The water tank is raining and sputtering furiously, getting me and everything else in the outdoor courtyard wet. I turn the knob and run inside as I bang on the bathroom door, “Stop whatever you’re doing!” I yell at my sister. I had watched confidently as our couch surfing host had demonstrated how to heat the water for our showers. I thought I had replicated his instructions carefully. Obviously something had gone terribly wrong. “Cold showers it is!” I laugh and tell my sisters.
This is just one more small fiasco in a string of uneasy and awkward moments we’ve had since couch surfing in Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for Couch Surfing. I’ve hosted surfers in my apartment and I’ve been blessed with amazing hosts while surfing. What’s not to like about hanging out with locals and having a free place to stay?We had a great time staying with our hosts in Mexico City!
It’s not as easy as it sounds. The next girl we stay with accepts our request and asks if we like dogs. She has two and they’re very friendly, she says. Of course we like dogs, who doesn’t? We happily accept her invitation and find ourselves in her apartment a few days later. Only her dogs are insane and everything, I mean everything is covered in dog hair. There are piles of dog hair in the shower, on our clothes, and in our sheets. We are tired and smelly from being on the road and “wet dog” is a fragrance we’d prefer not to add to the “sweaty, sunscreen, bug-spray, stinky feet,” traveler’s perfume we’ve been wearing. Our host is funny, kind, and gracious but we can’t get out of her home fast enough.
What if this was your host’s apartment? Guanajuato, Mexico
Apart from cleanliness and lack of privacy there are cultural and language barriers to navigate. Expectation complicates matters even further. For example, how much time are you obligated to spend with your host? Should you bring a gift? Is it okay to go to bed early when you’re sleeping in the common space? Is it rude to stay an extra night, or leave early? Some of this information can be garnered from tediously reading through entire profiles and meticulously scanning references. However, as the online dating community can attest, an online profile may not represent reality.
Couch surfing is a lot of work. It takes hours of research and planning ahead. It requires you to overcome language and cultural roadblocks and to present yourself as a worthy guest in spite of feeling exhausted and disgusting from too many days without a shower. It limits your freedom and requires you to have a flexible and accommodating schedule. Sometimes after days, weeks, or months on the road this is asking too much.
Will I continue to couch surf? Absolutely. I wholeheartedly believe in the value of cultural exchange that takes place within this community. I have been humbled time after time by the willingness of complete strangers to take me into their home and treat me like family. But I’m also going to allow myself to take a break from it now and then. Like many aspects of long-term travel, achieving balance is the name of the game. So tonight I’m going to shell out $8 to stay in a quaint hostel where I can meet other travelers and enjoy a free breakfast. I’m going to speak in English instead of struggling in Spanish. I’m going to go out on the town without worrying about my host waiting up for me. Tomorrow I’ll start sending out couch requests again and try to prepare myself for whatever may come. But tonight, tonight I’m going to have fun.
Leaning out of the balcony from our hostel in Guanajuato, Mexico
What have your experiences been like couch surfing? Leave a comment and share the good, the bad and the ugly! I’d love to hear your stories!Google+