One of my favorite hobbies is hosting Couch Surfers. It’s a unique hobby, I’m aware, but one I love, am dedicated to, and strive to excel at.
I’m rapidly moving up on hosting my 100th surfer and thankfully I’ve learned a few things along the way. Every time I host someone, I closely observe how people react to the experience, and I try to grow and improve at what I do (channeling my inner Avraham Avinu–Abraham, our father).
Here are some things I learned along the way that hopefully make me one of the high-quality Couch Surfing hosts:
1) Host Them the Way They Want to Be Hosted
It’s very easy to assume that someone who is visiting you and enjoying your benevolence should be hosted the way you choose. They should go to sleep and cease all noise when you want, and show up when you say. If you want to hang out or show them around or be totally left alone, they should be ready and willing to accept your whims and wishes.
However, if that’s your attitude, perhaps hosting isn’t the right hobby for you. Most of my guests here in Jerusalem are visiting for their first time ever. I can walk to the Western Wall literally any time I want to. This is THEIR vacation–their special trip–and just because they want to save hundreds of dollars on a hotel room, doesn’t mean you should dictate how their trip goes.
Be who they want you to be, to the best of your ability. If they want to hang out or be toured around the city, if they want to wander aimlessly with their travel book, if they just want restaurant recommendations, or if they just want to pass out when they arrive from sheer travel exhaustion, it’s their time and should be treated as such.
This doesn’t mean your time needs to fully be dictated by your guests, but it should minimally mean that you are upfront with what you can and cannot offer. I’ve told guests that I can’t hang out because I’m having special time with my son that evening or that I’m just too exhausted. But I always strive to facilitate a fantastic experience for my guests, and to let them know as much in advance as possible how available I am for them.
2) Be Flexible
Travelers are often very whimsical and adventurous people. Cancellations and postponements come with the territory. It’s by no means personal, and you shouldn’t ever let it get to you. Yes, it’s more fun when they come; just be ready for the possibility that it might not happen, and be happy regardless.
Never completely overturn your life; however, if it’s easily within your power to be flexible, it will make your guests feel more welcome and you feel more at ease.
Life is crazy. I used to be upset with people who were late all the time. Ever since I had children, I realized there’s always a good excuse out there. I’ve had everything from cancellations due to illness, passport issues, problems crossing borders, transportation issues, and just shoddy planning. The world is filled with mishaps. Let it go. Everyone’s better off for it.
3) Expect Nothing In Return
Some guests write letters. Others wash dishes, give a gift, or take you out for a beer. These gestures are beautiful and always appreciated. However, it is incumbent on all good hosts to expect nothing, and to be happy if nothing comes.
Hosting is about providing safe, fun, and memorable experiences for guests. And it ends there. If they want to keep in touch for years to come, that’s amazing. And if they want to crash on your couch and then disappear from your life forever, so be it. If they do all of your dishes, they are a miracle of miracles; if the sink is just as full as when they came, you still hosted someone and made the world a better place.
It should warm your heart to host travelers. Someone slept comfortably and safely because of your kind heart. This should be enough to make you happy. Expecting some type of compensation weakens the experience. Enjoy hosting for the sake of hosting!
4) Stay in Touch
Who wants to connect with someone only to have the relationship disappear forever?
I remember years ago attending an international summer camp. When we said goodbye at the end of the summer, it was a real goodbye. If we wanted to keep in touch, there were three choices: travel, call, or write letters. The first two were wildly expensive and the third was time consuming and unreliable. So falling out of touch was basically inevitable.
In this generation there’s no excuse for not keeping in touch. It’s inexpensive and easy. And the best way to truly convey you care for another, is to continuously convey the sentiment.
5) Offer Some Water
It’s not unlikely that your travelers will arrive hungry, thirsty, tired, sweaty, or some other fun result of the pleasures of travel. Not everyone is assertive, especially when they first walk into someone’s home as a new guest. It’s incumbent upon the host to ask about their guests’ needs and accommodate to the best of the host’s ability. Often it’s a glass of water. However, I’ve provided guests with everything from a place to take a quick nap to tossing soaking wet shoes into my dryer. If you’re going to be a host, might as well be an amazing one.
6) Write a Reference (Right Away)
Everyone who uses couchsurfing.com knows that references are invaluable. They’re the way that strangers can learn to trust you without any direct knowledge of who you are. The more references you have, and the more positive they are, the more likely people will be willing to come to your home or choose to host you.
They’re also, in sad occasions, the only way to protect other potential hosts or guests from the uncomfortable experiences that sometimes creep up along the way.
Being a great guest is a skill that can be honed, just like being a good host. And some people, unfortunately, are not fantastic guests. If someone was a great guest, let them and others know as soon as you can. Do everything in your power to make sure others want to host them and enjoy their company as much as you did.
7) Make Them Feel Safe
From your profile to your initial communications to the moment you say goodbye, the #1 goal of any host should be to make their guests feel safe.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard way too many stories of guests who were made to feel uncomfortable by their hosts. One thing I like to do is to send an audio message to my guests before they arrive. I found this out by accident. I leave audio messages for people using WhatsApp all the time, just because it’s a really easy form of communication, one that I can do whenever I want, and one that I can do while walking without fear of smashing into a tree.
One time I left a message and my future guest told me how comforting it was. An audio message not only “proves” that there’s a real person hiding behind the computer, but they can be comforted by experiencing a touch of your warm personality.
For all sorts of reasons, I prefer to only host for one night. When my guests then go off to stay somewhere else in Jerusalem, I try to always assure them that if they feel even mildly uncomfortable with their new host, they should contact me immediately and if I am able to, they can absolutely return to my home.
It is the responsibility of all Couch Surfing hosts to make his or her guests feel warm and safe. If you ever make your guests feel uncomfortable or unsafe, please stop hosting.
OK world, invitation extended. You know you have a safe, friendly, relaxed place to stay if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem. See you soon!
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