“Do you trust to be hosted by strangers? What’s more men!”
“Does your boyfriend let you do CouchSurfing alone?”
“Why do you host people that you don’t know? Is it safe since you live alone?”
In various forms, these are the most frequent questions that I am asked when I speak about CouchSurfing and every time, I think that the road for a more trustful in others and less sexist world is still long.
First of all, what CouchSurfing is and how does it work?
CouchSurfing (abbreviated CS) is a service of free hospitality accessible through online website or app. The platform was founded in 2004 in San Francisco. At the beginning, it was no-profit, but in 2011 it changed – with many critics – and became a for-profit organisation. Literally, CouchSurfing means “surfing among couches” and puts into contact travellers and hosts from all over the world. The exchange currency is not money, but the sharing of time, stories, and experiences.
Signing up is very easy and intuitive. Personal details and an e-mail address are enough. Once you have created your profile, you can satisfy your whims by telling something about you, possibly in English so that everyone could understand. There are various sections: general information (interests, visited countries, the reasons why you have decided to sign up to CS), information about your home if you intend to host, photos, references, friends/contacts, and preferred places.
Now, following some changes towards a for-profit organisation, a distinction between verified members and non-verified members has been added. A non-verified member has a weekly limit of ten requests for hospitality, which – brutally speaking – is a ridiculous number, especially in big cities. To be verified there are two ways: either to pay sixty dollars for an ad libitum verification or to host. In fact, each time you host you earn free verification for a given period. These are the most important technical details for those who want to understand how CouchSurfing works and to open a profile.
Let’s come back to the incipit “essere donna oggi, vivere il prodigio di viaggiare non scortata da un fallomunito, ostentando sicumera” [to be a woman today, to live the miracle of travelling without being escorted by a “phallus-bearing,” by showing off self-confidence] (thanks to Elio e le Storie Tese, inexhaustible source of inspiration)*. Often it happened to me to listen to women and girls having serious reservations about being hosted by stranger men. Mostly they are afraid to find themselves in a maniac’s lair.
CouchSurfing is a sexual game preserve?
In theory no, for certain members yes. It would be dishonest to deny it.
For a lonely woman is CouchSurfing more dangerous than any other place (pub, hostel, social network)?
In my opinion no.
Therefore, making a distinction of gender to me is not so much productive and means to lose a lot of the wonderful humanity that on the contrary exists in the world. I live alone and I hosted a great deal of guys, as well as I have been hosted by guys and I haven’t had any traumatic or negative experiences. I assume that nothing negative should happen, that a man should not be a rapist only because he is a man and that I should not be inevitably a prey because I am a woman.
How did I choose and do I choose my guests and hosts? I follow my instinct, the sympathy I instinctively feel and till now I didn’t get wrong. I have fantastic memories of the people that I came across along my way, with some of them I am still in contact occasionally. We update each other about our lives and our travels. Because this is CS, to find new friends, to share and maintain some relations.
Even on CS the motto, “I know what I am doing” is valid. It is very important to read carefully the profile and the reviews of the person that we are going to host or by whom we want to be hosted. If a profile doesn’t give us positive vibrations, let’s trust it. I am suspicious of poor profiles without any photos, probably they are members who are not so much or not at all active. I am suspicious of a person who in messages is not so much clear, not so much friendly or he starts already to make offer of sexual nature. I am also suspicious of male profiles having only female reviews or of men who overtly declare to host only girls. Basically, to these people I don’t send at all a request a priori, because it is evident that they have exchanged CS for Tinder or that they simply have gender prejudices that I don’t approve.
I take particularly care of my profile. I update it, when necessary, especially if there are significant changes in my life. The same care is necessary when you send the request for hospitality. This is a form a respect towards the host, who doesn’t deserve a simple copy and paste. A targeted request, furthermore, increases significantly the percentage of accepted requests.
Another important thing is to take also into account that you could not find a host or that your hospitality is cancelled until the last minute. This happens and for this reason it is expedient to have a B-plan. CouchSurfing doesn’t mean to have – or worst to claim – a free bed. If you don’t have the intention to share something with your host and you want to stay on your own, avoid requesting for hospitality since the beginning.
CouchSurfing means sharing stories, experiences. It means to cook together, to be kind, welcoming, and inclusive towards the person we have in front of us.
I am and will always be a supporter of CouchSurfing. Thanks to it, I met wonderful people. I found out myself less cynical, braver, and more sociable than I believed. I confronted myself with a great deal of other points of view. I learnt to look at my same city with other eyes. I visited places that without my hosts’ advices I would have never found.
Thanks to CouchSurfing, I became more flexible: from a child of germophobic parents, I have found out that you can survive even in a not perfectly clean bathroom, that a mattress on the ground is a very comfortable pallet. With CS, I followed any kind of diet. I was vegetarian, vegan, even fruitarian (but for one meal only, then my body shouted pity). I heard about places that I didn’t know and that now I want to visit and I refreshed my French finding out that I like it again as a language!
In the section “information” there is the question “Why are you signed up to CouchSurfing?”, that is a frequent question when I speak about it. I tried many times and in many ways to answer, but until now the most beautiful answer is, in my opinion, in the exchange of gags between my dad and a friend of him:
– “In Genoa my daughter hosts strangers from all over the world. She often speaks to me about two French boys on a bike and about two street-artists found by chance. Once she hosted five of them all together…”
– “Strangers? But is she not afraid?”
– “It seems no. On the contrary, it makes her feel good.”
Often the simplest answers are the best ones.
* The sentence is intentionally ironic. It is a paraphrase of a strophe of a song by an Italian group Elio e le Storie Tese “Essere donna oggi,” a quotation that the author wanted to emphasize irony.