Before Liz and I left, and even on our Europe travels, we often heard how crazy and/or brave we were when we told people we planned to try couchsurfing. For those of you who don't know, couchsurfing is made possible through an online community. People create profiles describing themselves and then offer up their couches or spare bedrooms to travelers--complete strangers--free of charge. Surfers and hosts review each other, so you hopefully read the reviews and get an idea of who's a creep and who's not.
All my friends who had tried it assured me it was a fantastic experience and a change to get to know a local. And of course, being free doesn't hurt. So, we went for it.
Liz found us a host in Geneva, Switzerland (one of the most expensive cities we'd be visiting). He is an Italian born physicist working at CERN, which we planned on visiting, so the match seemed like a good one. And now, at the end of our stay in Geneva, I can give my take on the entire couchsurfing experience.
We had a really great host. He was generous and accomodating, and definitely not a creeper. He picked us up from the train station, made us a fantastic Italian dinner our first night, took us out for drinks and gelato (his treat), met us for coffee when we were at CERN, and was overall just an interesting person to get to know. (The guy speaks 4 languages, has lived all over Europe and has traveled all over the world).
Even so, Liz and I both felt a little awkward at the beginning of our stay. We found ourselves in a stranger's home, and he was offering to make us dinner and let us stay with him for 3 nights, and we didn't even know him. We weren't sure what exactly was expected of us in return. Should we let him make us dinner, or politely refuse? Or would that be more offensive? How should we repay him for his generosity? How would we best adapt to his schedule to avoid being a nuisance? Even though our stay was great, at times it felt a little stressful finding a good balance.
We did the dishes on our first night, and we took him out to dinner on our second night. We also brought him a small gift from our travels in Italy. At the end of our stay, I feel like we've thanked him sufficiently and I think we both feel a lot more comfortable in his flat. It really was a good experience.
So, would I do it again? Probably. (Actually, in fact we're going to one more time on this trip, in the Netherlands). But I'm not sure that in the future I'd ever do it alone. There would have been far too many awkward silences over the past 2 days if Liz hadn't been here to keep the conversation going. After a long day of sightseeing for me and a long day of work for our host, the two of us didn't always have the energy to think of new talking points. Thankfully Liz did, and as a reward I got to know an Italian physicist and saw a bit more of Geneva than I might have. So in my book, couchsurfing=a good deal. I'll join the masses recommending it.