trust someone they've known for years. It feel amazing to have someone do that for you.
I've known Anna for about 15 hours, and I'm also her first CouchSurfer, so this kind of thing means a lot to me. Just the success of CouchSurfing and the way of interacting with strangers while traveling is the reason I know that people are good. If people were born bad, they wouldn't be getting up at 6:00 to bake plum-filled Postman's Letters and giving their house keys to someone from another country they don't know anything about. No wonder some people think it's crazy.
Although a lot of people who use the CouchSurfing resource cite is as a way to save money, it's usually not the biggest reason they use it. It's a way to test your faith in the human race and make connections with people, even if they don't end up being so great. I think some people who CouchSurf end up spending just as much money on their host as if they had stayed in a hostel or hotel. It's kind of a loose rule for some people, actually. When I hosted, it wasn't free. It costs a decent amount of money to constantly entertain people. Of course that doesn't matter and I never thought about it, but those who haven't experienced CouchSurfing often assume that hosts get paid, otherwise it wouldn't be worth anyone's time. That's also why dedicated members in the community are so upset by the infiltration of freeloaders, who are just using people's homes as a place to crash to avoid spending a lot on their holiday. It's not that they don't deserve it, it's that they don't appreciate the depth and symbolism of it, and you can't make a good connection with someone who doesn't appreciate the world around them.
Working at the hostel was proof that money creates obligation. I don't think any of our guests would ever leave such messes in their own homes, or especially at someone else's home. But as soon as you fork over even the smallest amount of cash, you've bought permission to do whatever you want. Would you leave a bottle of urine in your host's bedroom before leaving? Or rip a curtain rod out of the wall and not say anything? Would you track mud onto the floors and bed and not attempt to clean it? Of course not, that's insane. But since money is involved, it's acceptable. CouchSurfing would never work if there was money involved. So the people who use CouchSurfing as a "free bed" are money-minded people, and I don't think there is room for that in the community.

What I'm trying to say about all of this is that something simple, like a basket of pastries in the morning (ok, maybe pastries aren't so simple!) can do a lot to remind me that people are not just good...they are amazing, because there's nothing I did to Anna to deserve to be treated so well, or to earn her trust. I just showed up.
All of us who can feel emotions, at the bottom, are Good, and we want to be good to each other. This has been proven to me over and over again, and never is it more clear than when I am far away from home and reliant on strangers.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again....CouchSurfing is one of the best things I've ever done with my life. It makes me feel good about the world. It makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to step outside of my comfort zone and redefine it entirely. It makes me want to keep going and going and....have another pastry :-)


  1. Damn. That's just about the most wonderful and uplifting thing I've had the pleasure of reading in a very long time. You absolutely hit the nail on the head. In societies where everything that has value seems to be monetized, it's easy to forget that the most valuable things have nothing to do with money. Allowing people to care for each other, to give them joy by letting them provide you with the same, to feel the freedom of trust, is the ultimate fulfillment. I can't be happier for you that you've discovered this through couchsurfing, and I'm also very happy that I've been able to experience the same. I encourage anyone who hasn't, who is timid or unsure, to give it a shot.

  2. Great write up. As someone who has hosted for over 2 years and never travelled myself, I appreciate knowing we are appreciated. Occasionally, you host someone that doesn't get it. They are there for a free ride, and it's almost disappointing as a host to think you're being taken advantage of. However, I think some of it rubs off on them. I righteously believe that they just haven't been enlightened yet. My sharing of my home will help move them closer to that stage and life will be a happier place for them when they get there.