After our first two nights in Vietnam we had a 40-minute public bus journey back to the centre of Saigon to process how I was feeling about our experience of the previous 36 hours.

I was particularly interested in why, with the strength of my emotion still evident, I hadn’t needed to tell our Couchsurfing Host face-to-face how disappointed I had been about our experience staying with him.
I was angry (really angry) and felt ‘used’, it had not been a fair exchange.
I wanted to take charge of the situation which for my family meant finding alternate accommodation and leaving early on our second morning (although we could have stayed longer) and also to ensure I left feedback on the couchsurfing website so that other couchsurfers didn’t encounter the same disappointment. On the morning I didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’ and make my husband or children feel uncomfortable with me arguing with the host, especially as I realized that the emotion was mine to process.
Having woken up at 2am on our second night I tried to get back to sleep but lines from the review I would write to the couchsurfing host kept floating through my conscious brain. Keen to remember them I got out my phone to note them down. 90 minutes later and I had penned the review at the end of this email.
These were our beds for the two nights:

It felt good writing feedback to the host. Consciously I was staying objective but didn’t hold back!

The host thanked me for the advice and appeared genuine, so I am hoping it will benefit others.

Writing the feedback had three purposes:

1. For me to process my thoughts and feelings
2. To ensure that other couchsurfers knew what to expect
3. For the host to learn and improve
 
..later that day it felt really good when pressing the ‘submit feedback’ button while sitting in an air conditioned hostel room on a comfy bed complete with duvet and crisp white linen!

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing.com is a website that connects travellers and hosts across the world.
The Couchsurfing website says:
“We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”
Their values are:
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I have come to realise that I want to understand the places we visit through the eyes of those who live there and to make meaningful connections, no matter how brief.
Couchsurfing.com and Warmshowers.org are two websites that we have used to connect to like minded individuals who are offering accommodation or friendship.
At the time of writing, we have hosted four sets of travellers in our own home and benefitted from connections with five residents in India and Vietnam.

Feedback posted to our host on  Couchsurfing.com

Lost in translation

K is a business man and as a business owner myself I admire how he uses Couchsurfing. Unfortunately this did not translate to a fulfilling couchsurfing experience for us and did not fit with our interpretation or expectations of the couchsurfing philosophy.

In reality K exchanged with us space on a classroom floor for us helping him enhance the quality of his evening English classes and marketing to prospective staff and students. If you see this as purely a business transaction then this is the couchsurfing host for you.

We liked:

  • Good directions and pre-stay communication via couchsurfing website and WhatsApp
  • Excellent Wifi in communal social/table area
  • Several delicious and cheap street side restaurants within 1 minute walk
  • Good public bus service into centre of Saigon (40 mins)
  • As a family of four we didn’t have to share our classroom with other couchsurfers
  • Our classroom had an ensuite toilet and shower room
  • We are travelling with our children aged 10 and 12. The excellent wifi and large table next to the wifi, meant that we were able to get a solid day of formal education completed during our stay (probably our best in 7 weeks).

We didn’t like:

  • The sleeping mats had no detectable padding and pillows had lost their spring many months ago, so sleeping on the hard floor was uncomfortable for our 40+ year old bodies. (Our children slept fine)
  • The communication from K during our stay was poor and we were left guessing and assuming things (often incorrectly) throughout our stay. Once we thought K was showing us to a local eatery but because I needed to go to the bathroom first he left to eat with his girlfriend instead and didn’t tell us, so we stood outside aimlessly for 15 minutes waiting for K to show.
  • We didn’t know what to do with our luggage during the day, and despite us being in the building we weren’t asked, or told, before our bags were moved to the corridor for class to start.
  • Because we asked the right question we were told the room we were sleeping in would be unavailable due to classes between 5 and 9pm. However classes overran and we were still waiting at 9:30pm. With children to settle this was not helpful. Visibility of a classroom/language school activity timetable for that day would have helped enormously.
  • On Sunday morning we were ‘serenaded’ by very loud pop music which started just after 7am. We were given no notice of this and would have been angry, at the unexpected nature of this noise, if we had not already woken up.
  • There was air-conditioning (AC) in the classroom we slept in but, understandably, this is not made available for couchsurfers. Somehow having the AC unit in the room and not being able to use it made it worse than there not being AC at all! – (this is something we have encountered couchsurfing elsewhere too.)
  • Throughout our stay I felt a bit like a performing puppet for K’s business and that we, as English speaking foreigners, were just there to give his English Language Tuition a USP (Unique Selling Point). There isn’t much given back from K by way of cultural exchange. We were given 5-10 minutes notice before we were asked to help out on three occasions during one day: first during a interview for new staff members, second during a taster session for prospective students and thirdly during one of the evening classes. I think this was more than usual because it was a Saturday/weekend.
  • We only realised after the ‘taster session for new clients’ that this is what it was, if we had known beforehand we were a ‘marketing pawn’ we would probably still have participated but, had we been more informed, the whole experience would have felt positive.

We left K’s establishment feeling disappointed by the couchsurfing experience.

There is a place for entrepreneurial hosts, like K, on Couchsurfing, however our family has now learnt that this is not the experience we want or need to repeat.


 

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