How couch surfing and staying in hostels made me a better human being

Every now and then, I find myself getting depressed or angry about the state of the world and the way some human beings act. Sometimes they are awesome, showing compassion, other times, they are cruel and parasites, taking whatever they can and not caring about the rest of the world and its people. After moving around as a Third Culture Kid and traveling, I had a sudden realization that made a lot of sense.

Whenever I stayed in hotels, I threw my clothes around, left the bed and bathroom a mess, stole a few towels, toilet paper, and expected the hotel staff to clean up while I moved on to travel to more places, eat, crap, and then leave the next hotel room a mess. Every time, I expected it to not be a problem–I didn’t even think about it at all–, I just thought that people were paid to clean up and I could do whatever I wanted.

When the wealth and diplomatic immunity went away, I found myself couch surfing or staying in hostels, and that was a shock. Suddenly, the cheapest hostel accommodations available had about a dozen people in bunk beds, and each of us had our own habits and personalities, values, and ideas about what it meant to be a good guest. No matter how different those all were, we did have a common understanding: we shared the same room, so keep quiet and clean up any mess we make, don’t take what isn’t yours, and be respectful to everyone because anything could happen while you slept in the same room.

When I started couch surfing, I discovered as a guest, if I threw my stuff around and expected someone to clean up after me, I wouldn’t be staying for much longer. That food in the fridge, even when it was offered, I should make some effort to add more rather than taking as much as I can, because they had to eat too.

The overall theme between hosteling and couch surfing was that I wasn’t entitled to stay there, I lived with other people, and when I reversed the roles to put myself in the position of a host, I didn’t enjoy people urinating all over the floor, leaving the toilet seat up, eating all the food, making noise, or telling me they could come and go as they please at odd hours of the night. I expected them to come in and bring only themselves, leave the place as tidy as they came in, be grateful for the privilege of staying, and not to feel entitlement for whatever they got. Leaving any gifts, cleaning, or anything else was simply the mark of good character that would make them welcome to come again.

Applying that on a grander scale, I see my time on earth and interacting with different people as a guest and a roommate. I’m privileged to be here, and whatever I have is whatever I am grateful for, so I do my best to improve my environment for my own benefit and for others as well. Otherwise, I’m just eating all the food and leaving behind my own excrement, meaning that those who come after have less food for themselves and a dirtier environment thanks to me, so it’s more work with less benefits for them. That kind of behavior would never get me invited to someone’s home as a guest, and I would be kicked out and not get my money deposit back from the hostel.

We live with other people, and we forget that unless we’re forced to be in the same room as them, especially if we’re sleeping in the vicinity of one another. Close the door, your roommate is still there. Leave the bathroom a mess and without any toilet paper, and neither your host nor your roommate will not be happy. There’s no running away, so the best thing to do in order to go back and rest without worrying about someone jerking off into your shampoo or kicking you out is to not give them any reasons to be unkind to you. But it’s also your job as a host and roommate to express what you do not appreciate, otherwise, your guests and roommates don’t know they’ve crossed boundaries without knowing those boundaries ever existed.

Simply put, the less entitlement you feel and the more consideration you have for others, the better you are as a guest, a roommate, and a host. When you view the world as being a guest, you aren’t going to expect everything to be handed to you or for anyone else to clean up after you. When you are a roommate, you make sure you express what you want and what your roommates want, and how to live without agitating one another and escalating toward violence. When you are a host, you learn how to show people what they must do if they are to continue being your welcome guests.

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2 responses to “How couch surfing and staying in hostels made me a better human being

  1. lifelongbruin

    Great post!

  2. Great thoughts!

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