Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I Let Complete Strangers Into My Home

I cannot tell you how many times I am told of my own level of insanity after I explain to someone how my wife and I travel.  Yes, we are part of a very weird movement in traveling called couchsurfing - a website dedicated to people who will host complete strangers in their own homes for free.  During our recent trip to Japan, we paid $100 cumulatively for 15 nights worth of places to sleep.  That is about $7 a night.  Suddenly travel on a teaching salary is possible.  

A list of things that people have told us will happen to us if we stay with random people or invite others into our home - 
1. Stabbed in our sleep
2. Murdered 
3. Robbed
4. Forced into slavery
5. Organs sold on the black market
Etc.

So far none of these have happened... Well, that I know of at least. I am pretty sure that I still have both of my kidneys.  If not, I sure hope they got top dollar as I have been taking pretty good care of my innards.

There are always going to be horror stories about people allowing random strangers into their homes, but in the 50-60 people that we have interacted with in the last few years through couchsurfing, we have had nothing but amazing experiences.  This is why I still have faith in humanity.

As I write this, our couchsurfers, who have been more like friends who randomly stop by from time-to-time, are inside teaching my wife how to make spring rolls.  While they are doing this, they are preparing for the next leg of their journey.  Odds are they will be back in a week or so, to rest and recuperate before the next big adventure.  They are rare, usually couchsurfing is a one to two night hosting system.  

For those of you who have never heard of the system, or are curious as to how it works, I will try to lay it out really quick. Couchsurfing works off a system of user maintained profiles.  You have the most basic information, which can just have various information on you, your home, and what you hope to gain out of meeting new people.  Most people though have references, pictures, and other aspects that separate themselves into a category of people that I would consider hosting.  

It is easy to tell who is crazy off of a profile and a few references.


Obviously Nuts

You will notice that the profile has a big green check mark next to the name.  This means that my address has been verified through the postal system.  This means that when I send you my address, that it must match where I get my mail.  This is a great safe-guard against people who might steal your kidneys by luring you into a back alley.  You are welcome.

You can also the see the 29 positive references.  Once a reference is written, there is no way to erase it.  Getting a negative reference can be a death sentence on this system.  I have turned people away for a reference that is questionable or negative.  This ensures that people are, and will be, on their best behavior.  

I'll show you sarcasm

Always List Rules

Make sure you list preferences as well


Once you have an established profile with a a few references, people are much more open to letting you stay in their home.  For us, this has ranged from futons on the floor, to entire bedrooms.  The best part of it is you get to meet people as often as you feel comfortable with.  We have hosted people from every populated continent, and had amazing conversations about anything and everything with people who are just passing through Hawaii.  It can be a great way to expand your own world-view from the comfort of your living room.  Yes, there are times where the cultural and language barriers can seem insurmountable, but nothing is impossible.  We have had amazing Russian food cooked in our kitchen, enjoyed trying to find the best pork in Hilo with a surgeon from Mexico, created new friends from across social divides, and continually challenged our own viewpoints by having conversations about geopolitical issues with people who don't share our same cultural backgrounds.  It can be amazing and enlightening.

Check out the website.  Sync it with your Facebook.  Ask a friend who is currently on couchsurfing what they think - (you will find out who after you sync it with Facebook).  Get over your fear of the outside world and challenge that world-view that you hold so dear.  Perhaps you will learn something new about other people and places - but even more importantly, about yourself.