Hosting can be a treat, too. Left without a real vacation budget this year, hosting Couchsurfers in our small one-bedroom apartment was a way to invite people from faraway places into our little corner of the world. If meeting interesting people is one of the best things about traveling, why not have the people come to you?
We had guests from Austria, Australia and more. Some did the dishes. A couple of women from Sweden, we barely saw, their presence indicated mostly by humungous suitcases and late-night entries. But they were sweet, in their early 20s and orbiting a different realm. One morning, I made pumpkin pancakes for one of them. One night, my husband and I went to sleep instead of going out with them to hear a DJ. I felt old.
One Couchsurfer hung out with us all weekend as we introduced her to such time-honored American traditions as brunch, a Bloody Mary and a Sunday evening dance party on the bank of one of New York's most polluted waterways, the Gowanus Canal. We walked around a stretch of Brooklyn we'd never seen before and happened upon a small cat colony in an abandoned building.
That was about two months ago. She was back on our futon over Thanksgiving, having traveled to other U.S. cities in the meantime. In the intervening weeks, we'd followed one another on the photo-sharing site Instagram. That's how it came to be that we had no qualms leaving her in our apartment alone while we visited family for Thanksgiving dinner.
Whether or not you let them stay when you're not home is obviously up to you. For us, it comes down to knowing enough about our guests by spending time with them. Your home is not a hotel, so people shouldn't expect that they will automatically be handed keys. The only thing you've promised is a roof.