I have used Couchsurfing since 2013, and have slept on over 100 couches in North, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. I have also hosted several people at my own home in Biel, Switzerland. I am blown away by the amazing people I have met around the world.
A Global Community
Couchsurfing is a tool that connects travelers and hosts all over the world. Besides the free accommodation, the real magic of Couchsurfing is that it allows you to spend time with locals and form relationships with them. For the intrepid and curious traveler, these relationships provide a different perspective on the culture of a particular destination. I often get travel advice, have the opportunity to use their kitchen and sample local flavors and cooking utensils, and do things I would have never considered trying by myself (e.g. learning how to surf in the US and Costa Rica, Reiki in Thailand, and viewing a presentation about Switzerland at a Japanese university). The list is long.
I’ve made lasting relationships with several Couchsurfers and hosted them for a second time and subsequently visited them in their own country or we met up somewhere else. You never know who you’re going to meet and the amazing personalities and life stories you will uncover.
I also use Couchsurfing to meet people, even in the city where I live. There are great events such as potluck dinners, karaoke parties, living room concerts, and language exchanges. All fantastic ways to meet similar like-minded people.
The Greatest Gift You Can Give Is Your Time
Some hosts prefer not to accept you if you request 1-2 nights on account of not having enough time to get to know each other. Most of the time I request 3-5 nights. There have been a few hosts who requested that I extend my stay with because I gave back through simple things like cooking and cleaning, and looking after children or animals, and most hosts have told me that I am welcome to return any time. The length of time you stay with any host is up to the traveler and the host, but I think too long is probably when it is no longer convenient, comfortable or pleasant for both parties.
I enjoy sleeping on a couch. It feels like somebody is hugging me from behind. But I do not say no when my host offers me a spare bed or even a spare room. It is also possible to Couchsurf and host with a friend, a partner or as a family. As a woman traveling solo, it is very easy to find a host. Often I can write a request in the morning and have an offer from a host on the same day, which is great for my spontaneity. As a man or a couple, it’s best to ask around 1-2 weeks your planned arrival. The more (positive!) references you have on Couchsurfing, the easier it is to find a host. My boyfriend and I love to Couchsurf together and look forward to hosting people in our own tiny home in the future.
I have never had a negative experience with Couchsurfing, but it is important to always review traveler/host profiles and especially their references. Look for subtle hints; many people do not write a negative reference since they do not want to receive a negative reference themselves. Today it is no longer possible to change a reference, and I think that is good. Once a host in Hungary asked me to change what I wrote about him and when I said “no” he threatened me to write me a negative reference. I did not reply and luckily never heard of him again.
As a couple, my boyfriend and I usually set our filter to view “private rooms”. Surprisingly many of the places we have stayed are luxury accommodations. But we have also found the contrary. It’s important to be open-minded, listen to people’s stories and enjoy where the road takes you.
Safety Starts With You
In my experience, most of my hosts have been and continue to be male. As a woman traveling alone, it is important that you learn how to say “no” clearly. Consider it to be an important lesson in the School of Life. I feel much safer and often more comfortable staying with Couchsurfing hosts than staying in a hostel. Most of my hosts treat me with the warmth of a family member or a good friend, and I often feel at home. Hostels are colder, more anonymous, and can get very busy.
Locals also know their area better and hosts often times go out of their way to make sure you have a nice experience. When I arrived in Chicago for the first time my host made me a map of the city with x’s on the areas that are considered dangerous. In another place, my host insisted on picking me up from the airport in his car.
- Always tell somebody where you are staying
- Make sure to get your host’s phone number in case you get lost
- Ask your host for important geographical information, such as their home address, dangerous areas to avoid, how to use public transportation, etc.
- Make sure the host you choose has at least one picture on their profile where you can clearly see their face
- If your instinct tells you that there is something wrong, leave
Couchsurfing can be an incredible travel tool, and a valuable way to meet amazing people from different backgrounds and cultures all over the world. But please don’t stay with someone just because it’s free. It’s of the utmost importance that you find a good match for your travel goals and personality. If you can’t find a good host that you’re able to build a good rapport with before you travel, then you shouldn’t use CS for that town.
See the original blog post here.