If you're a budget traveler, I'm sure you've heard of the term couchsurfing at least once. Many travelers love and vouch for this style of travel and encourage others to join. And I, as an avid couchsurfer, think it is a enriching way of getting to know a new city. So, is couchsurfing for you?
Lets start with the basics:
As stated on the Couchsurfing website, "it is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit." In other words, it is a way to see new destinations from a local perspective by staying at a local's house as a guest, and in some cases, having them as travel companions as well. Couchsurfing is free since it stands on the basis of connecting like-minded people who want to socialize with different cultures and get to know more about different destinations.
In short, it is a social networking site that focuses on connecting like-minded travelers and a platform that allows you to meet, surf with, and even host other travelers.
There are dozens of reasons why you should Couchsurf. Lets start by saying that it is a free place to stay! And, while this is not the main goal of Couchsurfing, it is one that has drawn a lot of interest from budget travelers. Couchsurfing is also an incredible way to experience the hospitality of a new destination with the inevitable local touch provided by your host. If you're looking to get off of the beaten path and not fall prey to tourist traps, who else is better than your local host to advise you on that?
When it comes to your accommodation, it is not always a couch what will be available. Many hosts have an extra bed, air mattress, sleeping bags, a separate private bedroom, and of course, a comfy couch, among others. It varies drastically by host and they usually state it on their profile.
This is a concern most people have when considering to Couchsurf or not, and it is totally valid. You will be staying with someone you don't know, what if he or she is a psycho? Well, let's think of this in a different way. They could think the same of you. What if you are the psycho who will be staying in their home? The question of potential danger is always there, but this is a community of like-minded travelers looking to connect through the act of sharing (whether cultural, social, or simply in the form of a couch), so it is unlikely that you will come into trouble.
To this day, all my experiences have been positive and I've enjoyed all of them. Having said that, I'll be honest by saying that I know of cases in which the host or surfer was robbed, and of people who try to use couchsurfing for sex. Just be alert and read carefully your potential host or surfer's profile, especially the references left by previous hosts and surfers that met him/her. Are they positive references? This will help you avoid those awkward or negative experiences.
In order to Couchsurf, you have to become a member of their site (which is for free), and fill out a profile with certain personal information, hobbies, interests, and other information you're comfortable sharing. This is basically the most important step in becoming a Couchsurfer because it tells everyone who you are. It will make or break your chances of being hosted or being considered as a host.
After that, you simply start searching for hosts in your destination of choice.
The ease of finding hosts varies dramatically between cities. For example, in Amsterdam I found a host on the first request I sent; yet in Brunei I was very lucky to find a host after my 16th request. In Maldives, nada! But, these tips will help you improve your chances of finding a good host quickly.
Last but not least, while Couchsurfing is experienced mostly through hosting and surfing, know that this is not the only way to be part of it. Several couchsurfers participate only to meet people for a drink or dinner, or to show them around the city. Others simply enjoy the weekly/monthly Couchsurfing meetups held in several cities around the world. How far will you want to participate in Couchsurfing is up to you.
Now, are you ready to Couchsurf?
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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