Did I feel overwhelmed, overworked or the need to run screaming from my deeply invaded personal space? Quite the opposite. As I looked around our place, teeming with people, I noticed little considerate and respectful habits of our guests that made all the difference between unpleasant and the crazy fun chaos that has characterized the last weeks.
1. Wash Dishes
Aracely and Jason of Two Backpackers spent over a week with us. They washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen every day. I didn't ask them to do it. They just did. Believe me, this is something every host notices and appreciates more than you can imagine. (And if I haven't said it before, thank you both!)
2. Clean Up After Yourself
This is a no brainer. . Don't leave your dirty dishes on the table, toothpaste on the counter or puddles of water on the floor. No one is perfect, and of course, you might forget or leave a mess. But one little thing won't matter if your general habit is to leave things neat and clean.
3. Let Them Know If Something Breaks
If you break something, immediately let your host know and offer to replace it. If for some reason you can't afford to replace it, still, be honest. I don't love it when things are broken, but it happens. I actively dislike it when people hide what happened, leaving me with a surprise.
If you break something in my house and don't take responsibility for it, believe me I'll mention it when I leave a reference.
4. Organize Your Sleeping Area Immediately After Waking Up
This isn't a deal breaker, but it's a good habit to adopt, especially if your sleep area is in the middle of the living area.
We had ten people in the house. Craig and Linda Martin of Indie Travel Podcast slept on the living room couch and their friend Angela on a blow up mattress on the floor. They rearranged the couches, put away the bedding and put the blow up aside, leaving us all more room to eat breakfast and hang out in the morning.
We also have a guest bedroom, and I tend not to go in at all when people are staying, so I don't care if it's a complete wreck. But when you leave, refer to rule number two.
5. Pitch In For Meals
You shouldn't expect your hosts to prepare food or pay to feed you.
I like to have lunch or dinner ready when Couchsurfers arrive, and I most definitely don't expect them to pay me back for that. But two meals, three, four? Couchsurfing is meant to be a cultural and personal exchange. Not a bed and breakfast.
Most of our recent surfers brought food along with them or we showed them to the nearest supermarket. Generally, we all shared what we had. This worked for us with this particular group, but you don't need to feel that you have to share meals or food with your host.
If you all plan to make and share a big meal together, though, split the costs and preparation.
6. Make A Meal
Also, not something required of you by any stretch, but when you cook for someone, believe me, they'll remember you. Ariella -- our first surfer ever -- made an amazing lasagne for us in Panama. Audrey and Dan of Uncornered Market made this incredible chicken with paprika, chicken and herbed cheese they learned in Prague from an Estonian living in Copenhagen who got the recipe in Italy. You can find the recipe in their Christmas Cookbook. Sally made Yorkshire pudding pizza.
Noah and I take on breakfast. He makes amazing omelets. Scratch pancakes and home fries are my domain.
Just saying. It makes an impression.
7. Let Your Host Know What You Want & Need
Don't go with the flow because you think you have to do what your hosts suggest just because you're staying in their house.
Ask for a towel, a map, the nearest supermarket and where to find the bus. If your host can't help you, so be it, but a good host shouldn't expect you to curtain your trip to their needs.
Believe me, I much prefer that Janine and Angela said no to going to yoga class with me in lieu of taking a walk around the central square of Salta. Or that Danny and Jillian of I Should Log Off admitted they'd rather stay in Saturday night than go to a Couchsurfing event. (Turned out, we were also happy to stay in and drink a couple bottles of wine.)
That way I know when you spend time with me, it's what you want. I have no desire to play tour guide to the unwilling.
8. Play With the Kids
Almost everyone who comes over spends time drawing or playing games with Lila. I'm not saying you need to be a babysitter, but you do need to acknowledge that children are also your hosts. When you spend a bit of time with them, you're bringing them into the Couchsurfing community and making it easier for their parents.
Lila loves having Couchsurfers because she meets new people too. There's a new audience for her she-makes-the-rules-you-always-lose games.
That, and being a host takes extra time and energy no matter how much you love it. When you help with the kids (or pets), you're giving your host more time and room for themselves.
9. Treat Their Home As Your Home
Ask where things go and put them away as you use them. Get to know your hosts routine and work with them as you figure out your own plans.
I tell all the people who stay with us to make themselves at home. They're welcome to take what they need from the kitchen. I show them where we keep the extra towels and sheets.
One wonderful moment on our busiest Couchsurfing day. I woke in the morning and walked into the kitchen only to be offered a cup of fresh coffee by Janine. That is a lovely, lovely thing.
10. Work With Your Host's Schedule & Routine
Check in with your hosts to see what they need, where they need to go. If your host has to leave early in the morning for work, does that mean you have to be out as well? I don't find that to be necessary. I'm always happy to have people in the house, but I also appreciate when you give me space to work if I have a deadline.
Remember to communicate your own needs to them as well. If your host doesn't know you want to be at the train station by early the next day, they can't help you get there.
Mostly, Just Relax Be Yourself
I base my decision whether or not you can stay almost entirely on your Couchsurfing profile. That means, I'm already interested in getting to know more about you before you walk in the door. If you want to know what I look for in a profile, check out How To Pimp Your Couchsurfing Profile & Find A Place To Stay.
Overall, I like to assume people are considerate adults who can be trusted to respect boundaries and my home. With that assumption, I feel free to tell you to feel comfortable and at home. If you need some milk from the fridge. Take it. If you want a late night tea and a snack and I've already gone to bed, fine.
What I've also found is that long time travelers seem to understand these rules almost instinctively. After all, it's not all that different from learning how to be respectful of new cultures and countries while not going beyond your own boundaries of personal comfort.
Learn how to do that, and you'll always find good references on your profile.
Got Any Other Questions About Couchsurfing? Just Ask!
Send me an e-mail or leave a comment below with any questions you have about Couchsurfing.
I'm still working on a post on How To Evaluate A Profile, particularly for big cities. This one is a bit tricky, because there are so many variables, but a post is coming soon.