How your Couchsurfing Host’s environment can Wreck You (or Heal You)

Have you ever realized how profoundly your choice of who you stay with affects you when you travel?

Yes, staying with friends is a great way to save money when visiting a new city. In fact, I highly recommend it; but I stress the importance of being really aware of the particular lifestyle and habits (good or bad) of any person you choose to stay with. If I’ve said it once, I’ve probably said it a hundred times: Be really aware of how where you stay and who you say with can affect you when you travel.

Being aware of how your host’s place and personality affect you can mean the difference between a stressful trip or an enjoyable one.

Being aware is highly important because where you stay will have a profound effect on your sleep patterns, eating habits, and emotional state. In fact, your decision about where you stay is the single most powerful factor over how you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) your time in a new place.

Why is this effect so profound?

Here’s why: the daily habits and attitudes of your host will influence you considerably, probably more than you’d care to admit; and that influence will become more pronounced the longer you stay with that person (or group of people, even). I speak from personal experience. In fact, to illustrate this I’m going to share a few stories from my own experiences so you know what to be aware of. And, if you’re a really intelligent person capable of learning from another person’s mistakes, you can save yourself some strife along the way, too.

Early Riser or Night Owl? You decide.

A great example of how a host can influence you can be found in analyzing sleeping patterns. Once when staying with a friend in Chicago who habitually woke up around sunrise, I started to notice something interesting. After a couple days, I realized that my friend’s sleeping habits were rubbing off on me, and I was waking up earlier than I had in months.

I’ve since seen this kind of pattern over and over, including the opposite. Once when I was in California, I became somewhat of a night owl and had trouble waking up before 10AM, all because my social environment (i.e., the person I was staying with) affected my sleeping habits over time.

In fact, this entire article is a testament to how profoundly your environment affects your life. Your environment can either go against or reinforce habits that you’d like to have. And when you’re travelling, it’s much easier to see these effects because the act of travelling itself produces changes in your environment more quickly than everyday life, making it easier for you to compare and infer which habits are affected. And in my experience, it’s the fastest way to learn more about yourself.

Watch Your Plate!

Eating habits are also affected, although perhaps not as profoundly. Obviously, your eating habits are going to be influenced by who you spend time with when you travel, who you visit, and what kind of crowd you prefer to be with when travelling. If your host eats out at restaurants often, you’ll feel a pull to go out more often. And if they eat out nearly exclusively (yes, I’ve met a few people like this), you probably won’t be pleased at the spartan-like state of their kitchen if you enjoy cooking as I do.

Conversely, if you stay with a friend who enjoys cooking, you’ll probably save money and have some fun. Perhaps you’ll even get to cook together, and that can be a wonderful experience.

This applies to special diets, as well.

If you hold yourself to a certain nutritional standard, like being vegetarian or vegan, for instance, it could be more challenging if you’re staying with a friend who doesn’t follow the same standards.

This applies to alcohol and any other substances, as well. If you want to quit smoking, then it’s definitely not a good idea to stay with a smoking friend of yours because you’ll be faced with constant temptation. Or if you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption, then it probably wouldn’t be wise to stay with someone who finishes a bottle of wine every. single. night.

Not that I’ve ever met anyone like that, or anything. 😉

But I have Confession to Make

Actually, I have a confession to make. (And as much as I hate to shatter any of your fantasies, the confession not about alcohol consumption. In fact, I’m somewhat of a light-weight when it comes to alcohol, and rarely drink anything alcoholic. Alcohol has never really resonated with who I am or fit in with my vision of the person I’d like to become. So I guess I’ve never felt a big attraction to it. However, I don’t have negative feelings for people who feel differently, either.)

No, my confession is about fish.

As you may have noticed from the Vegetarian badge on the right sidebar, I’m vegetarian. Well, last year I slipped a bit and tried some high-quality fish while I was staying in Portland, Oregon. Some friends of mine were raving about it; so, in the spirit of travel and exposing myself to new experiences, I decided to try some Alaskan haddock that a friend of a friend had personally caught off the coast of Alaska. At least, I think it was haddock… anyway I didn’t die. Aren’t you glad? Me, too.

So last year I slipped in my commitment to being vegetarian. I learned that even though I strongly believe being vegetarian is healthier for my body and certainly more sustainable, I’m not immune to outside influence, and I’m certainly not perfect.

But that’s okay, because I grew from the experience.

However, the Most Profound Effect is…

Yet there is an effect even more profound than effects to your sleeping or eating patterns. I’ve come to realize the most profound effect that someone can have on me while I’m travelling is that their overall emotional state and attitude (what some might call their vibe) will have a profound impact on how I feel while I’m staying at their place. This applies when you’re just spending time with someone, of course, but the effect is even stronger if someone is hosting you at their place for a few nights.

For instance, I’ve visited friends when they were going through difficult times, such as after a breakup from a relationship or when someone they care about is having health issues; and I’m careful to keep in mind that this person is obviously not going to be at their best if they’re in a depressing or frustrating situation. In those situations, I have the opportunity to show them the bright side of life again and gently remind them to focus on the positive aspects of their life.

Although it may seem brain-dead simple on the surface (and you’ve probably heard it before), it’s worth reiterating:

The overall emotional attitude of the people you spend time with most will have a profound impact on your own attitude, and this effect will either have a negative or positive affect on your own emotional health.

What is the solution?

So how do you successfully avoid being derailed from a path that’s important to you? How do you avoid being unwittingly turned into a night-owl… or worse?

The answer may seem obvious by now: be mindful of who you spend time with when travelling, and be especially mindful of who you decide to stay with.

Habits are contagious.

This truth can work against you, and it can also work for you.

If waking up early is important to you, be aware that if you stay with a friend who’s a chronic night-owl, it will be a challenge to keep your early riser habit. I’m not saying it will be impossible, but it will be quite challenging. Even if you’ve cultivated a lot of self-discipline, it won’t be nearly as enjoyable retaining the habit than if you’d stayed with a friend who had sleeping habits that are a closer match to yours. If that’s not possible, the best way to shield yourself from another person’s habits is to not be around them when the habit in question comes into play.

This applies to food and emotional habits, as well. And all of this also highlights why it’s important to be very mindful when choosing your friends in the first place, because, as I said before, the emotional attitude of the people you spend the most time with will have a profound impact on your own beliefs, habits, and attitude.

Habits are contagious. And while this can work against you, it can also work for you. So if you want to become an early riser or try being vegetarian, for example, you should consider staying with a friend who possesses the qualities you want to experiment with. By exposing yourself to an environment that already possesses the qualities you’d like to have, it is much easier to change your own habits. Or to put it another way, repeated exposure to any person results in the belief systems and attitudes of each person affecting the other. As I said before, it is possible to shield yourself from another person’s habits by limiting exposure to the person when that specific habit comes into play, but that is certainly not a perfect shield. Habits are contagious over repeated exposure — in both directions, actually.

Examine Your Own Life

If you examine your own life, you’re bound to find some lessons in your past. Is there a person you’ve stayed with in the past that had habits that worked against you? Have anyone else’s good habits reinforced yours? Have you ever tried a new perspective while travelling because your host provided more support than if you’d been alone?

By understanding how habits can be contagious while travelling, we can have a much better experience. Can you think of any time where habits worked against you (or with you) while travelling? Has someone ever transformed you into a nocturnal creature?

– Bonus –
Here’s an article that was pointed out to me that features some more hosting-specific advice. Recommended if you’re at all interested in hosting: CouchSurfing: Tips for a Smooth Experience from our friends at BootsnAll.