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Is CouchSurfing sustainable???

Hello guys!

There is a concept that twirls in my mind since some months: the SUSTAINABILITY of CS and other hospitality exchange communities.

I thought about that again because I saw some profiles stating that they are hosting people because they like to do an anarchist action, against hotels and capitalistic economy/consumerism.

I generally agree, in my point of view food should come from Nature (that doesn’t know what to do with those papers we call “money”) and not from the supermarket, shelter and Home when we are not in out town should theoretically come from networks of friends and not from business activities who provide this for money.
The same for medical services, care, massage, friendly advice,  … all these things strictly connected with the life of a Human are, in my opinion, much better if they come without involvement of dirty money.

But, money is one thing, SUSTAINABILITY is another.

So far hotels and hostels were a economical model that worked well for centuries, not just because there is money involved, but also because there is something in exchange, and this makes it sustainable.

I tell you how: the exchange (in this case services/money) makes a market between offers and request and the presence of a market guarantees that no one of the parts involved got taken advantage of.

The same we can’t unfortunately say in CS and in the other hospex communities!
Did you ever feel “used” as a host?
Did you ever see that if you host too much you don’t have time for your own life?

Yes, sustainability is mostly a problem when hosting.
As a guest, you can travel for several years passing from one city to another, from one host to another, without ever using ho(s)tels at all, without any big problem.
Try to do the same as a host, to have guests every single day!

We can’t deny that the guest is the party in the host-guest relationship who gets more immediate benefit. I am not just talking of free accommodation but also of a more generic concept as everything is actioned by the guest, the request, the dates…
The host (mostly) can just accept or deny. If he accepts, he promises to provide accommodation, infos, care, shelter, Home…. to the guest, when the guest needed it.

There are of course lots of intrinsic costs in having guests, let’s say:
- more cleaning of the house, floors, kitchen and bathroom especially
- cleaning of bedsheets, etc..
- more consumption of electricity, water, gas etc..
- tea, coffee, food to offer..
- personal time and attention
- changing of plans sometimes to adapt to the guest’s schedule (late or early arrivals, ..)
- expenses to go out (bars, food, clubs, transport) while you wouldn’t have stayed home if you didn’t have guests
- time to reply to emails and requests, time to get to know more potential guests on IM, …
- cost of phone calls and text messages to keep in touch with the guest
- risk of problems with guests who take things with them, don’t give back keys, leave a mess, …

(Guest would have also some costs in terms of time and money, but they are directly connected with his travel, that’s the reason why he is there and he is meeting up the host, instead for the host they are connected to the guest’s travel!)

If you think well, on the host part there are really many costs in terms of money and time.
And of course of personal freedom!
What if when I am out with my guest I meet a guy/girl that I would like to take back home, especially if I don’t have a separate room for guests?
What if I change my plans during the day but I don’t have spare keys for the guest (or I don’t want to give him/her)?

People are active as hosts because they have the opportunity to meet cool people.
Mmmh… that doesn’t convince me!
Actually this “benefit” is of both parties, host and guest, isn’t it?

There are situations in life when something is valuable or not just because of the market, the exchange between offer and request. (I don’t think we should support these artifacts…)

Like the cultures where guys always pay when they invite out a girl for dinner.
Shouldn’t be the pleasure to go out together mutual?
Or people who pay for sex… should we tell them that it’s normal to do that for free, just for mutual pleasure?

Anyhow, going back to hospex, the benefit to meet a new cool person should be mutual, so why the host has to sustain more costs in terms of time and money?

I think that a normal person with a full life, work/study, friends, boy/girlfriend/husband/wife, doing some sports and hobbies, maybe volunteering, … can’t find time for hosting people.
Of course, the same person, when traveling, is free from work and many of these things of his normal life, so he has way more time to dedicate to talk with his CS host, meetup with him and his friends, … so he would be a terrific guest but a bad host!

Now I understand why the most active CS in my area says “don’t worry, I have a lot of free time, nobody waits me at home, just 3 cats…”

That’s why CS hosts are more single than in a couple.
That’s why the cool people I know very rarely would have guests.

