What is couchsurfing some might ask? The idea behind couchsurfing is to leverage the hospitality of friendly people around the world who open their homes to travelers, or in simpler terms, staying with hosts while you travel. Couchsurfing is probably one of the best ways of traveling cheap while also benefiting from the basic comfort of a home. Couchsurfing is a growing community of over 9 million people in more than 120,000 cities of the world and it connects travelers with other people who are willing to share the social experience of … traveling.
The main facilitator of couch-surfing is the website couchsurfing.org which makes it a lot easier to keep travelers safe when adventuring into the unknown. Is it safe? Just like any other social media out there, trust plays an important part in choosing your hosts. This website however, developed a system to help members stay safe, the most important part of it being the ‘reference’ tab on members’ profiles. People who stayed with a particular host have the opportunity of reviewing and rate their experiences as positive, negative or neutral, all of it staying public for other people to see. The more detailed your review, the better the chances for other couchsurfers to evaluate their choices. Another feature of the website is ‘vouching’ which means that members can publicly declare their trust in each other. One has to acquire three vouches before starting to vouch for others and members are encouraged to use this feature to vouch for those who have really earned their trust. There is also a ‘verification system’ that confirms members’ names and addresses and those members who were verified will get a green mark icon on their profile and why not, more credibility. Through these features couchsurfing.org helps you have a safer and easier experience, however, use them wisely and take your time deciding and choosing your close-to-ideal host.
The website is quite easy to use. All you have to do is sign up, set up a profile by writing about yourself (hobbies, interests, experiences and personality) to help other members have a clearer opinion about who you are and what you expect from you hosts or guests. Hosting is absolutely not a requirement. You might as well be only a traveler sleeping on other people’s couch if that is what suits you best. However, hosting is also a great way of communication. You will have first-hand access to other travelers’ stories and experiences which can be both entertaining and useful for your own couchsurfing adventure.
There are some things you will need to pay extra attention to like choosing a suitable host. Don’t rush and make sure you read many profiles before deciding. Engage in conversation with your possible host, get to know each other a little, do some research, and check their interests and hobbies. After you decide you can write your couch request but make sure it is respectful, friendly and personal because this is a good way for your host to filter through the hundreds of requests they receive every day.
Ask for directions and the exact address or set a specific time, date and place to meet up. Couchsurfing is amazing because it offers you the opportunity to engage in the local experience. You host can be your source of information, you can find out cheap ways to travel around, good places to eat, things to visit and so on. Treat your host with respect, bring a souvenir from your country if you’d like, don’t bring back strangers to their homes, not without permission anyway and check with them about their plans for the day, you can’t come and go as you like.
Don’t take things for granted. Be happy and thankful you have a roof over your head and a hot shower at your disposal. Listen to your host’s advice; it might come in handy if you happen to get lost. Memorize as best as possible the area and the neighborhood and keep you living area clean. Interact with people even if that means stepping out your comfort zone. You can even coordinate your time with other couch-surfers from the area and have a meet up. Discover places and interact with locals, they know best. But it is good to stay alert in case of emergency.
Couchsurfing enriches and ‘cheapens’ your travel experience but it also makes it better. The experience of couchsurfing is hard to come by because ‘living the local life’ has never been fully experienced by tourists who chose to spend their days in a hotel. Have a good time and keep in touch to your hosts or guests because at the end of the day couchsurfing is all about meeting, exploring and sharing.