This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
In the last few months, I’ve had occasion to connect with a handful of people who I’ve initially met on-line, developed relationships with over varying periods of time, and then met in person. I’ve stayed with some of them, met others for coffee, and even house-and-dog-sat for yet others.
All of these experiences have been phenomenally good…and yet they could have been equally bad.
Meeting people on-line can be an interesting exercise. I mean, who are these people, really? It’s easy to create an on-line persona that suits the “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” we are inside, but that disguises the starkly contrasting person we could be on the outside. And even more disturbing, is that some people might not have the best of intentions.
So what’s a girl to do when traveling solo and counting on the hospitality of others?
(In keeping with the super-hero theme), trust your “Spidey Sense”. One of the best lessons I’ve learned about travel is that 99% of the people in this world are fundamentally good. Yes, there are bad people, and yes, you can have bad experiences. But more often than not, I’m proud to report that what you see is what you get. If you have a bad feeling about something, listen to your gut. Otherwise, a good dose of faith in humanity combined with street sense can go a long way.
I met the folks I was to house-sit for through HouseCarers, a website dedicated to connecting house-sitters with houses in need of “sitting”. I have a pretty extensive on-line life and persona, so it was easy enough for my hosts to get a sense of what I’m all about, and they were pretty candid about their own situation and needs in our on-line dialogue. But we both had to bridge a gap of trust in order to make it happen. Heck – my hosts even gave me the keys to their house, car, and care of their dogs! Now that’s trust! (See also: Getting Free Accommodation With House-Sitting)
And it all worked out just fine.
Landing on the couches I landed on is another exercise in trust. Without having had a chance to meet my hosts in person and see the whites of their eyes, I didn’t really know what would happen. I worried if we would have enough to talk about, wondered if there would be personality conflicts, and even questioned how we’d recognize each other (since online profile pictures can be deceiving – mine included). But again, I wasn’t disappointed. Instead, I enjoyed a cultural exchange (and in some cases a valuable exchange of professional ideas and concepts too), and had a chance to delve even deeper into and build upon a friendship that was sparked on-line.
People regularly ask me to look them up when I’m in their neck of the worldly woods, with an intention to have me over for dinner, or show me their home town, or have me as their house-guest. My immediate response is always “be careful what you offer….because I’m the sort of person who will actually take you up on it”! I rarely initially plan on staying for more then three nights, but I’m often asked to stay longer. In the case of some friends in New Zealand, I ended up staying for weeks!
I consider meeting some of these people to be among the best travel experiences I have had, and I look forward to meeting more of my on-line friends in person.
Thank you to my friends in Chiang Mai, Cairns, Brisbane, Broken Hill, Lightning Ridge, Melbourne, Sydney, Rotorua, Auckland, Ulm, Paris, Sanary-Sur-Mer, London, Hampshire, York, Edinburgh, and Londonderry for opening up your homes and hearts to me. Without you, my travels just wouldn’t be the same.
15 thoughts on “Meeting People Online…and Then in Person”
Great post Nora! This reminds me of my own WWOOFing experiences, some farmers I’ve got a good match, with others not so much. A Polish farmer said that she didn’t think I should live in the countryside for longer than a week, she thought I was a city boy through and through. She was also very temperamental and prone to brutal honesty when it came to saying what’s on her mind. It’s very easy to get into conflicts/arguements with someone like her. In Portugal I had a fantastic experience. Not only did I stay for a month which was really great (except for getting a bit of cold due to the temperature dropping below average for a week), but my WWOOF host Guido was very kind, very peaceful and a good-humored British (who had settled into Portugal about 5 years ago) bloke. Of course, his Italian wife was also very temperamental, but the sanguine character of Guido balanced it all out quite nicely.
So for me one of the things is how to find emotionally/temperamentally compatible hosts, now that’s rather tricky innit? I guess the only thing that I can do is that if I go WWOOFing to some other country, I’d like to have more than one options so if things won’t work out, I could switch over to another host.
Great post! I’ve been burned in life, but always through my best friends. I’ve never once had a bad experience with someone I’m meeting for the 1st time. I agree 99.9% of people ARE good!!!
@Erkki – WWOOFing is another great example of that leap of faith – for both the volunteer and the host. I too, have had some great (and not-so-great) experiences along those lines. Most volunteer gigs I do now involve a mutual trial period, allowing both parties a chance to call it off if we don’t think it will work out.
