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Couchsurfers prefer a sedentary senior...alas...

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We haven’t had much luck with Couchsurfers lately.

We hosted two young women from Germany who were driving across Canada between high school and university. I was going to be home that evening, I cooked salmon, we all watched the extraordinary David Suzuki Wild Canada series I’d PVRed, we sent them on their way the next morning with all kinds of food and drink.

Other than that....

I just turned down yet another request from someone who’d literally joined CS a day or two before and had no references. A student from France and her companion, they wanted to stay this coming weekend, depending what time or what day they hit Winnipeg. Their plans were open, they expected us to be equally flexible.

She said in her request that she chose us because our profile made her want to meet us, but it was a cleverly-disguised form letter. She didn’t notice that our profile says we don’t take people who’ve just joined and have no references, it says that we would like to know specifically why surfers chose us, and most importantly, it includes a code word that we ask surfers to include in their request so we can see that they read the profile.

We did accept one CS with considerable surfing and hosting experience, a retired librarian from Victoria, a city for which we have exceptional fondness, but she subsequently turned us down. She was flying in and then taking the train back across the west, and wanted to stay for two nights mid-week.

Alas, both of us had evening activities planned both those nights, though we’d be home for a while after work, and she made it clear that she wanted to tour the city, then sit down with us over dinner each evening and then enjoy two cozy evenings of long conversation. So she said no to us and went elsewhere.

It’s dreadful when people in their 60s refuse to be sedentary.

We also accepted a young university student driving back to her home in B.C. Unfortunately, we were going to be at the lake on the Sunday she was arriving, our return time to Winnipeg was uncertain and so was her arrival time from Thunder Bay, and rather than hang around waiting for us, she opted to stay with a more staid host.

So it goes.

Whenever I log on, first thing that presents is a list of surfers looking for a place to stay in Winnipeg. These people are almost invariably rookies, some of them having been in CS for only a few minutes, often very little profile posted. No hosting experience, of course, and no references.

I’m hoping CS still tells them that it’s a good idea to host a few times to learn how the process of being part of a community of travellers works, and to build up a profile.

But I’m thinking that someone probably told these generally young people that joining CS is a way to get free room and board.

There’s a young guy from Churchill who joined and immediately showed up on that page looking for five nights’ lodging in Winnipeg this month. He says he’s shy and likes animals. His profile tells potential hosts virtually nothing about him. He’s been on there for a couple of weeks now, still looking for someone to step forward, which means he hasn’t had any offers, and maybe he hasn’t read through the Winnipeg hosts and sent out requests.

Then there’s a couple from Ottawa who also had been on there for a couple of weeks, her photo and message, his name. They’re in their 70s, have never surfed or hosted before, riding the bus across Canada and shooting a documentary film as they go.

And after 10 days or so of seeing them asking for hosts, she contacted us, asking to stay with us. Had read our profile, too.

Again alas, they wanted weeknights, last night and tonight to be specific, and we’d both be out late both nights.

No problem, she said.

Well, it’s a problem for us, I said. We didn’t get into CS just to leave a key under the mat — don’t bother looking, we don’t even have a mat, I was being figurative — and maybe bumping into our guests briefly at breakfast. We’ll host when we have the time to host properly and to spend time with our surfers... which is not working out very often.

I’m working 2-10 this week. Next week I referee soccer four straight evenings, I play volleyball Wednesday evenings coming straight from the soccer pitch, my wife does her stuff, we go to Reh-Fit all the time. When CS contact us far enough in advance, we’ve been able on occasion to either keep evenings free or for at least one of us to free up an evening. None of which takes into account how we’d manage to get to the bus depot during our work days to pick up this couple.

The would-be surfer, having never surfed or hosted, said she couldn’t believe after sending her a detailed response, that we wouldn’t host.


We got into CS because child the elder had good experiences, especially on his bicycle trip around the US, and still hosts. At his age, he's a tad more laid-back about things than we are, and many of his visitors tend to be touring cyclists.

We've had good experiences when everything has clicked --- we still hear from Andreas from Sweden, and John and Serge from Montreal. But until we slow down, slow down significantly, I'm afraid we'll usually turn out to be a disappointment.


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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