Ever since my flatmate and I moved into our new place, we’ve been trying to host as many people as possible, offering them a nice place to stay while at the same time making new friends from all over the world. Couchsurfing is awesome in that sense. But let’s take a step back: what is couchsurfing?
I’ve been getting this question a lot, from friends and people I’ve been speaking to about my recent adventures. To those not familiar with the term, Couchsurfing is an online platform made mainly for travellers looking for good company and cheap accommodation. Okay that sounded a bit wrong. It’s basically a tool which people can use to find other people, anywhere in the world, willing to give up their couch for one night at no cost at all, except perhaps a chat and some stories.
The company started back in 2003, acting as a crossroad between a hospitality platform and a social networking site. According to their official slogan, CS allows you to “stay with Locals and Meet Travelers”, completely free of cost. The general idea is that through the platform, people will be able to connect across the globe and share some karma points by being kind and giving to each other.
To use CS, the first step is to hop onto their website. Once you sign up to it, you can create a profile introducing yourself to the community – your interests, passions and skills – and telling others why travelling is so important to you. Couchsurfing creates a network of travel lovers whose main priority is to explore the world as much as possible, which often entails finding cheaper ways of moving around to keep the adventure going.
Once your profile is set, the platform allows you to do two great things: to host or to be hosted. Hosting means that you open your flat / house to travellers, allowing them to stay at your place and share a bit of your space for some time or even just one night. Being hosted, on the other hand, means that you are the one being hosted by other people across the world, once again free of cost. In short, Couchsurfing allows you to travel for cheap and meet amazing people along the way, as well as giving back to the community by providing a place for other travellers needing a warm couch for the night.
Both hosting and being hosted have their benefits and are unique in their own ways. Hosting allows you to mind travel when you don’t have the opportunity to do it yourself, by being surrounded by interesting people willing to share their unique stories with you. I personally love doing this and actually do it more than couchsurfing myself, as I receive a lot of requests and personally like to have people around. Couchsurfing, on the other hand, is great because you get to spend time with locals, who can tell you a bit about the place, give you advice on cool spots to visit and generally chill with you when you don’t know anyone in the area. It’s a cool way of feeling less alone when you are, quite literally, alone.
Some people like to unwind by themselves when travelling, some are constantly looking for company. Couchsurfing is a great way to do that, because with it you get the chance to meet like-minded people along your way and share unique experiences. By talking about yourself on your profile, you have the opportunity to show the community a bit of yourself, hopefully attracting similar people who share your same interests. CS is also extremely cool when travelling by yourself, because it gives you the chance to hang out with people and get info on the area you’re travelling through, without you having to look up everything online. Of course, you can also just walk out the door and go with your gut, but I feel it’s nice to get tips from locals telling you about non-touristy spots that no one really knows about. Who better give you advice on a place than the people actually living there? 😁
At the end of the experience, CS asks the people involved to write a reference for each other. You don’t have to do this necessarily, but it is the norm as it lets other people know whether the person you stayed at / hosted is cool to be around. There are three types of references: surfing, hosting and personal. The first ones are the references from “surfers” – that is, people who have surfed at your place – who essentially write a sort of review about their host, letting other travellers know what kind of person they are. The second type is “hosting”, which is basically the opposite, so reviews from people who have hosted the owner of the couchsurfing profile. Thirdly, personal references are references from people who have not been registered as either a surfer or a host, but who still wanted to express some thoughts on you. These are usually friends or people you meet along the way, who want to tell other people how nice you are and why they should host you or stay at your place (… or stay away from you).
References are cool because they allow you to understand what kind of person you are looking at, more than simply reading the person’s profile. Since CS categorises verified references between “would stay again” and “would not stay again”, you can easily skim through them and check out the negative ones to see if there is anything you gotta look out for when meeting this person (or not meet them at all). Fun fact: during my first ever experience hosting, I had two girls over whom I got along with really well for 4 nights. We cooked for each other, shared jokes and generally had a pretty good time. However, since they weren’t big fans of the city I was staying in at the time, while writing a very nice reference for me they hit the “would not stay again” button thinking it related to the place, rather than the host. This meant that my first proper reference was a negative one. Imagine!! So keep this in mind – whenever you are using CS and writing references, make sure to think carefully about this as it might negatively impact your host’s profile.
Another cool side of CS is their official app. By signing up to it, not only can you access your profile more easily, but you also get access to the “hang out” section. This is a feature of the app that allows you to look up other travellers in the area, connect with them and meet up to grab a beer or explore the area together. Once a hangout is started, it has a limited duration during which you can message the other person and decide on a meeting point. This feature is great especially when you’re travelling solo, looking for some company or someone to show you around. I have used it numerous times during my travels and met some amazing people on the way, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone!
Lastly, wherever you go, there is probably going to be a Couchsurfing community. In my own city, the CS group constantly organises meet-ups to connect with fellow travellers and share some travel stories while sipping on a cold pint. I like this because no matter where you go, whether you are currently travelling or just staying in your city, it gives you the chance to meet other travellers and exchange tales. You can talk and discuss about past travels and give each other advice, as well as reminiscing over trips and perhaps finding out you both visited and fell in love with the same places. When you are new to a city, this is extremely good as it allows you to meet new and like-minded people. I have met lots of interesting people through these meetups, some of which were just looking for company on a lonely Friday night and found some really good friends instead.
Overall, couchsurfing is a beautiful platform to travel, discover places, meet people and create long-lasting friendships. It’s not just a website – it is a community. Each of us has different stories to share and all of us share a passion for travel. Even if you are not comfortable sleeping on someone’s couch (that is totally understandable – and hostels are awesome too), CS can still help you get acquainted with a place, meet locals and have unique experiences wherever you go. My final point being, you have nothing to lose and you never know what might happen once you try it!
If you are interested or want to see how it works in action, here is my couchsurfing profile.
As always, I hope you’re all having a lovely day. If you have any tips, tricks or thoughts on CS, feel free to say that in the comments! 🙂