And what, hosts are losers and guests are cool dudes traveling the world spicing up the life of those poor losers? :) ) Is this how things work, on a large scale?

And what about those members who joined CS just before a big trip, mostly to save money in accommodation, they payed without problem the verification because it was a little money compared to all the money potentially saved in hotels, they never hosted anyone when at home and they are not planning to host people when back home, despite how great was their experience as guest, usually they arrive to the host place empty handed, they care just of the free couch and maybe other free benefits, they behave very politely till the last night of their stay and after they show their real being, of course they don’t even think for a moment to become friends with their host and to keep in touch… Are these members SUSTAINABLE for the community?

That’s where I think come those ideas of points, karmas, etc… things to see if you are a good member that gives benefit to the worldwide community or just a member who is taking advantage of the community for your own benefit.

Nowadays is cool to talk about externalization of costs. It’s when you don’t pay for all the costs that incurs in your life, your activity, your production, but there is someone else that pays for that, usually not being asked to. It refers usually to industries, the client buys the products for so cheap that all the costs for quality prime materials, the energies consumes, the fair salaries, the correct disposal of wastes, are evidently not included in the price but all the society tips in for us to have a cheap industrial product (see
In this model, don’t you think that being guest is somehow externalizing the cost of living?

Somebody else is going to pay our bills, we don’t have to think about it.
It’s like living all life at parent’s place, never being an independent self sustaining individual.

Have you ever saw those travelers who are traveling since years without stop and they even dare to tell you, who are working to make this society works, that they are living on 200 $ a month or less?
Of course, because they are externalizing the costs, they are using water, energy, food, resources, space, … that they are not paying for.

Yes, living permanently CouchSurfing is cheaper that living at your own home!

And what I really don’t like is that now there is people who plan travels just counting the transfer costs, souvenirs and eating out/bars but they don’t take into account accommodation.

The effect of CouchSurfing and other hospex community on these people is very bad, it gives them a fake feeling of confidence in finding a couch everywhere, but maybe getting in unpleasant situations because they don’t have second options, as they don’t even have money for a hostel (see here for more details:

How can I explain to some students who are doing their best to pay the rent and share bills, that they have to host someone for few days who will use the place and the utilities but won’t contribute?
Oh yes, it will be few days, just few days, not a big deal…. a pity that after there can/will be an other guest and so on…

If it sustainable, it is sustainable is a small or big scale. If it’s not, it’s not.

I heard also of some other kind of agreements for accommodation, that sound a bit more fair to me.

One is called COOKSURFING, I come with food at your place, I cook for you, you let me stay overnight. Sounds more fair for me, even if usually the host feels offering something too and maybe ends up spending more money because of the guests.

An other is the old good AU PAIR. You come and help me some hours a day with the home/babies, you have some hours free to visit the city or whatever you like, I offer you food and accommodation and sometimes some pocket money.

But there is more. Have you ever heard of those hostels where you can stay some days longer if you work in cleaning and making beds?

Also in the CouchSurfing world there were some hosts (especially in Japan) who asked some few bucks every day to contribute to the bills and/or the rent. Very controversial topic, but I can’t honestly say that’s all wrong.

Now it’s time for you guys’ to say your opinions! I am really interested!

A good day!


6 Responses to “Is CouchSurfing sustainable???”

  • That taking on guests results in the host losing money doesn’t at all square with my experience. In fact, I save money tremendously when I’m hosting heavily and I’m a bit irked that this season, I’m not getting many couch requests.

    When you have guests, you can cook together and arrange to split food costs so that each person pays less than if we were all eating alone. If you have guests, they can help you carry back more from a dumpster-diving trip than if you were alone. Plus there’s the benefit of language practice from foreign guests.

    I host in general because I like to repay the hospitality I’ve received while traveling. But I’ve hosted as heavily as I have because I get so much out of my surfers.

    As for utilities costs, every flat I’ve even lived in had most or all of the utilities included in the rent, so guests don’t raise my costs.

    More cleaning and washing involved? You don’t have to give your surfers clean sheets. Tell them to bring a sleeping bag (or if they travel light, a silk sleeping sheet). And if you ask your guests to help in cleaning the flat, 99% will do so without complaint.

