April 23, 2009

Misadventures in CouchSurfing - Part I
Giv'atayim, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

I'd first stated contacting CouchSurfing (CS) profiles for my time in Israel back in late March, while I was still in Lebanon. There were two different types of potential hosts that I grouped the best candidates into: Those that I'd be interested in staying with before my fiancée and our infant son returned, and those who'd be best suited with them by my side (be it for reasons of personality or accommodation).

CS World Family Location Map [click map for Google Maps]

A CouchSurfing "Nomadic Ambassador" that I'd shared a host with in Turkey told me about a group on the CS community forums dedicated to friendly families, and people traveling with children. One of the overarching goals of this group, the Family Welcome Group, is to connect individuals who are interested in hosting traveling families, or are a family themselves and interested in opening their home to other families. This sounded quite promising until I discovered that it's pretty slim pickings in the Middle East—great for Europe and the USA, though.

But it was though this group's map (and not my normal searching mechanisms) that I ended up contacting a 33-year-old CouchSurfer named Sara—a woman who'd ultimately give us one of our least enjoyable CouchSurfing experiences to date.


Sara, her profile bursting with loads of experience as both a CS guest and host, got back to me with a delightful introduction in the last days of March:

I've hosted babies and young children before so it will be fun! I am in Haifa until April 20th when I will move to an apartment in Tel Aviv so you will either see a house being packed up or unpacked, in both cases you are welcome to stay a week or two, or if you want to use my house as a home base and take short trips around the country that is also fine. Just let me know what time you plan to arrive so that I won't schedule other surfers.

Around two weeks later, from inside the West Bank, I wrote to our upcoming hosts back in the Tel Aviv area (Lee and Nir):

Just so you're in the loop: our next hostess is in the process of moving to Tel Aviv, and we've tentatively penciled in an arrival on the 22nd with her. I know you guys typically host for about three nights or so, but I'm sure a bottle or two of wine and Aidric's wacky antics will keep us smiling.

With anticipation,
//craig & company

Israel has really been a rather atypical CouchSurfing situation for us in sense that we're moving between hosts, but not out of the city. To put it another way, Sara was slated to be my fifth host for the Tel Aviv area (and sixth for the country since arriving less than 20 days ago).

When you're doing back-to-back (host-to-host) CouchSurfing (as I've been doing for about eight months now), communication is pretty important. I'm always sending out little status updates on where I'm at and how far away I am to future hosts in the queue. Sometimes this weeds out people that aren't actually going to host you (if they never respond to such things), but usually it just keeps you from getting burned by a future host suddenly becoming unavailable or forgetting about you.

In Israel, the majority of hosts are quite conservative regarding how long they'd like you to stay with them—erring strongly on the side of caution. I'd almost never accept a host that put a two-night cap on our time together (as many are requesting here), but since I'm not actually getting back on a bus and moving four or five hours to another city, changing hosts inside this small country doesn't bother me too much. It can certainly take a toll with an infant in tow, though.

Our sleeping space in Lee and Nir's living room. Aidric found it hilarious to take these big scary jumps off the couches onto the inflatable mattress.

To casually plan ahead with hosts that have given open-ended invites, I tend to take a look at how long other guests have been hosted for. For example, I saw that Lee and Nir hadn't hosted a great deal, but those that did stay, did so for just two or three days.

But, as chance would have it, we ended up really getting along with this exceedingly sweet couple. Lee and Nir were trusting, easygoing and just loved our son. The five nights we'd planned on spending with them went by in a speedy blur of smiles—so much so that they were surprised to have found us packed up to head on over to Sara's place yesterday evening.

But we felt obligated to move on, as young couples should have their privacy back sooner than later—despite their sincere protests to do otherwise.

In hindsight, we should've never left.



The United States


August 5th, 2009


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