A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:
In Rome, I’m staying with someone I’d never met until I got to his house, this fellow called Massimo who really likes motorbikes. It is pouring rain outside the night I get there, and late though I my arrival is, and tired though he is, he make me beef heart with mozzerella for dinner to welcome me.
We’d connected through Couchsurfing, a website and, for some, an entire way of life. It’s like karma, or Christianity, or anarchy, or socialism. I think different people have slightly different motivations for doing it. Some are just looking for a free place to stay. Others are intrigued by what amounts to a mini cultural exchange. Ideally, you don’t just stay at other people’s houses, you host them as well. Not necessarily the same ones. You can say no or yes to any request you feel like, and you make your judgment largely based on the person’s online profile — including feedback other people have left after staying or hosting. You can check out the feedback if you want; I’ve had girls contact me about references I’ve left for other people.
The three nights I stayed with Massimo, I came and went as I pleased, because he’d given me a spare key. Every evening, we talked and then I went to sleep on his couch. The last night, I make a joke about how Couchsurfing is basically like everything your mother told you never to do. Massimo laughs. “Yes,” he agrees “A stranger is on your doorstep and you say to him, come in.”
Not everyone is so polite, of course, and I think it takes a certain mindset to be able to Couchsurf gracefully, not to mention wisely. A certain mindset and a certain hardness of hip, because the place you end up sleeping may not always be at the level of a four-star hotel.