So I belong to this website called Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is an online community where you can build a profile and then search for people in whatever city you are planning on visiting worldwide to host you.
Hosting generally entails the following: lodging at your home and sharing cultural experiences as a native or resident of that particular place they are visiting. Surfing means that you stay with a stranger and are prepared to see a new city from with a local perspective and twist. The hosts can suggest great local hangouts where the Chicagoans really go as opposed to the tourist traps although there are the classic joints that visitors should check out which in my opinion include the following: deep dish pizza, Italian beef if you’re into the whole meat eating thing (I’m not, but I do live in a city who’s backbone has historically been the meatpacking industry), The Art Institute, The Field Museum etc.
Then of course my personal fave spots: Simones J, local Mexican joints here in Pilsen, Greektown, Little India by Devon, Wicker Park, The Green Mill, street festivals, downtown… I also try to cater to each person’s individual agenda or taste.
I love hosting for a number of different reasons. I make new friends from all over the world and it’s a beautiful thing to share my home and life with an outsider and always leaves me with new perspectives from their point of view. I learn about lot about different countries, different political systems from people who’ve lived there – not just read things in books. It also gives me an opportunity to fall in love with Chicago. For instance, at the beginning of the summer I had a young guy stay with me who was a comedian – he had a show here in Chicago and so we met up after work near the spot where his gig was at and I had the most amazing time laughing and getting introduced to the comedy culture in my own city.
My biggest take-away from hosting was living in New Mexico for two months taking care of wolves. After working at a dead-end corporate job that I hated for a year right after graduating from university I found myself stagnant and bored. I had hosted this couple who told me about Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and volunteering there and three months later I was on a plane to live with wolves myself: a life changing experience.
I’ve had visitors stay with me from all over the world: Australia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, and Spain. I’ve also had visitors stay with me from all over the United States from all walks of life. I’ve had rich people stay with me, poor hippies travelling from city to city trying to find themselves, academics, self-taught prophets…it’s been an experience to say the least. With each visitor my mind expands further and further while I realize how little I know. It’s humbling, enlightening, and beautiful to connect with others in this fashion.
I’ve had varied reactions from friends when discussing how I participate on this site. Generally, it’s something like: “I hope you don’t get murdered.” Or “You’re not afraid that they will steal things from you?” or “that’s really cool – why do you do it?” Or “You’re so trusting of others – I could never do that.”
It’s not for everyone and I think to really belong to this type of community you have to be willing to have an open mind and an open heart for others. You also have to understand that this isn’t a site where you can just go to someone’s home and crash there for a night ‘cause you’d rather not pay for a hotel – it’s a reciprocal type of thing. Surfers have made me dinner, taken me out for a night on the town, cleaned my place, sent me gifts from their home countries or post cards or letters, maintained in contact, provided awesome business or life advice, and generally wanted to share experiences with me.
Alicia from Australia :)
Corey from California and her pet snake who also couchsurfed at my apartment. :)
I research my potential visitors well via their profile to see their references and I generally won’t host people without references or anyone that I don’t think would make for interesting company. I don’t host everyone who asks and do it to my convenience.
I’ve sang karaoke with a German chick at an all Spanish karaoke bar, I’ve found hidden bars in Chicago I’ve never known, I’ve walked for miles and miles directionless all over this city, I’ve stayed up until 5 a.m. to watch the sun rising over Lake Michigan, I’ve had socio-political debates, I’ve heard some amazing live music from surfers in the comfort of my own home, I’ve had amazing meals not prepared by me, I’ve gotten recommendations for future travel destinations and above all I’ve got friends all over the world waiting to host me someday. J