Before I get started, I have a confession to make: I have only Couchsurfed one time. I am basing my review of the entire concept off of one experience. That being said, based on the experience it will be highly unlikely that I will partake again, so it's the one encounter I've to go off.
When I lived in London, one of my best friends, Barb, came to visit. Here we are not in London, but instead enjoying a lovely spring walk around one of our home state Minnesota's many, many lakes. We have been to London twice together and yet somehow don't have any pictures of us there.
Anyways, due to lease purposes, Barb was unable to stay with me for the majority of this trip. When she lived in Minneapolis, she had a Couchsurfing account and always said that she liked hosting people. Thus, in her time of travel need, she reached out to the London community. She had three couches lined up, only to arrive at Gatwick to emails from all three cancelling. Tired and crabby after a day of travel, this was not what she needed. After a quick google search using expensive data, she booked a room at the first hostel she found. As Couchsurfing is free (save for a gift for the home owner), and hostels are not, this was already an unexpected dent in the budget on morning one of ten. Not off to a great start.
Two days later, we were off to Dublin for a long weekend. She had arranged for us to stay at a Couchsurfing apartment, and had communicated with him the evening before our departure, so theoretically no danger of a last-minute cancellation. Our host's name was Franco, and his profile picture appeared to show a man with an afro the size of Pluto. We followed his directions from the airport (only getting lost once!), and ended up standing in front of Pizza Corner, the pizza shop he was part-owner of.
We went inside the small restaurant and asked the man at the register where we could find Franco. "Oh, he is off buying ham right now. But please, sit here and have a pizza and he will be back shortly." Sneaky money-making scheme, that. As we headed away from the register, two young women flagged us down. "Did we just hear you ask for Franco?" they asked. We soon surmised that Franco had in fact invited all four of us to stay the weekend. We joined them at their table, and we each ordered a small pizza and a drink. As we chatted with them, we learned that they were two sisters from Helsinki. One was still a university student while the other was in marketing, and they were quite nice.
As for the dining experience, well, I will allow this Google review answer that for me:
Needless to say, when I recently googled the shop I learned that it has since shut permanently.
We were held a bit hostage in the pizza shop, as we could not leave until Franco returned from buying ham to give us keys. As we waited, we discussed that this was an awfully long time to be at a grocery store, and as sleep deprivation and boredom took over, we joked that maybe "ham" was a euphemism for something else. But then Franco arrived, and it became quite apparent that "ham" had absolutely been a euphemism for marijuana. Dude was blazed as Chicago on October 11, 1871. But he kindly led us to the apartment above the shop and showed us the room we would be sharing. It turned out to be his, while he would sleep on the couch. His room consisted of a King's sized bed, which could sleep three of us. Barb agreed to sleep on the floor the first night. with the understanding that one of the other three of us would do it the next night. We then talked with him for a few minutes, but when Barb asked him if he wanted to join us on our explorations of Dublin, he smiled through his haze and said slowly, "no thanks, I must go and buy ham." At least we waited until we were back outside to laugh.
When we got back that evening, we chatted with him for awhile again. He had two friends over, and we learned that all three of them had come from Libya as refugees nearly two decades earlier. At one point, Franco unleashed his hair. Barb instantly fell in love. Not with him, but with his afro. His picture might have made it look the size of Pluto, but it was more the Jupiter of hair poofs. It was glorious. And thick, so thick. It's always the boys that get the good, thick hair! Anyways, Barb immediately asked if she could braid it, and through he lazily grinned and agreed. And that was where I left them, as I headed to bed.
The shower and kitchen were quite dirty, but I don't like to be dirty nor do I like to spend money on food when I don't have to, so I used both the next morning without complaint. We were gone from the apartment before anyone else had woken up. That evening, we returned to a full-blown party. Franco's two friends were over again, and absolutely blasting African music through the walls. This was, at first, really fun for Barb and I, as we met when we did Peace Corps together in Senegal. She even recognized one of the songs as one that had been popular in her village. We joined them for a few songs, but I got bored rather quickly. It was clear everyone else in the house was gearing up for a rager while I was wanting to wind down and go to bed. I bade everyone a good night, in the hopes that maybe they would be a bit quieter. But they only got louder once the Finnish girls returned and they all decided to do shots and go clubbing.
Around 1, they finally left to complete that plan. Barb did not go with, but came back into the room and we both fell asleep. And then were promptly back awake at 4 when they all came home. The Finnish girls were completely plastered, taking no care to be quiet. They turned the lights on and were talking to one another very loudly. In the living room, meanwhile, the three men had returned to their loud music.
Needless to say, I helped contribute to the small grocery bag that we left Franco as a thank you, but only grudgingly. On the one hand, I do very much appreciate the free lodging but also, I cannot imagine hosting people and leaving them stuck at my place of employment while they have limited time in town, or partying loudly late into the night. I appreciated the addition of "ham" to Barb and my's inside jokes, but overall, I was happy to leave the place.
Once we got back to London, I snuck Barb into my room for three nights before she finally found a Couchsurfing host that was available on the dates they said they were. Between her inability to find hosts in a city of 11 million, and Franco's just...everything, I was duly unimpressed with the concept of Couchsurfing. I have experienced loud roommates in hostels, but for some reason this experience grated on me more than the hostels have.
And to finalize this post, I lied above - we did get one picture of us together in London. Sort of. Shadows count, right?