    And as for the nomads living on no money, rather than coming to expect a host everywhere and dependent on CS, my friends and I have tended to use CS less and less. Most of the time, it’s a lot easier just to unroll your sleeping bag under the stars or accept the invitation of a local family you meet than to go through the complicated Couchsearch process.

  • CouchSurfing doesn’t look very sustainable, but hospitality exchange can be quite sustainable. It just needs a wider context. BeVolunteer was an attempt to do just that around BeWelcome but because of the slow growth of BW it hasn’t really come of the ground.

    There’s still a lot of potential, and I’m looking for ways to realize it more in the line of my own visions: enlarging the gift economy, using technology, based on principles of adhocracy and (a genuine) do-ocracry.

  • Just wanted to add two little things:

    a) there are some new sites where you offer accommodation for some money, this is working very well in some situations where the culture of the guest is not very used to (give and receive) free hospitality, they feel actually well that they payed for the stay and so they can develop a better relation with the host

    b) my mom (who has definitely the gift of synthesis) asked me recently a nice question:
    Are you still in that site where losers host girls for free hoping to get laid?
    :D :D :D :D

  • I think CS is completely sustainable from the level of the number of people willing to host, as the number of people willing to host massively outnumbers the number of people travelling at any one time.

    Personally I think the author has missed an important point: people don’t just host to ‘meet cool people’, they host because it’s fun and rewarding in itself. I enjoy being a host and showing people my city just as much as I enjoy being a guest. I have a good feeling when somebody has had a really good time here because of me. And I think that this is the real reason why most people host.

    It doesn’t neccessarily cost more money to host either. I have asked people to contribute towards costs before and nobody has a problem with it. When a couchsurfer arrives I ask them what their budget is and then we do something which both of us can afford, if we need food we just go to the supermarket and split the costs. There are some puritains who think this is somehow ‘morally’ wrong, but they are a tiny, tiny minority who seem to be a bigger number than they are because they spend so much time complaining on forums.

    As for your assumption that ‘normal’ people don’t have enough time to host, what about students like me who have quite a lot of free time? I would think that a large percentage of the people who actively host are students. And while I do in a way agree that it is a bit strange when hosting people becomes somebody’s life, so what? They have fun hosting and having more people to hang around with than they usually would, and the guests get somewhere to stay. It’s win-win.

    In any case, from my experience and from what my friends who use CS say, in general hosts are friendly, welcoming and above all normal people. If the average host was a wierd geek with no social life, would so many people carry on surfing? I think the average CS user is pretty cool because they have to be open-minded enough to let a stranger stay at their house, and that ‘entry barrier’ seems to filter out most of the people you wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about staying with.

    I just want to defend CS because it really does provide awesome opportunities for so many people and it seems to me that a lot of people forget that really it’s just about hosting people and surfing couches for its own sake.

  • “Are you still in that site where losers host girls for free hoping to get laid?”

    LMAO! I may or may not be a loser, but I haven’t hosted any girls, per se, either. I have seen this angle, sort-of, with a hostel in Central America where the dude’s web-site has him pictured with his wife, but she’s long ago gone in a divorce, and yet his hostel is somehow always occupied by one or two young women. Didn’t seem unusual, at first, but after seeing a pattern it was sort of creepy.

    “Somebody else is going to pay our bills, we don’t have to think about it. It’s like living all life at parent’s place, never being an independent self sustaining individual.”

    Agreed, have seen exactly this issue unfold in a real circumstance, whereby the guest stayed for an entire month, but when the host asked for some contribution toward rent, the guest refused. The guest obtained every benefit from living in a fully functioning dwelling with every amenity, all gratis. For a month. But you could also argue, that the host allowed it.

    I wouldn’t call these types of travelers “never being an independent self sustaining individual” though. In many ways, they’re more independent and self-sustaining than the majority. However, they will still gladly (and also actively look for opportunities) to capitalize on many of the basics of modern life, that they lack, and others still have to pay for.

    Like internet access. Or laundry, or a solid roof, or heat or AC, like the use of a kitchen, a car or shared transport. All these things still cost the host money. Many hosts don’t mind, of course. When I host, I offer a roof and spot to sleep, and use of the kitchen and bath, that’s about it. Wifi only when their usage won’t impact what I already pay for, for myself.

