Why I’d rather take a free couchsurfer than make money with Airbnb | Australia travel blog

I realized recently that travelers to Melbourne have two options if they want to stay with me. They can find my Airbnb profile and pay $80 a night for the veranda of our apartment in St Kilda with guaranteed fresh linen and breakfast, or they can contact me via couchsurfing and come crash for free.

It got me thinking about how my personal priorities had changed since I was a young couchsurfer traveling through Europe, the US and Australia about a decade ago. Back then, there was a fine art of reading dozens of couchsurfing profiles for the next city or town on the route and writing personal, genuine letters to the most attractive of them asking to stay home.

Friends the author met, couchsurfing in <a class=Warsaw.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/2/10/1423527519546/4f2791fa-808a-40e8-8c91-b1a94084e379-620×372.jpeg?width=445&quality=85&dpr=1&s=none” width=”445″ height=”267″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-evn1e9″/>
Friends the author met, couchsurfing in Warsaw. Photography: James Norman/The Guardian.

Today, when I travel, I prefer to use Airbnb – partly because I can usually afford to rent an entire apartment in the exact neighborhood where I want to stay – but also because more often than not I will be looking for a place to write , so I need to invest in a quiet and comfortable workspace.

But when it comes to hosting, I found that I would much rather host couchsurfers than Airbnb guests.

There’s something more authentically nomadic about couchsurfers—they put themselves at the whim of human kindness in a way that most of us stop doing as adults. Plus, couchsurfers invariably have more interesting stories to share about hitchhiking across the country to be here, and they usually come with lower expectations.

Simply put, trading becomes more human when money is taken out of the equation. The experience transcends routine and can transport me back to when I too was a free lone traveler surviving on the kindness of strangers.

Any human interaction with strangers carries risks, such as recent reports of a Italian couchsurfer drugs and rapes hosts confirm. The key tip is to pay attention to the referrals accumulated by your guests and only take guests whose identity has been verified. In your first online chats with guests or hosts, insist on a level of honesty and simpatico before closing the deal.

For those of us who spent nascent years traveling the planet when couchsurfing was in its heyday, looking back at your own couchsurfing profile can be a confronting experience. Can many of us honestly claim to remain true to the idealism that initially drew us to this rather utopian, unmonetized travel portal?

The author, far left, with couchsurfing friends. Photography: James Norman/The Guardian.

Here is an excerpt from mine: “My mission is to be part of social change, to love my friends, to work for the planet, and to expand myself as a writer… I like to explore, to broaden my horizons, seeking light while dipping my toes in the dark, writing to the world and constantly expanding my networks of close friends all over the world.

In over 10 years and in 10 countries, I have accumulated 34 positive references from people I have stayed with and not a single negative one. People like Paul, the New York nudist and poly-pride activist who opened up his entire loft on Kekalb Avenue to anyone who asked to stay with him, meaning his apartment housed up to 20 travelers from whole world per night. Or Cashia, the Polish Greenpeace activist I stayed with in Warsaw who helped prepare food for the homeless through a Food Not Bombs stall she ran in the Market Square. Or Dot and Roger, the progressive Christians who hosted me and my boyfriend to stay with them in Portland, West Victoria, on a trip home from Adelaide. They left fresh eggs from the chickens in their garden so we could make our own breakfast.

Couchsurfing tends to attract like-minded people whose values ​​align with the idealism of the concept – but with pay-per-night accommodation sites, the transaction can become much more mercenary.

We would like to think that becoming an owner does not change us, but in reality it probably does. Since buying an apartment in St Kilda about two years ago I have kept my couchsurfing profile, but have also decided with my partner to open our back room to Airbnb, Windu and Gay guests homestays to help cover mortgage repayments.

A number of guests have stayed with us, but the exchanges had nothing to do with the jovial affinity I’d enjoyed with other couchsurfers. Instead we had young couples from Adelaide who just wanted to come to St Kilda for a party weekend and seemed to prefer to keep their communication with us to an absolute minimum.

And we had an elderly Dutch couple who looked around the size of the room and politely announced that they would find a hotel down the street instead.

Sure, some of the paying guests have been great, but what’s noticeable is the heightened sense of entitlement that the monetary transaction imbues. When accommodating these guests, the apartment ceased to resemble our own home and took on the dimensions of a serviced apartment where family freedoms had to be lost.

No doubt these sites work brilliantly for people in different circumstances. Their practicality is determined by many factors, including the physical layout of your residence (whether you can offer separate or semi-detached living space) and your financial needs. I will keep these profiles active for times when we go away and want to rent the whole apartment (this is a great aspect of these sites).

But we made the decision to stop taking paying guests while we are in the apartment and just host couchsurfers. I prefer the nature of the exchange that makes me feel like part of a global community of people seeking meaningful travel experiences outside of the traditional capitalist economy.

For me, couchsurfing has always been about idealism. And like most ideals, it only works and becomes real when we do so.

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