@Andi – You know what they say…keep your friends close, and your enemies closer! (smiles) Too bad it’s the people we inherently trust (like our close friends) that can create some of the largest ripples in our lives.
Great insight. I have been burned by people I met online, but even then I should have known better. I think you are right when you say 99% of people are fundamentally good, and even with my bad experiences it hasn’t stopped me from meeting others.
I’ve been lucky that everybody I’ve met online since getting into this travel game has lead to a great time.
From other travel bloggers to couch surfing and even catching up with fellow backpackers from on the road. Maybe its the appreciation the people I’ve met have for this kind of travel. Either way I’m going to continue doing it, after all its these people that I now call friends.
I subscribe to the same “99% rule” about people. I’ve had numerous fantastic experiences meeting people first through couchsurfing, twitter, and even my little ol’ website, and ending up meeting up for coffee or surfing a couch for a night or few. These have often led to some of my best travel experiences and great friendships.
Works both ways. You were a stranger, and therefore a “risk” (albeit a very small risk, because you have a massive profile and it wouldn’t take long to track you down via Interpol if you did a runner with my silverware).
But I never felt twitchy about you visiting, because of two things. Firstly, I could tell you were a gift of a visitor even before I’d met you – and two, yes, People Are Generally Good.
I’m tired tired *tired* of alarmist nonsense in the most conservative papers and on the most sensationalist TV and radio shows, suggesting we need to metaphorically lock ourselves away behind our battlements, be suspicious by default, to presume guilt before innocence is proven. Yes, take precautions, but don’t err on the side of wild misanthropy.
Because *that* is a recipe for ignorance, loneliness and obscurity. The most successful people – in every sense – are the ones who bridge the gap between other people themselves. They step forward. They take the “risks”.
But the real risk is failing to do just that.
I love this kind of experience – and I’m also the sort of person to take people up on their most casual offers. And I do feel that most people-with-bad-intentions would be unlikely to develop the level of “blog life” that people like us have developed. So without further ado: there’s a bed in the Cotswolds if you’re ever passing through the middle of England. And, you know, coffee and cake and all good things… 😉
@Eric – You make a good point about persevering with the notion that people are good even after being burned. Sometimes crap happens. But not letting it affect your view of humanity is the high road! Cheers.
@Chris – True…the sort of people who are willing to take you into their homes based on an on-line meeting are also the sort of people that appreciate our style of travel. That’s part of what creates such strong bonds, I think.
@Dustin – I agree! Be it through Twitter, Facebook, organized websites like HouseCarers or Couchsurfing, I too have had nothing but great experiences. And any dodgy stuff I’ve usually be able to suss out quickly – and on-line.
I told somebody the other day that I tend to warn people not to offer up their couches if they don’t mean it, and he said “Great. I’ll make sure I don’t ask you to come over!” lol!
@Mikeachim – Don’t get me started on the media messages! Don’t go outside – it’s bad. Weather’s bad. Natural disasters bad. War bad. Crime bad. It’s a bad bad world out there. Very bad. Instead: think about sports, and entertainment, play games on-line. Heck – do everything online, including all your shopping. In fact, doctor’s say it’s healthy to never leave the house. Just fill it with stuff to keep you entertained – all sourced on-line of course. That’ll do.
I also agree with your thought about bridging the gap and taking risks (albeit calculated ones). Thank you for your inspirational words!
@Rachel – Awww…thanks for the offer! Remember…I just may take you up on it!
I think my ideology about taking people up on their offers and trusting people in general came from a book that I quite enjoyed: Tales of a Female Nomad, by Rita Golden Gelman. It’s worth a read!
It’s true that people can often not be who they say they are, but so far everyone I’ve met in real life whom I first met on line has turned out to be really just almost identical to their online personalities. But then again, I havent met that many…
i use DRIGGA.com and find people thru Panel “vacation” or “Lifestyle”. Had some good conversations and going to meet some people too when i go to Canada again
Hi Raymond – I’ve never heard of Drigga. I’ll check it out, thanks!
I met you online first, and then in person, and you turned out to be far cooler in person than I would have ever guessed online! Online doesn’t capture even a fraction of the coolness factor that you have!
Ha ha – thanks! 😉