In a perfect world, we’d all be living at our own manors and palaces, and don’t have to be indebted to anyone for a roof over your head. Alas, we are people in transit, and sometimes home is found in other people’s houses, for reasons beyond our control.
When you’re new to town, and/or have no money to call a place of your own, couchsurfing may present itself as the best solution. Couchsurfing, or living in other people’s homes for a short while, has been a time-honoured way of finding shelter until you make enough to live independently. In that sense, Mary and Joseph were the first couchsurfers. Celebrities even swear by it.
But how do you couchsurf with grace, i.e. not overstay your welcome? How do you get to the sweet spot between being a guest and a downright pest? Also, how do you handle a request to surf on your lounge chair? Read on to know more.
How to be a good couchsurfer
You have to see eye to eye with your host on what to expect. First of all, accept that you are seeking this arrangement with a definite timeframe in mind. You will have to leave sooner or later. Work out a graceful exit plan with your prospective host, and give concrete details on how you will move to self-rule.
Help out in some way while couchsurfing. If you’re still not in the position to contribute to bills payment, at least offer to do the house chores—a reasonable portion thereof, of course. You’re a couchsurfer, not a full-on scullery maid.
Don’t encroach on his or her privacy. Know the times for bonding when he or she needs them, if at all. Recognise boundaries on the usage of certain amenities in the house. If you want to use the Xbox but he or she wants to watch the evening newscast, relent by all means.
Just because you’re a couchsurfer doesn’t mean you have to consider propriety a trade-off. Keep your pants on, and leave if you feel violated in any way. It also works the other way around. Don’t force yourself on your host. Of course, these are all matters of consensus, and if you are both consenting grown-ups, why not?
In general, if at any point your expectations are not a good fit, don’t impose on him or her further. Try your luck with a willing host.
How to be a good host
First of all, you need to take into account how close you are to this person to be opening your doors that easily. Yes, the virtue of not accommodating strangers still applies today as it did in your childhood.
With your closeness to this person out of the question, you need to make other considerations. Maybe it’s your cousin, maybe it’s your friend from way back in pre-K, but in any event, you are the final arbiter on who can be in close quarters with you. You reserve the right not to take him or her in right away. Exhaust options he or she may not have explored yet, e.g. exploring unheard-of cheap rentals in town, etc. You can also offer to help him or her secure some of the points of identification required to apply for tenancy.
If you do decide to take him or her, setting a deadline is a win-win tactic. It is not always failsafe though. If your prospective couchsurfer is coming to you with unclear job prospects, there is no guarantee s/he will meet your target in time. It can be very to evict a couchsurfer, especially one close to you. The most diplomatic way to facilitate a graceful exit is to identify, together with your couchsurfer, potential hosts among his or her stable of friends or relatives. Don’t just give your surfer the boot.
Be prepared for potential strains on your relationship anyway. To mitigate these, set clear-cut boundaries in terms of privacy. Will he or she sleep on the bed or the couch? Who gets to use the PC on Tuesdays? Also distribute the household burden, from the utilities to the household chores, as equitably as you can.
Key to couchsurfing, whether you’re hosting or the one surfing, is balance. See if the encroachment of space is worth your while, and don’t be afraid to voice out your feelings. Even hospitality has its limits.