bewelcome – staying with a stranger

Posted from Nanterre, Île-de-France, France.

People are inherently good. I believe this. Sure, there are bad people in the world, but most people are good – maybe a little caught up in their own lives and preoccupied with the “game,” but good, nonetheless.

That’s my disclaimer and also my reasoning for joining and using BeWelcome.org, a hospitality exchange website. What is hospitality exchange? It’s probably a little bit different for everyone, but basically people offer up their homes to host people they don’t know, and people stay at homes with people they don’t know. It’s traveler generosity.

I had my very first experience being hosted in Paris. It turned out really well. But more on that later.

This is how it works. First you build a profile. You upload a photo of yourself – one that hopefully shows who you really are (not the one taken 10 years ago when you were much more fabulous,) fill in a bunch of facts about yourself, tell some stories, explain who you are, etc. Then you declare if you are looking for a bed or have a bed to offer. Or both. Some people just have a couch or an air mattress. Some people say they will share their bed with you. What ever your cup of tea is, choose wisely.

Got a spare bed? Pull-out sofa? Air mattress? Floor space?

Got a spare bed? Pull-out sofa? Air mattress? Floor space?

Once you’ve got a profile you’re free to surf the site and find places to stay or offer your place up to travelers who are searching for somewhere to stay. Sounds easy enough right?

So then the question many people might ponder is – what if you end up with a crazy person? Fair question. And it could happen. Someone I met in Kuala Lumpur told me a crazy story about his CouchSurfing.org experience in Spain. Basically the guy he was staying with convinced him to get drunk, then turned on porn, then jerked-off in front of him and then told him they had to share the bed. Oh and then something else almost happened … and a knife got pulled. So after I caught my breath I realized that not everyone has bad experiences like this, but there definitely is a chance.

Originally I joined couchsurfing.org but soon found it wasn’t the best site for me. I read up on the site (blogs, rants and tirades) and found out that it’s changed a lot over the years. While it used to be about having a genuine travel experience and living like the locals, it changed into more of a social networking site. It’s not like Facebook, though. At least people leave their computers and go to gatherings. But some people complain that it’s more about gatherings and meeting people than about genuine travel experiences. But still.

Having a "happy hour' drink at a dive bar in Paris. There were religious trinkets all over the place. I would never have found this pub without my host having led me there.

Having a “happy hour’ drink at a dive bar in Paris. There were religious trinkets all over the place. I would never have found this pub without my host having led me there.

And then there were the creepy e-mails I was getting from men who were offering me a place to stay. Sure, some of them were probably genuine, but I felt a little skeptical. CouchSurfing allows you to post within forums if you are searching for a bed in a particular city. But basically it’s an invitation to be harassed. That’s why I switched to BeWelcome. I still maintain a CouchSurfing profile, though. On BeWelcome you have to do the leg-work and send individual messages to find a place to stay. Some people put random things in their profiles too to test if you actually read their profile and request you to put something in your email so they can filter out the undesirables.

In recent years websites like BeWelcome, CouchSurfing and HospitalityClub (among many others) have grown in size. So it’s really easy to find some possible places to stay in many cities. Just maybe not as easy to get a positive response.

Having some proper cheese and coffee (too early for wine) at a cafe. A real French experience.

Having some proper cheese and coffee (too early for wine) at a cafe. A real French experience.

So Paris.

About three weeks before I headed to Paris I started surfing the sites for someone to stay with there. I tried a few people, got some declines, got some creepy messages, and began to lose hope. I tried to stay positive and thanked people for taking the time to refuse me. Then two weeks before my trip someone messaged me back changing their answer. Events had changed. They could host me after all.

Apparently waiting until three weeks before my trip wasn’t enough notice for some people and it was far too much notice for others.

So anyway, we exchanged many messages over the next two weeks. She set the bar high helping me by telling me of the various metro passes available so I didn’t lose my shirt paying for public transportation. Because she had to work the day I arrived – and I was arriving at 8 a.m. – she told me of a few things I could do before meeting her later that evening. She even helped look for a place for me to stow my luggage for the day.

We chose a very specific spot to meet and I think right away we both knew neither one of us was crazy – at least not in the bad way – I mean we were both willing to be part of a hospitality exchange. We went back to her apartment, she made some dinner and we set up my bed, which was her futon mattress in the spare room. Perfect. I even got my own room. And later that evening I went with her to a band rehearsal.

I would never have ended up at this bar and experienced the sidewalk party and slideshow had I been on my own.

I would never have ended up at this bar and experienced the sidewalk party and slideshow had I been on my own.

The stay was very enjoyable, and made even more so by her generosity and kindness. Paris was unseasonably cold and I didn’t have a coat, so she lent me one. And when she had to go to work she even trusted me with a set of keys so I could come and go as I please. Not everyone does this. Some hosts will ask you to leave when they do and only come back when they do. She offered me maps and guidebooks. And even acted as my personal tour guide for a few hours one day.

Also, many hosts like to include you in their activities. Treating their home like a hotel isn’t the point to hospitality exchange. It’s not just a free place to stay. It’s meant to be a cultural experience. So showing up just to sleep defeats the purpose and taints the spirit of this experience.

Not all stays work the way mine did. And I’m sure some people aren’t as easy-going as my host was. But fear of a bad stay is not a good enough reason for me to not try this experience again.

I know my stay in Paris was richer because of my host. I would never have had many of the experiences I had without having met her. One day, when ever it is that I stop moving around so much, I will host people. And maybe be able to repay my new friend in Paris.

 

4 Responses to bewelcome – staying with a stranger

  1. Sheri, girl! Keep exploring… keep writing about it! I enjoy your blog a lot! Thanks for sharing…xxx
    Hugging you and the big wide world,

    Dragana

    Dragana June 9, 2013 at 10:05 pm Reply
  2. > CouchSurfing allows you to post within forums if you are searching for a bed in a particular city. But basically it’s an invitation to be harassed.

    guess you are talking about open couchrequests which is afaik default when you send someone a CR.
    often surfers don’t realize it.

    but anyway, to find a host in time consuming. so many people like this feature which sadly bewelcome doesn’t offer yet.

    social media is what people make of it. it is a fact, that in CS, female members get much much more clicks than males in open CRs.

    many if not most singles use CS as dating site. I already hosted couples who found each other on CS. they are so proud of it to write about in the profile.

    I wouldn’t call it harassing if single girls, mostly very young and broke and too lazy to earn money and trying to freeload for months while traveling, stay several days with a single male host who is flirting with her.

    some girls nevertheless leave negative feedback after they left, having been shown around and having been hosted with full board and bespoken 😉 the whole day
    and half or the night, eventhough the host never touched them.

    many of these girls are feminists, vegetarian, prefer biological food, – but smoke. and travel by hitchkining.
    how a feminist girl dares not to be shy to be favoured by men in hitchhiking depasses my horizont.

    same applies for freeloading. stay with couples and girls as host and hope to get *less* ‘harassed’.

    the last couchsurfeuse I hosted complaint that she got corporally harassed once the host’s wife had left for work in the morning.

    olivier September 16, 2013 at 9:28 am Reply

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