“Ah, that is why you do Couchsurfing!” says our host within her monologue about the purpose of engaging in the activity. I got speechless. Later on, we discussed it with Yaxin only to come to a discouraging conclusion — maybe that is really why many people do it nowadays. It is, after all, a means to save money while traveling, no argument there.
I remember my first experience — coming to Kuala Lumpur with just a brief knowledge of the place, having only a map of simple directions from my first hosts at hand. I recall the awkwardness when entering their place, could not really picture myself staying at someone else’s place. However, those were just the initial feelings, and as such they did not last long. My hosts became friends very soon, sharing their lives and culture, providing me guidance, making Kuala Lumpur seem almost as familiar as my own place.
Thinking of my having further great experiences during my travels I could not comprehend the shallow understanding of CS. How could budget become THE reason for signing up? It defeats the purpose entirely.
Couchsurfing (CS), is supposed to be a community of people sharing not only their means of accommodation by making it available online for travelers all over the world, but also, and more importantly, it serves as a greater and much more engaging way to get the true spirit of a place you are visiting. By providing the opportunity to meet the local people it makes traveling so much easier.
Sadly, our encounters with empty profiles become too common, invitations without a meaning, or with one balancing on the edge of sexual harassment, profile pictures inviting for a “date”, and such which do not fit the environment of cultural and social exchange of CS.
So what has gone wrong?
While in Philippines, some of our hosts, whom we became good friends with, told us about CS being mentioned on the news. As a result, many people signed up without fully understanding the idea behind. It seems they think of it as a dating website of some sort; hundreds of new users became flocking in, polluting the space with irrelevant messages, requests, profiles of no information, users collecting positive references based on replying requests while not actually meeting up.
Of course it is up to any user to judge for him or herself whether to contact or reply someone with inappropriate profile. However, is it really only a question of users being cautious, or do the administrators and owners of the platform have anything to add? I keep asking myself, why do the people behind CS not take action. Do they feel OK with the idea being spoiled? Are they aware of what has become of the community, once so pure and ideal, or do they just care about getting more users and, consequently, more attention and profit out of it?
There is a way out, quite an intriguing one I must admit. “Hitchhiking in Philippines is just like couchsurfing, dude. Only you don’t need to use the damn web page all the time!” a fellow CS member mentioned while talking about his experiences on the road in north Luzon, Philippines. He got us very exited about the hitching idea, talking about people inviting him in after catching a hitch, meeting up with locals, enjoying the famous Filipino hospitality while not having to get online. Sounds too good to be true, and it kind of was, at least for us. We tried, but failed. Truly, I don’t have any idea where the guy got to catch a ride. We tried all over the country countless times only to hitch a bus, having to pay for the ticket of course. Some people did stop, however only to provide us the directions to a bus station, not comprehending our idea of hitchhiking. “You want to go for free?”, asked a man once he got the meaning of it, laughing in disbelief. “Well…,” was the only answer we could come up with after hours of trying.
Hence, in the times when hitchhiking is not an option, we need to settle for the good old CS. For the sake of people not taking advantage of CS, or not misunderstanding it entirely, I hope the administrators would take action towards cleaning up the space and making adjustments to the sign-up policy. It would be a great shame to keep it falling down the abyss of profit-making and forgetting about the true spirit behind what once was a pioneer in modern era traveling.