Couchsurfing – the end of an era?

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I know the posts on this blog are getting more and more irrelevant to each other – that’s the good thing about having a personal blog, you can write whatever you want!

So today I would like to write my collected thoughts on my favourite hospitality exchange website – couchsurfing or CS.

I joined CS in early 2006, a few months after coming back from the UK, and I got hooked very quickly. This website offered me many things at once: the chance to travel, the chance to meet foreigners (something I had liked since childhood), the chance to meet like-minded people in my own city, and the chance to organise various events.

Since 2006, I opened my home to many, many people (I guess it might be around 200… don’t know!), I stayed with over 100 people in Greece and abroad and I organised, or helped organise, several meetings / parties / events / picnics / weekends away etc. I became a so-called “Ambassador” and I felt like I had a lot of responsibilities, and, let’s be honest about it, that I actually had an important role somewhere. CS became a big part of my life, and quite often (= almost always) I planned the rest of my life around it. My close friends who were not on CS complained that they didn’t see me very often. Let alone my family.

In 2012, I took a year off to go to Latin America – I’ve written a few things about it here – and I used CS extensively to stay with people, meet people, plan short trips, ask for information. I travelled for a few months, and when I eventually came back to Greece I discovered, to my surprise, that I wasn’t so interested in hosting people anymore. I was not even interested in meeting people, or organising meetings… What had changed?

Had I actually grown up or grown tired of meeting too many people? Well – several months on the road can offer you a new perspective of life, but I doubt that one year of travelling can change your perception so drastically, especially if your life afterwards is essentially the same routine as before. And I don’t think that “a year older” is too significant.

Was it that the website had changed a lot? This, to me, was a huge part of the reason why I wasn’t (and still am not) too eager to use it. On top of the fact that CS is a company these days, and it’s still thriving on volunteers’ work. However, hosting and meeting people per se has nothing to do with a website interface change.

Was it that the new “generation” of Couchsurfers was different? This is only an assumption, given I don’t really meet many CSers these days, but I tend to think that people these days use CS more as a way to spend no money and less as a way to connect with other people. I do hope I’m wrong here! I won’t go into whether people use CS for dating / hooking up – I guess all of us did at some point, even if it wasn’t our original intention. I do hope, however, that hooking up is not everyone’s main interest these days…

Was it that I joined AirBnB? Actually I don’t think so, as I’ve turned down dozens of AirBnB people, and only hosted four! I found hosting CSers a lot more relaxing, and a lot more interesting, as some AirBnB people just want a room and minimal interaction, and that’s really not my style!

Was it that I had decided that I want to make a living by offering alternative tours to foreigners? This is something I started doing in 2013, and I’m now offering several alternative tours of Athens with a few different companies. I wouldn’t say that “business is thriving”, but I was never too business-minded anyway. In fact I find it more pleasant to show people around for free, than to have paying clients, as the latter will probably have expectations, and it can be somehow stressful. But it’s probably affected my willingness to show people around.

Going one level deeper…

Thinking about my life a few years back, I am realising that the time spent with CSers was, to a certain extent, filling up my free time – perhaps it was even occupying my mind in ways that I couldn’t really see at the time. The more you do in your everyday life, the less time you have to think (this is probably why my friends and colleagues who have full-time jobs and children seem to have less time for abstract, seemingly pointless conversations). I’m not saying everyone is like that, and I’m not saying I’m having abstract, seemingly pointless conversations everyday – but it’s something I enjoy doing, and it needs time to think.

Getting to the point now, those of you who have been to my flat, or have stayed with me, might recognise this little tree below…

IMG_0007

This is a Christmas tree made of post-it notes, that I made one Christmas a few years ago, when I was too lazy to decorate a proper tree. All post-it notes were blank to begin with… and then I had this idea of asking people to write a little note before they left my home.

So, on my door, I’ve got messages from people who we are in touch with very often (my good friends Mutsumi and Duygu being two of them!), messages from people I’ve lost touch with but would love to see again, messages from people that I don’t even remember anymore (sorry!), and perhaps a couple of messages from people that I really, really don’t want to talk to anymore 😛

So this tree has been on my door for ages.

And now it’s time for it to go, and leave space for new things, because the longer you think about and live in the past, the harder it becomes to move forward 🙂

Plus, I am not living on my own anymore, and, to paraphrase a famous phrase, different times call for different measures – (those ancient Greeks are everywhere)!

I’m not saying my boyfriend and I will never host again. Time will tell. But I prefer to spend my time with people I know already, and get to know them better. And the new “tree” on our door will look a little different!

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About Vanidio

I was born in Athens, Greece, and left at the not-so-tender age of 27 to go to London for a master's degree - or, rather, to go experience the city. I worked there for a while, and after four years I decided to move back to Athens, and got a really boring job with a decent (more than decent) salary. In December 2011 I took a year off work, and travelled to Latin America, Europe, Greece and the Middle East. When I came back, I spent quite a bit of time trying to fit in and organise my "normal" life - or decide that I don't really want a "normal" life. At that time, travelling was more important to me than almost anything else... And then things changed a bit, as I got an offer from a foreign company to organise tours for foreigners in Athens. Dream coming true? Yes! We've done a few tours so far, and hopefully more are coming... let's see! And then things changed even more, as I met a nice, handsome foreigner through one of these tours. And we are now living together, and planning our next trips together :) Life is strange, isn't it!

5 responses »

  1. ” But I prefer to spend my time with people I know already, and get to know them better. And the new “tree” on our door will look a little different!”
    συμφωνώ και επαυξάνω

      • i think we all know by now, that you owe much to CS. still dont know, when in Athens as i am expecting lots of news(professionally) lately. hugz

  2. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend usually makes people less willing to CS, not necessarily because we CS to hook up.

  3. I agree with a lot of points…

    CS “quality” has dramatically dropped since they connected (and advertised) on FB, so “new generation” CS is (mostly) people who didn’t take the time to write a few lines, just created a profile with one click and it’s “65% complete”. Mine is also 65% complete because i filled it, have comments, friends, but refused to connect with FB or even worse pay the verification scam.

    I still maintain at least 1 active profile (even if CensorShip deleted me 29 times already). I had sex with 2% of my guests (in the last year) but none of them was from CS. I must say i have better connection with guests coming through BeWelcome (free software), Trustroots (hitch-hikers), WarmShowers (cyclists).

    I also created a profile on AirBnB but like Vanidio, no connection at all with these capitalist people. I never understood why people want to pay (the minimum rate allowed by AirBnB) for something i provide for free.

    Not hosting is not because of being in a relationship. When i was in a relationship it was the busiest hosting period of our lives, with 600+ nights per year. Alone, i’ve dropped to 350 nights per year.

    I still remember 7 years ago when i received Vanessa’s welcoming message on CS. What happened since then, is that i don’t have any more real friends around me, only a contact list of people i probably wont see again. And i feel so sad because with few of them i had very good relations. If we were living in the same city we would probably still drink beers together, but the distance and the travels made a rupture.

    Now, what should i do? Keep on hosting and consuming my love and friendship on strangers, until my heart runs dry? Go travel to meet these people i loved (in Netherlands, Germany, Baltics…)? Or just focus my feelings on Greek people who live around me? Hard choice…

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