Sunday, 18 January 2009

NYC: When Couchsurfing goes wrong

Check out the Irish Times online for an article about the potential downsides of Couchsurfing. Their writer certainly didn't get a very warm reception from his NYC hosts, a couple who seemed to be in the midst of their own relationship meltdown.

I empathise with the writer although I do think there are some lessons to be learnt on both sides here. Here are some tips for all couchsurfers to keep in mind.

1. Do not presume you will always get a front door key to your host's home. In London, I don't offer guests a key. This is because I have housemates and, even if I deem a person trustworthy, I don't feel it is up to me to make that decision on their behalf too. However, I do make this clear on my profile and it was certainly bad form of these NYC hosts to wait until the morning to tell their guests that they expect them to vacate the building when they go to work.

2. Select your host wisely. If you're on a short city break, where your host can make or break your whole experience, it pays to do a bit more research than you would if you were on a schedule-free round-the-world trip, where you can change plans and move on the next day if necessary. Exchange a few emails with your host in advance to build up an idea of the sort of reception you might get on arrival.

3. I imagine the Irish Times writer would have been a lot more tolerant if his hosts hadn't been so frosty, however, you can't complain if a New York City apartment is cramped. It probably feels the same for your hosts too, and yet they've agreed to share it with you.

4. If it's that bad, move on. Granted, that's not so easy in New York, where hotel rooms and couches are in high demand. However, if it's got to the point where you are "escaping" your hosts and dread even thinking about them, then spending a few minutes to send a couple of mails to some alternative hosts is surely worth a try. The hugely active NYC forum has a sub-group for last-min couch requests.

5. Finally, and most importantly: the golden rule. Couchsurfing always works better if you socialise with your hosts and don't just use it as a place to crash.