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:
What is Couchsurfing?
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.
Should you Couchsurf?
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.
Is it safe?
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.
How Do You Couchsurf?
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.
How to find a host?
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.
- Spend some time filling out your profile, and be honest! Your host will definitely read it because he/she will want to know who is going to stay at their place.
- Upload several pictures of yourself to help establish that visual trust. If you're interested in hosting, its also nice to have a picture of your couch for reference.
- Filter your search with gender, location, verification level, keywords, age or others if you're interested only in certain types of hosts. I personally don't filter like that. I filter through the manual reading of profiles.
- Read the full profile of potential hosts. Do they look nice? Would you trust staying with them?
- Request to surf with a personalized message. Include something that lets them know you've read their profile. Do you share a hobby? Like something in particular? Also, briefly describe yourself and why you want to Couchsurf with them.
- When you have your host, establish an additional contact method. If possible, exchange emails or phone numbers to facilitate communication once you are in the city.
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?