Couchsurfing is a social networking site which aims to connect travelers and locals from all around the world. It is a community of millions of people nowadays. The name speaks for itself, you “surf” on your hosts couch, sleep in their house, when you travel and pay nothing more than your gratitude (I mean it is completely free). But it is also a great way to share hospitality and culture.
I had my first Couchsurfing experience more than a year ago and did my utmost to be a respected member of the community since back then. Couchsurfing concept sounds interesting but it also brings a lot of questions to mind.
How can I start using it?
You need to sign up and set up a profile first. Then the rest will follow. The important thing here is to spend some time and fill out all of the information needed. It is also important to be clear and honest as well. When you sign up for the first time, this information will be resource for other members who would like to surf your couch, to host you or to meet you. I remember spending quite some hours for my profile (more than I spent when I was updating my CV). The result was an accepted couch request though I had zero reference. And this works both ways. The more info Couchsurfers have on their profile, the easier you can make up your mind when deciding on hosting/surfing with someone. Make sure to upload recent pictures of yourself as well so that it would be easier to be recognized. Believe it or not but first impression matters a lot.
How does it work?
As a host, you will receive couch requests from travelers with a description of their trip and the reason why they would like to stay with you. You will then need to check their profile (about me, references, photos…) before making your final decision.
As a surfer, you will be searching for your dream host by checking their profiles (about me, my home, references…) before sending your request. You can include some filters to your search to get more proper results (ie. You can filter non-smoking homes if you can not stand the smell of a cigarette). I guess it is very important to send a personalized request instead of a generic copy-paste one. It shows your host that you spent some time reading their profile and is a good first glimpse of respect.
It is possible to put an “open couch request” as well. An open couch request states that you are looking for a host (or just a local to show you around) for an indicated area. Hosts can contact you and invite you to their homes so no need to send personalized requests in this case.
Do not worry if you are not able to host but still interested in the idea of Couchsurfing. You can meet travelers and meet for a coffee. Or you can give some insider tips and show them around.
Are there any extras?
There are lots of groups in Couchsurfing where like minded people can exchange ideas, tips and dreams. It is also possible to find a travel companion in some of the groups.
Another gem of Couchsurfing is the events. There are weekly/monthly events in almost all cities. It is a great way to meet with local Couchsurfing community or with travelers in your town. Especially if you are traveling solo, it is worth to check CS events.
What if you do not get any response to your requests?
There are “Last Minute Couch Request” groups where you can post a request. Everyone does not have a very planned or organized life so it is not easy for everyone to get back to a couch request immediately. But in these groups, a host with availability will most probably get back to you (You can not believe how awesome CS members are).
How do you describe the couch?
It is not always a couch where you sleep on. It can be an actual couch or an air mattress, a futon, or a king size bed in a private room (I had this once, and even more than this, long live Couchsurfing). Most of the hosts include the details in their profiles (or you can simply ask them) so this will not be a surprise for you.
Why one needs to choose Couchsurfing?
It is more than having a free place to sleep for the night. It is a great way to meet incredible people and to discover amazing places. They will be your guide and will show you the secret places, take you to events, make sure you taste local cuisine at the best places only locals would know about. Or they will just direct you to correct way.
How safe is Couchsurfing?
I personally have never experienced anything bad or dangerous, also never heard of anything bad from my fellow Couchsurfing friends. There is a reference system in Couchsurfing which you can also rate as positive, neutral or negative. So you can see what other people have experienced and make your mind accordingly. It is really important to go through all of the information and references which will help you to make the right choice.
The most important thing to ensure your safety is to listen to your intuition. If you have doubts about anyone, just do not risk it. This will also prevent you having stressfull times during your trip.
I am so happy to be a part of Couchsurfing community as so far all my experiences went really well. I hosted people from all over the world, from Pakistan to Australia, with whom I had great talks, nice walks, night outs, cozy evenings. I was lucky enough to be hosted by great people who cooked for me every night and made me coffee in the mornings, took me to a ride with a Jaguar, took me to concerts, took a day off from work just to show me around. I also met with so many cool people as a local and as a traveler and had a blast every single time.
Go to Couchsurfing and sign up (if you have not done so) and make sure to use it for your next trip! Trust me, you will not regret it.