Travel

5 Things I Learned From Sleeping on Couches

Like most of the website’s some 2.5+ million members, I first joined Couchsurfing.org in order to travel differently, meet people living in the places I planned to visit, and possibly host a few. Over the past three years, couchsurfing (CS) has definitely facilitated more than a few adventures and sent some wonderful characters my way, but it also had the unexpected side affect of refining some serious life skills through the unique social interactions it creates. Who knew sleeping on strangers’ couches would later help deal with things like doing temp work or relinquishing some control in kitchen? Here are 5 skills CS helped me improve:

{1} Cooking and Sharing Food with Others

With four couchsurfers and myself gathered to cook dinner one night, my kitchen in Malta had become a theatrical production. I can’t recall who the mastermind was, orchestrating who needed to chop, peel, or stir, but whoever it was had us filling every pot in my house with piles of peeled potatoes and improvising a meal as multi-cultural as our group. Through it, we all got to know each other a little better, and as I had really never cooked in a large group before, these CS dinners (of which there would be many more) sparked my love for cooking for and with friends. In the U.S., we often view food as a very pragmatic thing, and sharing isn’t as highly valued as it may be elsewhere. However, cooking with CS-ers as a means of exchange and forming friendships showed that who you eat with is just as important as the food itself. As one friend put it, CS teaches you to put people before possessions.

{2} How to Talk to Anyone

On a recent camping trip, a friend and I found ourselves without a means of making coffee, but since we had pitched our tents in a crowded park campground, we figured we could solve this issue no problem. Except, I didn’t feel terribly confident about asking favors from one of the grumpy-looking 50-some-year-old RV-ers. “Wait a second,” we reasoned “we shouldn’t feel shy about asking to borrow someone’s camp stove — we do this stuff all the time with CS.” Often, CS puts you in situations where you end up talking to someone you normally wouldn’t approach, and as a result makes talking to people different from yourself a whole lot easier. It makes people seem human again (for all its ups and downs, honestly).

{3} Adaptation

As you might imagine, bouncing around from a college student’s living room, to a business professional’s spare bedroom, to a tent in the backyard of a family of five requires some intuition and adaptation. It’s easy enough to recognize while the college student might have been okay with you stumbling home at 2am, someone with a 9-5 might not, but moving between contrasting environments with ease and adjusting quickly  required a bit more practice (for shy kids like me at least). Weirdly enough, becoming apt at this came in super handy when I began doing temp work in Seattle. Like surfing, temping shakes up the types of people I interact with, and feeling comfortable cycling in and out of different environments was just one less thing I had to develop as an office temp.

{4} The Art of Giving & Receiving Hospitality

As I mentioned in my post Sleeping with Strangers, I encountered my first serious exchange of hospitality during a home stay in Senegal and felt seriously clumsy about it. But like anything else, the more you practice giving and receiving hospitality the better you become at it. And no kidding, offering your couch to someone you just met brings plenty of opportunity to hone in on your inner Midwestern housewife and discover what it takes to make someone feel welcome. Furthermore, hospitality isn’t something that strictly happens when you open your home to someone, but makes its way into all sorts of every day situations — like spotting a new face at a friend’s party or ordering a coffee — making it particularly versatile strength to have.

{5} The Ability to Sleep (Almost) Anywhere

Thank you Nate's GirlOkay, I was already pretty good at literally curling up in uncomfortably small sleep spaces, but in my pre-couchsurfing life, personal space was a much larger bubble. I might also add that by “anywhere” I don’t just mean getting cozy on an arm chair and foot rest squashed together, or an air mattress that filled one hosts’ entire kitchen, but feeling at home in someone else’s space. Although times exist when CS-ers overstay their welcome, for the most part it’s safe to say your host/surfer wants your company and there’s no reason to feel like an intrusion. In fact when I host, nothing makes me happier than to see my surfers feel at ease in my home. How this skill would translate to daily life however, I’m not entirely sure…

Couchsurfers, what sort of everyday stuff has CS helped you improve?

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