Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 70: Be a Good Guest - Be a Good Human

With one or two exceptions, I haven't paid any money for housing in the past two months. When I was staying in hostels, the €15 a day room fee made up the majority of my expenses. In addition to its 'no charge' benefit, CouchSurfing has opened up a new world to me. Sleeping on the sofas of locals has taught me far more than the benefits of a full size bed. Through my many interactions with my hosts, I'm perfecting my skills as a guest – and as a human.

Uproot with style and grace.
CouchSurfing has enriched my traveling experience more than anything else on my trip. From the beginning my experiences with CouchSurfing have been positive and its long term benefits have far exceeded its initial advantages. Exchanging personalities, knowledge, and ideologies with someone who was raised in a different environment; finding widely varying points of view, but also discovering core similarities. Hanging out with locals and dissolving the barrier between tourist and local – completely different from staying in a hostel; when I stay with a local I'm immersed in their environment, in their house, surrounded by their possessions, enveloped in their life, language, and friends. Finally, CouchSurfing is free; it saves me ridiculous amounts of money, probably €500/mo. CS has given me more than experiences, it is teaching me how to be a good guest.

Travelers who wish to be good surfers have a lot of responsibility. Being a good guest is no easy task. Both flexibility and discipline are necessary. On one hand I have to be flexible, whether it's spontaneously going out to dance or leaving with my host because there are no spare keys. On the other hand, I have to be disciplined to keep my stuff neat, wake up on time, and attempt to get my blog posts out on time! Being a good guest is a juggling act.

The definition of a good guest is dependent upon the host. While every host would give a slightly different list of criteria, I've found there are a handful of fundamental characteristics that make a good guest. In a nutshell, a good guest will be minimally intrusive and maximally interesting.


Respecting my host and their space.

Prompt - My method of traveling is chaotic but I do my best to arrive when I say I will and call if I will be late.
Clean - I always keep my belongings neat and as unobtrusive as possible. I also wash dishes after every meal and even bathe myself on occasion.
Well Mannered - Having good manners shows people you respect them. Asking for stuff or saying "please" or "thank you" shows respect.
Thinking Ahead - By being ready when they're ready, thinking ahead allows me to tread lightly on my hosts' lives.
Selfless - I have to base my actions off my host's availabilities. For example, I don't have internet right now because my host is studying and I cannot interrupt her for her to help me get online.


Sharing what I have...

Cooking - My meal swap has been a huge hit. Cooking shows my appreciation, along with being an amazing gastronomic experience.
Food - I buy more food than I eat. Food is an easy way to make someone smile.
Skills - If someone is interested, I love to teach something I know. I've taught meditation, cooking, and tarot. No one has wanted to learn yo-yo yet.
Time - I'm spending more time off the computer and engaged with people. The time I spend talking with many of my hosts is my favorite experience in a town.


Being interesting by fully connecting with my host...

Reading Between the Lines - Picking up on what someone is saying without them saying it. I'm still learning how to do this.
Sharing Stories - Many hosts have traveled before so it's fun to talk to them about where they've been and what they've experienced, then relate to them and have some good laughs.
Talking About What They Like - Piggybacking your own interests and experiences inside of the vein of my host's interests – continuing and enriching the conversation
Listening More Than I Speak - Most people on CouchSurfing both like to talk a lot and have many interesting things to say. I like to use my stories and questions to keep them talking; that's when both of us have the most fun.
Exchanging Movies, Books, Music - I have learned about so many new movies, books, and bands throughout my trip. It's so fascinating to see people's different interests through the medias they choose and my pleasure to give what I have to offer.

So good! The positive interaction between host and guest is at the core of CouchSurfing. The raw experience of existing inside of someone else's life helps me grow. Through putting others before myself I gain patience. Through keeping my belongings organized, I gain discipline. By logging off the computer and engaging in conversation, I gain empathy. Combining these secondary benefits with the primary benefits of a free place to stay with a local have made CS a traveling companion that I could not do without. The skills that I am learning to be a good guest will help me interact with people throughout my life.

Au revoir!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails