After years of travelling, I have been telling people how much I love Couchsurfing and 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 while you are travelling. This incredible platform is available in over 200,000 cities and towns in the world.
"IS IT SAFE?"
If it's not safe, I wouldn't be using it myself.
Couchsurfing has a lot of features to ensure the safety of both the hosts and the guests. The best example will be the reference system. I rely on the reference system a lot. After staying with a person, people can leave a reference to that person which can be viewed by the public. You can then read the references prior to sending them a message. 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 very 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 don't stress too much about this. In the end of the day, these are people that 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?”
Basically, you start by reading profiles 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 a trip that is visible by 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 from the city can see that I am coming and thus decide if they want to host me. This method makes me stand a higher chance of getting hosted.
“SO IS IT COUCH, COUCH?”
The sleeping surface doesn’t always have to be a couch. It can be a bed, couch, sleeping bag, futon or 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.
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 I gained out of it.
“CULTURAL EXPERIENCE? AND FRIENDSHIP YOU SAY?”
Yes. From a local’s perspective, one can know more insider’s tips about the destination. Through Couchsurfing, you get to interact with the locals and get a real taste of the city/town.
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 in Paris. He also explained what the fine 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 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 THAT ALL FREE?”
Yes, Couchsurfing is free.
One thing that one should bear in mind while couch surfing is that the place that you are staying is not gonna be central all the time. Most of the time, 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!
“MEET PEOPLE, UNDERSTAND CULTURE, CUT COST… 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 even 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 a free account with Couchsurfing.
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