How to be a good host
How to be a good host.
For many travelers, the first priorities are finding somewhere safe, welcoming, and clean. (Or at least reasonably clean!) As part of the Couchsurfing community, your guests will probably also hope to learn something about your country or hometown; not just seeing the “tourist sights”, but also learning about your life and culture.
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Before your guests arrive
- Check with the other people in your residence. Well before your guests arrive, clear their visit with the other people sharing your place: housemates, spouse, family. Make sure there are no date conflicts; show them the guest profile; Before you finalize any plans, be sure their visit won’t present any problems - you don’t want your guests to be in the awkward position of arriving to find an unwelcoming household. Depending on your situation, you may also need to inform your concierge or landlord.
- Exchange alternative means of contact: Share your, MSN messenger, personal e-mail addresses, Skype, additional phone numbers, as backups to the CouchSurfing message system -- which could very likely become a single point of failure (a well known risk of computers), and tangle guests' plans waiting for your reconfirmation, (and even lead to negative references about your perceived lack of response). Note that you need to do this in your very first reply to a couchsurfing request! Seasoned hosts and surfers leave permanent mention of an alternate contact method right there on their profiles, lest they forget to append it to messages, or -- just in case anyway. Also we've seen members who for some reason or another or through their own choice had their profile disappear. Upon which their friends realized they now could find absolutely no other way to contact them! So it is always a good idea to have the "My Website" etc. items on ones profile filled in, so your pals will already be familiar with alternative channels just in case this single point of failure fails! P.S., OK, you did all the above, now also don't forget to fix and test your doorbell -- your guests might not have brought a tent!
- Arranging to meet: If they know when they’re arriving (e.g plane/train/bus on a fixed schedule), email your guests clear instructions for how they can meet up with you: day, date, time, place (with both street address and intersections). Remember that visitors may not know prominent landmarks and main streets. If you regularly use one mode of transportation and your guests are using another, remember to allow for different travel times or routes. Be there to meet them, when and where you’ve said you’d be. As a backup, in case of delays or emergencies, get their mobile phone number if available, and give them yours.
- Have an alternative strategy if you can’t be home to meet them when they arrive in your city. Propose a specific meeting time/place (e.g. your workplace). Keep in mind that they may be carrying a heavy backpack or luggage. It would be unfair and perhaps painful to ask them to walk a very long distance to meet with you.
- Be flexible: Some people, especially in the Couchsurfing community, don't have a fixed travel plan. They don't know what time or even date they will arrive. If you’re flexible and willing to host them, tell them to at least call you again one or two days before they will be arriving. Bear in mind that it is impossible for hitch-hikers to guarantee their arrival time. A good strategy may be to give them your mobile phone number and get them to call or SMS/text message you when they arrive in your city.
- Clarify the duration of their stay: if they’re staying "until Monday", what exactly do they mean: Monday morning? Or are they including a Monday overnight stay?
- Discuss schedules: Will guests have to be out of the house while you’re at work or school? Is the "couch" in a "high traffic" area for the household? If so, do people tend to stay up late, or wake up early? Are there only certain days when you’ll be around to meet them?
- Accurately describe the accommodation you can offer, the people sharing your house, any restrictions or preferences; for example regarding: smoking, drugs, alcohol, gender of guest, numbers of guests at a time, presence of pets. Also note any other special points: Will your guests have to bring sleeping bags or towels? Will they be able to use your kitchen to prepare meals, or will they have to eat out?
- Describe your neighborhood, particularly its distance from the city center, and traveling time by public transit. A great way to offer peace of mind to your incoming surfer would be to have photos of local landmarks in a gallery in your CS profile.
Make your guests feel at home:
- Make time for your guests. For many hosts and guests, the best part of CouchSurfing is the chance to meet people and learn about their lives and cultures; if you’ll be busy with work and other commitments, let your guests know that ahead of time. Perhaps, if appropriate, you could invite your guests to join you in some of your daily activities. Maybe they can come and sit in your academic class. Maybe you can get another ticket to that concert you're going to. Even if they aren’t interested in the offer, they’ll appreciate the gesture. Try to allow for at least some time together. Value and celebrate the opportunity to meet fellow travelers.
- Be considerate. Consider what your guests might need, or even ask them directly and respond accordingly.
