What is Couchsurfing?
When I was in Australia last year, I learned of a website that completely changed the way I travel. The website is called Couchsurfing. This is playing a huge part in a growing international hospitality movement. Couchsurfing is very simple: 1) create your profile (similar to a Facebook profile), 2a) put your couch up to host, 2b) request a couch to stay on, 3) Host or surf, 4) Repeat. There are no requirements that say you have to host to be able to surf. There is a feedback system that gives you an idea of the person’s history with Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing was started by a guy from Boston, but it’s a global social network.
“What?! You’re going to get yourself killed!”
This is a common response I hear when I tell anyone about Courchsurfing (sometimes with more brutal and detailed comments than I like to hear). It’s funny how 95% of people respond to this with pessimism, when Couchsurfing has turned me into an ultimate optimist. I’ve surfed 5 times now, and each time I’ve been blown away with the generosity and kindness of the hosts. If they’re busy over the days, they’re willing to have me stay and explore and then hang out whenever they can. I’ve had hosts that showed me around the city for two full days, showing me all of their favorite spots and telling everything they know about the city. This morning, my host even made me breakfast before I left town. My experiences have been the exact opposite of the reactions I get from people when I talk about Couchsurfing. Rather than getting killed or robbed, I’ve met some extremely nice people and have made some great friends that I plan to meet up with again in the future.
The feedback system is key. If you see someone with 20 positive references, it’s a sure thing. If they have no references, it’ll probably be fine but that’s more of a risk. I ensure that I go with people with several positive references.
Couchsurfing has many benefits for the traveler:
1) See how the locals live – you can get a feel of how people live here
2) See little known spots – whether it’s a nice view or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, locals know amazing places that tourists never get to
3) Sigthseeing companion – I travel alone a lot, I used to sightsee solo. In a way, this is unsatisfying and can really make you feel lonely. When you are doing something amazing, it’s normal to want to share the experience with someone or to at least tell someone about it. With Couchsurfing, even if you sightsee alone, you’ll always have someone to hang out with at night.
4) Meet great people – people on Couchsurfing tend to be very friendly and they tend to be travelers. I’ve met some great friends and have learned something new from each person I’ve surfed with.
5) It’s free! – That’s right, people are doing this out of the good of their hearts and do not ask for anything in return. I’ll buy them something anyway (whether it’s a beer, some chocolates, or whatever), but no one ever expects anything.
“Couchsurfing sounds great! Why would anyone ever want to stay in a hotel?!”
I read your mind, didn’t I? Ha!…Obviously this isn’t for everyone, but for a single 23 year old who loves to travel, I’m not sure if it gets any better than this.
My surfing experiences include:
1) New York City for 2 nights
2) Washington DC for 3 nights
3) Providence, RI for 1 night
4) Montreal, Quebec for 2 nights
5) Burlington, VT for 1 night
Since this is a global network, theoretically I have a place to stay in every city in the world. How is that for revolutionary? I used to travel just to see places. Now when I travel, half of it is to see places…and the other half is to meet some of kindest, most generous people around.