“Never talk to strangers.” That’s what my mom used to tell me. But I rarely follow her advice especially here in Belgium. I could just imagine her freaking out if I tell her I don’t just talk to them, I sleep in the same room with them.
The online travel community Couchsurfing.org has been helping more than three million members across the globe to stay as a “guest” in their host’s home abroad since it started in 2004.
The premise of the community is quite simple. It offers travellers or “surfers” the opportunity to meet locals willing to offer their “couch” or place to crash in. By opening up their homes to these adventurers, the locals get the chance to meet new people and learn more about different cultures. All is founded on trust, without expectations of any sort of payment.
To be able to fully enjoy the benefits of Couchsurfing, you need to build your profile through references/feedback from previous hosts or guests. The social networking platform is like Facebook meets Tripadvisor.
I’ve been an active member since 2008, having surfed more than 10 times and hosted more than 40 people.
What I like about Couchsurfing is that it offers an alternative way to travel. It gives me the opportunity to see a destination in the eyes of a local, beyond guidebooks and expensive hotels. It helps me live like a local, discover places that only locals frequent and try food that normally I won’t even touch. Meeting people on the road –from South Korea to Switzerland and South Africa –and becoming friends with them are some of its perks. Simply put, it allows travellers to learn and genuinely experience a destination.
The first time I tried Couchsurfing was when I travelled to Helsinki. Ashley, my host, allowed me to stay in his apartment for a couple of days. We shared conversations about expat living in Finland. He was even kind enough to introduce me to his friends.
In Lisbon, I stayed with Joao, who lives in Bairro Alto, one of Lisbon’s hippest places. The view from his apartment beats that of any other hotel. I got invited to celebrate with his friends the Festas de Lisboa, the city’s biggest celebration.
Artem and Oleksandr are two Ukrainians I met in Couchsurfing. It was July 2013 when they stayed in my place in Brussels. We instantly became good friends that I had to visit them again in Kyiv five months later.
Couchsurfing is not perfect. There can be some bad experiences. When you think about it, you are dealing with strangers. Abuse of your hospitality is inevitable. The online group has been making efforts to make it more secure and reliable for both surfers and hosts.
Be that as it may, Couchsurfing is still a life-changing experience. I recommend that you give it a try.
Here’s a couple of advice to make your travels richer and safer:
Build your complete profile. Having your own profile is the first reference point for any host. Be as detailed and creative as possible. Write down your favorite music, books or the places you’ve been to.
Make your couch request stand out. Enumerate the reasons why you want to meet your potential host – cite your common interests and why they should take you as a host or guest. Remember that Couchsurfing is more than just providing you a free place to crash in but a way to meet people and learn new cultures. Of course, mention the host’s name in your request.
Be respectful of your guest and host. Again, remember that you are staying in a stranger’s place so be conscious of their house rules. It is important to read thoroughly your host’s profile to ensure that you will be comfortable with them and their place. If you are allergic to any particular animal, check if the host has pets.
Give your host a present. It’s not necessary but it certainly makes for a nice gesture. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be a souvenir from your home country. Buying them a pack of beer or cooking them dinner would be much appreciated, too.
Safety first. When in doubt, try suggesting to your host that you first meet in a public place before going to their place. Inform a friend or a family member that you are couch-surfing somewhere. Share your host’s Couchsurfing profile or address to a friend for added security.
About the author
Jerick Parrone is a full-time eComms professional who believes a job should not stop you from seeing the world. He recently finished his goal to travel to 25 countries by the time he reaches 25 years of age. He shares his travel adventures on www.25travels.com.