- For the travel-weary or jet-lagged: a cup of tea, warm shower, quiet spot for a nap.
- For the budget-traveler: tips on local markets and access to your kitchen.
- For many travelers: a brief orientation to your hometown (see #Preparing an information package for your guests).
- Be welcoming. Small gestures can go a long way: a cleared shelf for their belongings; a small garden-picked bouquet near their couch; learning a few words in their language. You’re delighted to have them visit you, so find ways to show it!
- CouchSurfing guests are expected to be responsible for their own food, but an offer of a home-cooked meal will rarely go amiss. If you go out to eat, and are feeling generous, offer to pay for their meal... traveling is hard on the wallet! If - for budgetary, scheduling, or culinary reasons - you don’t share a meal, at least offer them tea, coffee, etc.
- Communicate. Even if there’s a language barrier, do what you can to include your guests in the general conversation. Speak in their language if you can. If they don’t speak your language fluently, speak more slowly (don’t drag the syllables out so the words get distorted; pause more frequently so they can mentally translate the words you’ve said). People will usually be able to understand much more than they can say. In any case, smiles and a welcoming attitude speak volumes.
- Learn from your guests. Have a healthy, respectful curiosity about their lives and homes. If you speak different languages, learn a few words in theirs. Listen to stories about their travels. Find out about their favorite books or films. Ask them to tell you about writers, musicians, and artists from their culture or hometown. Practice active listening.
- Be a resource for them. You have "insider's knowledge" of your hometown; let them know you'd be happy to share it with them: favorite non-tourist spots, good cheap restaurants, how much to pay for a local item (or taxi fare).
- Share laughter.
Avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings
- Be culturally aware. A small sample of practices that may vary from culture to culture: table customs and manners; gift-giving customs and taboos (some flowers may be associated with mourning, for example); greeting etiquette (handshakes, kisses, hugs, no physical contact at all?); attitudes towards punctuality; acceptable topics of conversation; personal space; degree of physical contact; degree of eye contact during conversation; acceptable levels of loudness when talking; the role of women in society; attitudes towards hospitality (e.g. your guests may be from a culture where guests are given the best room in the house, etc.); frankness and directness in personal conversation; who pays for the bill after a shared meal; attitudes towards alcohol use; attitudes towards pets; food taboos and restrictions; modesty in clothing or behaviour; expressing disagreement in discussions.
- You can do some homework ahead of time: research your guests’ home countries and cultures. Try these subject headings in your public library’s catalog: “Etiquette - [name of country]”, “Business etiquette - [name of country]”, “Intercultural communication”. Go online, and see what cultural differences strike expatriates and visitors.
- Be clear. In forestalling major misunderstandings, the best place to begin is with a thorough, accurate profile, and through your preliminary e-mails with your guests. See above "Before your guests arrive" section.
- Besides an exact address, have an e.g., Google™ Maps link ready to give to guests. You must admit e.g., http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:24.18170,120.86604 pinpoints one's spot rather exactly. See all the http://mapki.com/wiki/Google_Map_Parameters .
- During the visit, you can continue to avoid misunderstandings by staying clear and polite: if phone calls are expensive and you’d like to be reimbursed, let your guests know that beforehand. If you aren’t comfortable letting them use your computer, give them directions to a local internet cafe or library. If they’re welcome to share certain edibles/potables only, make that clear: “For breakfast, you’re welcome to try these cereals; but I’m saving the eggs for later”; Or suggest what they can use: “There’s bread and cheese on this shelf if you’d like to make a sandwich”.
- Guests should expect to be responsible for their own food/meals, but there may be occasions when you share a restaurant meal. You are not obliged as a Couchsurfing host to pay for your guests. But be aware that - as mentioned above - different cultures may have different expectations and etiquette regarding who pays for a shared dinner. For example, in some cultures, the person who issues the invitation is expected to pay. If you’re asking your guests to join you, but expect them to pay their share - tactfully clarify it at the time of the invitation. If you’ve already arranged to go to a specific restaurant (say, with friends), give your guests an estimate of the meal costs. Your guests may be traveling very frugally and prefer to cook their own food; or - if you haven’t chosen a restaurant yet - they may prefer a more modestly priced one. (Of course, if you can afford it and wish to treat your guests, they'll probably be delighted!)
