Why I’ve Stopped Hosting CouchSurfers
For almost 7 years, CouchSurfing has played a very active part in my life. I couchsurfed, hosted, volunteered, organized and participated in activities. I’ve hosted over 100 people in 6 countries I’ve lived in and I’ve couchsurfed in 16 countries. I’ve lost count how many countries I’ve attended CouchSurfing events in.
But I’ve now decided that I will finally stop hosting CouchSurfers. Why? Because, it’s now a different thing.
When I first joined CouchSurfing in 2005, there were only 30,000 members. People heard about it through word-of-mouth. You weren’t supposed to tell all your friends about CouchSurfing, only people you thought who would be a good fit for the community. I heard about it from an American backpacker I met on the streets of Pamplona. The main point of the site was to experience local hospitality and to travel through the eyes of a local, with the intention of creating deep and meaningful shared connections. It was almost like a secret community for travelers who cared for each other.
You weren’t obliged to host everyone who contacted you, but it was weird not to host anyone.
As of writing, CouchSurfing has over 5.5 million members and is a mainstream social network. As Tony Espinoza says “we reached a tipping point when the network grew 50% in one year to 5 million members”. At face value, this may sound wonderful but I suspect the real tipping point now is there are many more members who never have and never will actually host a person on their couch. For better or worse, CouchSurfing is now Facebook for travelers.
Sure, they’ve always been members who have only used the network while traveling and then never log in again or others who are active in social events but do not have the space to host. But the true backbone of the community are members who are engaged in both aspects of couchsurfing AND hosting. There is never a shortage of travelers but when there is a shortage of couches, all you are left with are backpackers who like to get drunk with locals and each other.
To be fair, social media and technology has changed how we behave over the last 7 years. Maybe the CouchSurfing of 2005 would not work today, just as Servas felt antiquated back then.
Or maybe I’m now too old for CouchSurfing, based on this quote by Tony Espinoza: “This service is thriving in the college community and there were about 187 million travellers between 18-24 alone, in 2011. So there is a lot of head room for us to continue building out this network.”
I never knew there was a target age demographic for CouchSurfers.
CouchSurfing is no longer a radically inclusive community sharing hospitality. It’s now feels like a crowd-sourced knowledge base and event management service, connecting travellers with each other. I’ll still use it for that, just as I would use Wikitravel and Meetup. It’s not bad, it’s just now a different thing.
Perhaps this has been the natural evolution of CouchSurfing, after all how does a trust-based community double in size each year, yet still maintain the same values? Whenever I’m at a CouchSurfing event and I hear people say that they “don’t feel it’s safe to stay in a stranger’s house” or that they “don’t feel comfortable having a stranger stay in their house”, a part of me dies. I now feel like the weird one for having both hosted and surfed with strangers. And I don’t blame the number of CouchSurfers who now prefer to “host” via AirBnB or Wimdu.
Unconditional hospitality has always been the critical feature for me. I’ve invited strangers into my house and stayed at strangers’ houses long before I ever heard of CouchSurfing, Hospitality Club or even Servas. Hospitality cannot be contained within a website, it’s a culture and philosophy. Therefore, I will continue to host people organically and through the community-run, non-profit hospitality network: BeWelcome.