"What is Couchsurfing?"
After years of travelling, I have been telling people how much love I have for Couchsurfing. I like how incredible it is in bringing people from different cultures together. Although it has gained in popularity over the years, I still get the same old question: What is Couchsurfing?
I always had to describe “Couchsurfing” to my friends like this: “So you know couch – like sofa right?” *with my hands acting out the shape of a couch*
“Yeap! Couch, and then surfing. Like surfing on the water? Yeah?”
Now come to think of it I feel like I am making all my friends look like retards. I didn’t mean it guys.
Pretty much explained in the title, Couchsurfing is a website that allows you to host travellers at your place, or stay with locals for free while you are travelling. This incredible platform is available in over 200,000 cities and towns in the world.
"Is Couchsurfing safe?"
If it's not safe, I wouldn't be using it myself. But I take precautions.
Couchsurfing has many features to ensure the safety of both the hosts and the guests. The best would be the reference system which I rely on a lot. It works like this: After staying with a host, people can leave a reference to that host which can be viewed by the public. You can then read the references prior to sending them a couch request. To ensure that the reference is genuine, Couchsurfing recently updated the reference system to work in a way such that a reference cannot be edited once submitted.
In my opinion, it's safe. Just read the profile and the references thoroughly. Look at their photos. Filter the result. Carefully select the person that you're gonna couchsurf with. But, keep an open mind! In the end of the day, most people on Couchsurfing are like-minded and open!
“Why do people host for free?”
People host for free for a number of reasons. It could be that they are practising a language that you're speaking, or they just wanna give back to the travel community as they were hosted for free when they were travelling back then.
In short, it is a way for people not currently travelling to invite the world towards them.
“How does it work though?”
You start by inserting the destination that you're going to into the search field. Read the profiles listed and try to find someone who might be a suitable host for you (personality, time and etc). After that, you can send them a personalised couch request and wait for their reply.
It is also possible to post your trip as a public trip. A public trip is visible by all the hosts that are living in that city. For example, if I am travelling to Helsinki, I can post a public trip saying that I am going to Helsinki soon. Therefore, hosts living in Helsinki know that I am coming and thus can decide if they want to host me. This is the method that got me hosted most of the time.
“So do you sleep on a couch?”
The sleeping surface doesn’t always have to be a couch. It can be a bed, a couch, a sleeping bag, a futon or just sleeping on the floor. It can be a private room or a public room. Just filter the results as much as you can.
From my personal experience, I was more often hosted by people offering a spare bed than a spare couch.
To be honest, it doesn't matter what kind of sleeping surface that I am offered. I'm already grateful that someone is willingly offering some space of his/her place for me to stay for a short while. To me, what matters more is the cultural experience and friendship that we will form together.
“Cultural experience, and friendship you say?”
Yes. I believe that one can know a destination better from a local’s perspective. Through Couchsurfing, you get to interact with the locals and get a real taste of the city/town. You also get insider's tips from them that you might not be able to find anywhere.
For example, I got to know where to get exceptional sushi with an affordable price while in Tokyo.
My host became my personal tour guide to show me around Paris during my stay. He also explained what the arts meant like a connoisseur when we were visiting the Louvre.
Through Couchsurfing, I hosted a father and a daughter from the Czech Republic while I was still living in Malaysia. We became very good friends and they invited me to the Czech Republic to celebrate Christmas with them. And it happened! I went there to visit them and the excitement of seeing them again was unforgettable!
During my stay in Nice, I had a great night out with my very good mates and explored the best of Nice and Cannes. I even went on a private helicopter tour and gazed at the amazing Cote d’Azur!
All of these awesome people who are now my friends, I met them through Couchsurfing.
“Wow! That's amazing! Is it all free?”
Yes and no. Couchsurfing is free but there's some costs that you should keep in mind.
As most of the hosts are not living near the centre of the city, you would have to commute a fair distance to get to your host’s place. For example in Europe, where using public transport is not very cheap, it is wise to take that into account if you really want to couchsurf as you can get a pretty decent dorm bed at the city centre for a few more bucks.
I often cook to pay my favour back to my host because I think cooking together with my hosts is fun. Hence, I also take my expenditure on groceries into account. Some people prefer getting their hosts something special from their home country, and some prefer getting them a meal or two.
But you don't have to do any of this if you don't feel like it. After all, you can give back by being an awesome guest! Just don't be a freeloader or come back home at 3am after a wild night out.
“Meet people, appreciate culture, cut costs... What else?”
Couchsurfing is not only about hosting and being hosted. If you decide to stay in a hostel or hotel and still want to meet up with locals, you can send a message to someone on Couchsurfing to see if they are keen to meet up if they are free! Now Couchsurfing has incorporated Hangout and this makes it easier for you to search who is around to grab a beer or have a meal together.
There’s an event page on Couchsurfing which is great for travellers to see what’s going on in the city. Just two weeks ago, I attended a salsa session in Melbourne and met a lot of travellers!
You can find fun activities, day trips, sports sessions, tours and other stuff that are suitable for travellers (and a good amount of them are free)! I found a free yoga session the other day while browsing through the events available in Melbourne.
Also, there’s a discussion page where you can post questions. You might be curious about where the best schnitzel place is in Vienna or which island is the most economical choice to take a diving course in Thailand. This will come in handy especially when you are new to the city. Well, you can search up answers in guidebooks or the internet, but I personally prefer a local’s guide.
All this can be achieved by signing up a free account with Couchsurfing.
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Born and raised in Malaysia, Aaron is a medical school student that is crazily in love with travelling. He loves to inebriate all his readers with the crazy travel stories and personal travel tips that he has gathered throughout years of travelling experience. Learn more about him here!