How Hosting Travelers Has Enriched My Life

About two and a half years ago I rented a house that has an extra bedroom.  At the time I thought it would be nice to be able to have a room for friends to crash in or relatives to come visit.  But by coincidence, shortly after my girlfriend and I moved in, we discovered two websites that have literally changed our lives in more ways than we can count.  These websites are couchsurfing.org and AirBnB.com. They are both similar, but also offer completely different experiences that are both very worthwhile.  

Couchsurfing

This was the first one we joined.  We thought it would be a fun way to meet new people and make new friends.  So we filled out our profile as in-depth as possible, in hopes of attracting like minded people.  This has turned out to be one of the best things we have ever done.  I wish I had the time and space to go into each visitor, but needless to say, we have met literally dozens of wonderful people, plus about four "just ok" people, and zero bad people.  Some people became instant Facebook friends that I still communicate with regularly, and a handful have even become what I would consider life-long friends.  

The really great part about couchsurfing for us is that many foreign travelers use it when they come to visit the U.S.  If things go well and we end up really connecting, then we can go and visit them too. It is an invaluable way to make connections around the world. One of the ways you can use the site is to go on to your local city's listing board, and look for travelers from places you are interested in.  If you live in a big city, invariably there are always a few.  We then invite the people that we're interested in and they often accept and come stay with us.  This leads to awesome cultural exchanges and it's like we're traveling even when we're not.  

So far, there have been about a dozen instances where we bonded with a foreign traveler enough that we then traveled to their country and stayed with them at their house.  I went from being a person who had a relatively small group of friends, to being a person with cool friends located all over the world.  You would be amazed at how much easier and more fun it is to travel to a foreign country when you have a friend there already.  And it's all because I opened my home to couchsurfers.

So how does this work?  Well, couchsurfing is really simple:

  • Make a profile
  • Invite travelers from your local city's listing board
  • And/or - sit back and wait for them to ask you directly

If you live in a small city, or an out-of-the-way area, you might not get many direct requests.  We happen to live right in a downtown arts district, so that certainly helps us attract folks.  And no matter what, you don't have to accept everyone that asks.  We turn people down all the time if they look weird or have a blank profile or don't seem like a good fit.  

As far as the accommodations go, there are very low expectations.  You really only have to provide a roof over their head and a safe place to sleep.  We have a futon in our front living room that surfers use.  But you can also offer a couch, a blow-up mattress, a bed, whatever you feel like -- just be honest in your profile about what you are offering.  In turn, the surfers are always humble and appreciative, though foreigners tend to be more so.  Sometimes we go out with them and spend a lot of time with them, and other times we don't.  It just depends on the chemistry and what our schedules are like.  You can offer to feed them, though we usually don't since we'd be broke if we fed everyone that came through.  Just be upfront in your profile and all is well.  

All kinds of people use this site.  Students, foreign travelers, artists, musicians, families, etc.  We have had multiple bands come through town and stay with us, and they are always the nicest people ever.  Many times they will get you into their show for free and will sometimes leave you with free CD's or other merchandise as a thank you.  And it always feels so good to know you're helping some traveling musician live their dream.  Being a couchsurfing host has been a very rewarding experience on so many levels.  And it's always exciting because you never know if one of your new best friends is the next person to walk through the door.  

AirBnB

This site is similar in that you make a profile, and people come and stay with you.  It's different in that travelers make an official reservation and they pay you to stay at your house.  Since they're paying you, as opposed to you letting them stay for free -- the dynamic is a bit different.  The guest has an expectation of a certain level of accommodation.  But as long as you are not an asshole and don't mind going a little out of your way to make them feel welcome, then its no big deal.  We have two separate AirBnB listings.  One for our private guest room, and one for the futon in the living room.  

A different kind of person uses this site than the ones that use couchsurfing.  Yet we have still met many really great people through this site as well - people who have also become great friends, and who've we've then stayed with in their home city.  Sometimes they are young international travelers who just like the added peace of mind that comes with a reservation and a private room.  Other times its a business person in town for a weekend convention, and also common are people on long road-trips who just need a bed to sleep for the night on their way across the country.  

We are usually less discerning when it comes to accepting an AirBnB reservation, because the vibe is less about socializing and bonding with your guests, and more about them just paying you to sleep in your guest room for a night or three.  Though sometimes we still all click and have a really nice time anyway.  And in the case of people just passing through for the night, there have been times where we never even saw the people.  We just leave a key out for them, they show up after we go to bed, and they are up and back out on the road before we even wake up.  But we still make $25 for letting them sleep on your couch.  How awesome is that?

Over the few years that we have lived in this house, we have occasionally had full time roommates live in our guest room.  And usually that turns out to be a drag.  They might be cool for a month or two, but then you realize that they are a douche for one reason or another and now you wish they would just leave.  So we worked out the numbers and determined that we only needed to rent our our guest room on AirBnB for 7 nights a month to equal the same amount that a full-time roommate would pay.  This is way better because a few days is rarely enough time to get sick of someone, and then for most of the month we have the house to ourselves.  There have been several months where our AirBnB income has been enough to pay our entire rent.  And even when it doesn't pay all of it, it still usually pays a huge chunk.

More recently we have tried listing the entire house for rent on AirBnB.  We weren't sure how that would work because we would have to vacate the house ourselves and go find another place to stay, but we figured we'd at least try it out.  And sure enough, a group of 8 came along one weekend and paid us $1500 for our house for three nights.  That was more than enough for us to go stay at a swanky hotel and still have enough left over for our entire month’s rent.  And we hardly had to do anything.  

The most common question we get when we talk about this is, "What about your stuff?  Don't people steal your stuff?"  The answer is a resounding NO.  We have had well over 150 people come through, and not once ever did we even feel like there was a potential for someone to steal anything of ours.  It just doesn't work that way.  With AirBnB there is a robust review system that acts as a check and balance, and with couchsurfing, they have a review system too, but really it’s more about the karma in the end.  

People are good and when you treat them well and go out of your way to help them, they naturally return the favor.  Plus we don't accept reservations for anyone that looks "suspicious," though less than 1% even do.  And lastly, its about not living in fear.  If you're afraid everyone you let in your house is going to steal from you, then they probably will.  But if you believe in the goodness in people and treat them as you would want to be treated, then you'll quickly find yourself with wonderful new friends from all over the world, and potentially enough extra money to pay your rent every month.

Check out these handy guides we made for hosting + traveling!

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