A failed attempt at riding the Couchsurfing wave

Maybe you’ve heard of couchsurfing.  Maybe you’ve tried it.  It sounds like a very cool concept.  You go to www.couchsurfing.org, fill out a profile, and search other profiles of people in the location you are visiting.  You can find people to grab coffee with or find someone willing to host you during your stay.  Browsing through profiles, you can see what people’s interests are as well as feedback left my people they have hosted.  There is also a whole community of surfers.  In Wellington, New Zealand, couchsurfers have drinks every Wednesday.  They also attend other events together.  You can search different cities to see what is happening in the couchsurfing community.

Enjoying a beautiful day in Sydney
Enjoying a beautiful day in Sydney

I was stopping in Sydney for a few days on my way back to New Zealand from California and thought I would try it out.  I had heard mostly good things about couchsurfing.  One friend absolutely loves it–whenever he travels, he goes the couchsurfing route, and he also hosts many surfers, bringing them along to various events and showing them around.  Other people I’ve spoken with had similar experiences; the only downside was occasional scheduling issues.

Although I enjoy travelling by myself, Sydney seemed like a cool city to have people to explore the nightlife with.  As a girl, I don’t like to go to bars by myself.  But hanging out with locals and seeing things that tourists might miss sounded great.  Although I hadn’t tried couchsurfing, I’d done something similar with fellow fans of my favorite band.  I’ve let people crash on my couch and that has been reciprocated by other fans, as well as people I’ve met while travelling (either at hostels and even on trains).  I thought if I carefully read the reviews, looking at people who were most likely to reply (based on their statistics) and had positive experiences, it would be fun.

My first choice was to find a female host.  Perhaps because of the time of year (a few days after New Year’s Eve), the only females available were non-hosts, only up for coffee.  I found a couple other people who sounded promising, but one didn’t reply and the other said to check back as it got closer to the date.  I should have checked with other hosts, but was busy with the holidays…and before I knew it, it was closer and closer!

After getting quite a few “sorry, all my couches are full” or no replies at all, I finally found a host who said I was more than welcome.  His reviews were really postivie and it seemed like he would be a great host.  He had me add him as a friend on facebook so that we could keep in contact about the details of my trip.

I hadn’t heard from him during the week before my trip, which was understandable because it was just after the holidays, but I had seen him online both on facebook and at couchsurfing, so wasn’t too worried.  Then a few days before my trip, I sent a message saying I just wanted to confirm everything and sent through my details again, asked where to meet and other specifics.  No reply…so the day before my trip I found myself looking at hostels.  The morning of my departure, I received a message saying he was sorry but couldn’t host anymore because his parents were sending him on a trip as a bleated Christmas present, and he didn’t tell me sooner because he didn’t have internet access until that day.

Now I totatlly understand that he couldn’t host, and I realize it isn’t a hotel service, but the fact that I saw him posting status updates on facebook and the green light button showed he was online both facebook and couchsurfing made me mad.  That, combined with the lack of replies from  other people I had contacted, pretty much turned me off couchsurfing.

In the end, I had an awesome trip to Sydney.  The hostel I stayed at was a convenient location, I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years, and just had a fabulous time taking in the sights and hanging out on the beach.  It all turned out great.

But given all that happened, I think I might try couchsurfing again.   It still sounds like a fun way to see a new city.  I was recently talking to a friend about her experiences, and it made me think I should give it another chance.  I realize people can’t reply to everyone who contacts them, but it is nice to at least get a “sorry, I’m unavailable”.  On my Sydney trip, I probably should have tried to meet up with a local for coffee; at the very least I might have gotten some good tips on where to go.  I’ll keep that in mind the next time I travel solo.

Have you tried couchsurfing?  What have been your experiences?

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