- Hosts decide whether or not to lend a spare house key to their guests. Some do. Others prefer that guests be in the house only when someone else is at home. Yet others lend a house key, but request that guests be back by a certain hour (to avoid waking the household upon return). As a host, it's your call - decide what you are comfortable with; and let your guests know.
Pointers on safety
- Couchsurfing should be a safe experience for guests and hosts; please read the section Decide how open your home will be at Safety for hosts.
Help to build a global community
- Syracuse Cultural Workers’ poster How to Build a Global Community
Think about it. Embrace its spirit. - Let it inform and enrich your Couchsurfing experiences!
Preparing an information package for your guests
If you include any - or even all, if appropriate - of the following, your guests will appreciate it. If you’re really organized, file it in a binder, as many hotels/motels do. Business cards, brochures, or website printouts can be a quick way to get an info package together. Whatever storage or filing method you choose, keep it handy so you can easily find pieces, remove outdated items, or add more stuff.
If your guests are there only at times when you're at home, some of these sections won't be relevant.
You can include:
- A local tourist/guidebook for them to borrow and consult while staying with you.
- Maps of your hometown for them to borrow: transit maps, tourist maps, cycling maps, your immediate neighborhood.
- A list of emergency phone numbers: fire, police, ambulance. Your own address and phone number. Other safety tips as necessary: are there areas (in town or near your home) that visitors should exercise caution when visiting - or even avoid altogether?
- A list of nearby shops and services: laundromats /launderettes, groceries, or markets, pharmacies, gas/petrol stations. Places of worship, for different faiths and denominations. Nearest walk-in clinics, both medical and dental. Nearest photographic outlet for processing either film or digital images. Try a Google Maps printout of your neighborhood.
- Neighborhood eateries, coffee houses, tea shops, pubs: Whether in a typed list, collection of business cards. or sample (takeout) menus. Again, try a Google Maps printout. Recommendations and comments are always appreciated too.
- Transit information. How much is bus fare? How do you get to and from downtown? Remember that landmarks (main intersections, etc.) that seem obvious to you, are not necessarily so to visitors.
- Tourist information. Brochures from museums and art galleries. Fliers from the local tourist center. Local history books, nature guides to native trees, plants, animals, photography books of the region.
- Event information. Is there a free street festival coming up? A special concert that your musically-inclined guest may want to know about? An annual parade that will tie up traffic for the whole day?
- Internet use: If they don’t have use of your computer or Internet service, where is the closest Internet cafe ? Or library with free Internet? Or free WiFi zone?
- Telephone use: Let your guests know whether they can use your phone, and any related restrictions. Is there a charge for each local call? Is it per-minute or per-call? Will they be able to make long-distance/trunk calls from your phone? If not, where is the nearest pay phone that will make international calls? What do the dial tones, busy, and ringtones sound like? (These aren't the same everywhere; it may be obvious to you, but not to your guests, especially if they're traveling across continents.)
- Idiosyncrasies of your house: if your smoke alarm is particularly sensitive, can they switch it off if they burn the toast? Can guests use particular appliances (microwave, washer/dryer, dishwasher, kettle), and if so, are there particular instructions? What goes in the recycling bin(s)? What gets composted?
- Fitness/recreation: Is there a nearby swimming pool/ fitness center that offers day rates (or is even free)? Brochure with the gym schedule? What’s a safe jogging route in your neighborhood? Is there a bike-rental facility?
- "Early checkout": If they have to leave unexpectedly (ongoing flight is earlier than anticipated; the offer of a ride suddenly comes through), what should they do? Is there a neighbor who can take the key? A locked mailbox into which they can slip it? Can they drop it off at your workplace? (Note: Hosts are not obliged to lend their guests a spare key. Some hosts ask that guests leave the house when they themselves are at work/school. It's the host's call, and can vary with his/her own comfort levels and the situation.)
- Your own contact numbers: cellphone, work phone, personal messaging/digital device. Your full name, if they need to call you through a switchboard at work.
- Specialized interests: do you have particular area of interest you'd like to share? Include it for like-minded guests: second-hand bookstores, Belgian chocolate shops, quirky museums. Or just somewhere that makes your hometown special, but which won't appear in the tourist guides: a lovely park, favorite bike route, local art installation.
One host, two locations
Let's say you are a host with two residences. Half of each week you are in one, and the other half at the other?