Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Couchsurfing and the importance of keeping in touch

“It’s tiring being a host,” sighed Thomas. As an active member of and, he has put numerous travellers up, for free, at his home near the French Guianan capital of Cayenne.

“I enjoy it,” he continued, “but you put so much effort into creating these friendships and then you never hear from the person again.”

He’s not the only host I’ve heard voice such an opinion. Felicia, a member of, who I visited in her home within a downtrodden barrio of Caracas, Venezuela also told me that “most foreigners come, and then disappear”.

With these conversations in mind, I´m trying my best not to do a disappearing act. It’s particularly important to keep in touch with the hosts who aren’t travellers themselves, but are putting people up purely because they want to meet people and make friends across the world.

Admittedly, Felicia’s emails, filled with stream-of-consciousness, punctuation-free slang, push my Spanish beyond its limits, but we’re getting by. In general, MSN and Facebook make it a lot easier and, of course, all travel-networking hosts are, by definition, often online. A short email or a round robin is often all it takes to show you haven’t forgotten a person.

I can’t claim to be an angel when it comes to keeping in touch with everyone I’ve met through travel networking. I have a backlog of people I need to drop a line and one slightly intense Colombian contact is constantly telling me off from sporadic contact. (A little unfairly, I feel. The understanding needs to go both ways.)

However, I’m doing my best and what I like about couchsurfing is the connection it enables you to build with the places you visit. Usually when backpacking, you only make friends with other backpackers. You might become good friends and stay in contact for years, but what becomes of the place? Once you all move on, it is little more than a shell for your memories from that one period of time.

The advantage of staying with locals is you keep in touch with the places as well as the people. Life goes on there; you receive the updates, you can picture it moving on; and, as many hosts repeat, the door is always open for your return.