    The thing is, when I host, I know what the traveler will be lacking. They’re standard issues. The difference for me is, does the guest ever offer compensation, in even tiny ways, for the hosts costs? That compensation might be in the form of labor or assistance.

    It might never be negotiated though, openly. I had one guest who expended extreme effort in actually helping me move out of my apartment. I will never forget that investment of time, muscle, sweat, and effort. And in that case, also arranged the transport more than once. I was amazed.

    I think it all depends entirely on what kind of person the guest is. And whether or not they actually have any real money to draw on, and are willing to spend it, when the needs arise.

    I say give a guest a day or two, and then see if you want to extend. I’ll still host, even the perma-nomads with no money, as long as I can somehow know exactly what I’m getting myself into. As a host, you just kind of have to pay attention before opening your door to literally anyone in the world.

    I know another host who wound up with a schizophrenic at the end of his rope, with nowhere else to go and a car full of his worldly possessions. Which was a really tricky situation to resolve. Never understood why the host so openly accepted the guest’s couch request, to begin with.

    I think that particular host sort of thought of the offer as a hostel, so literally everyone in the world was invited. But, the hosting provisions really weren’t ideal for hosting literally anybody, or any number of people simultaneously.

    When you find yourself with multiple guests, now you are running a hostel, whether for money or not. I understand it was also difficult if not impossible to schedule or juggle the dates that multiple guests needed. Something a more legit hostel wouldn’t neglect.

    “And what, hosts are losers and guests are cool dudes traveling the world spicing up the life of those poor losers?

    Yes, living permanently CouchSurfing is cheaper that living at your own home!”

    Agreed. There are obviously some perpetual-nomads whose budget plans absolutely rely on a continuous stream of free lodging and support of all kinds in small ways and large, but the guest’s only real, concrete contribution is… charm and wit.

    I do think some travelers deliberately take advantage of hosting opportunities. Like a science. To benefit themselves, and their own budget/work/income shortfalls.

    Although I also realize that travelers just can’t arrange for some things. However, there are always internet cafes and public laundromats, and hostels, and public transport. A traveler, with even a modest budget, shouldn’t be completely reliant on any host for these things. They do cost real money though, don’t they?

    For me it comes down to, “is it a balanced equation?” As a host I don’t want to feel like I’m just being used so the traveler can save every possible penny. As a guest, I expect to invest some minimal effort, like cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, tech help, etc. But I never expect any host to do much more for me than offer a place to sleep and take a shower. More is great, but I don’t ever maneuver or scheme to obtain anything more; in my opinion that’s simply unethical.

    But, as a guest, I also don’t want to be told I’ll be provided something I won’t in reality, like internet access I may be reliant on, that I can’t easily obtain otherwise. Food and access to food, that in reality is a lot harder to obtain than I expected, or is constantly being consumed by other guests if the host has multiple guests simultaneously. Ease of transport to obtain things like food or clean clothes, etc.

    Don’t blow smoke up my a**, and then when I arrive at your place out in the middle of nowhere, after making the commitment and travel plans, it turns out everything I planned on having available, isn’t. I guess guests weeding out “weak” hosts, is similar to hosts weeding out “weak” guests.

    I just can’t determine an efficient way to do the weeding, on both sides.

    Whether as host or guest, I just want honesty and transparency, from the beginning, so I know what I’m getting myself into. Both parties want to know, and both parties should be completely honest and forthcoming with what exactly they need, and can offer. And no games or manipulation.

    Regarding the topic itself, I also think it’s a generational thing. As a veteran of the jam-band scene, I saw that evolve too, to the point where it wasn’t a sharing, generous,”family vibe” any longer, but was only about “me, me, me, where’s my buzz… ” etc.

    I suspect that the folks who made use of the Servas directory decades ago, wouldn’t have the same complaints. With the younger generations, and the depressed global economy, I believe there are just more travelers looking to benefit only themselves at everyone else’s expense, travelers living on the road permanently, making use of everything a host can offer, one after the other after the other.

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