Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hosting, and guesting in the 21st century

I've been a member of for several years now, and I think it's a great idea, and a great community of people. The general point of the site is to connect travelers with people willing to host them, on a sort of "pay it forward" principle that you participate by hosting people in your home town, and then if you want to travel you can utilize this network to find people to stay with all over the world. It is truly a global network, and it has a safety/security system built in, with reviews of how someone is as a host or a guest. So it has the effect of regulating whether people are going to be cool/friendly/safe or not.

I have had many good experiences with hosting people here in India, and aside from being really busy with research I am definitely willing to host more. The main challenge is going back to show people sites that I have seen a million times by now. Still the temple here in Thanjavur is so beautiful, I don't really mind.

Brihadeeswara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

Even though I have had all good experiences I wanted to post these links: How to be the perfect host in the 21st century, and How to be the perfect guest in the 21st century, both by LifeHacker. I found both articles to be great guides, especially conscious of changing etiquette in the modern world.

For instance, as a host, they suggest you create an information card with contact numbers, emergency numbers, and basic info like the WiFi password to your home network. If such an info card is pre-prepared it saves both host and guest a lot of time. They also suggest taking a lot of cues from the hotel industry in providing towels, and free toiletries. While I think you should provide a clean set of sheets and towels for your guests to use, I don't know if I have enough money to provide a complete kit of toiletries like the hotels do. I guess I could start taking the hotel packs and saving them for later to offer to house guests. Usually I just tell people they're free to use the shampoo and stuff if they need to.

For a guest, they point out that you need to respect house rules, and not expect your host to actually play host all the time. You should have your own plans worked out, an itinerary of stuff to do, especially if your host warns you that they'll be busy with work. They also emphasize that you should communicate as much as possible about your schedule, about any special food allergies or requirements, and that you should offer to pay for things as much as possible. They also point out that you should be conscientious when packing to travel, so you don't have to make too many demands of your host. Use this tool to create your own customized universal packing list. For India in particular I posted a detailed discussion of what to pack.

To add to what they have posted on LifeHacker, I think it is important to work out some system of keys or getting in and out of the home or apartment. If you know your guests well, and trust them, you can give them a spare set of keys. Unfortunately people sometimes forget to give them back. You can point them to the spare set of keys hidden somewhere nearby, or with a neighbor if the neighbor doesn't mind. Otherwise you have to coordinate schedules so that the guest doesn't arrive at your place without you there or a way to get inside. This has been one of the hardest and most frustrating bits about hosting with I am happy to host people from the site, given they have good recommendations, but I don't always want to give out spare keys, at least not right away. I don't know that there's a perfect solution to this one, but it's something to think about, and be sure to communicate with the person you're hosting.

Lastly, I think you shouldn't host if you're going to be too busy to spend at least a little time with your guests. Guests need to understand their hosts are busy, and can't hang out all the time, but if you can't have dinner with your guests once or twice, or go out with them to do something around the town, you probably shouldn't be hosting. If I find I'm too busy to actually host someone, I always recommend affordable hostel or hotel options nearby, and try to offer to meet someone out for dinner while they're here, even if I'm too overwhelmed to have them stay with me at home.

That's my 2 cents. So, Happy Hosting and Guesting in the 21st century!


Jen said...

This was fascinating and very useful, Gwen. I've always been curious about and feel more prepared to approach it now. It will be a hard sell, given the rest of my family, but it might work well after someone has gone to college. There's much more hosting involved than I realized, and that actually makes it more attractive to me.

Gwen said...

I guess the name "Couch Surfing" gives the impression that it's a network of people traveling. Guesting, rather than hosting. But I've only ever hosted. I'd like to "surf" as it were, at some point. But I've been happy hosting, and had some really great and interesting people come to stay.