Staying in a strangers home in a strange city. Learning the ups, downs and round-a-bouts of your destination from a local. Not having to shell out for accommodation while getting to kick back and embrace a new culture? If this sounds good, I’d like to welcome you the world of Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing isn’t something that can be explained in-depth through one post. It’s kind of like the world it celebrates – complex and full of possibility. And a little confusing for a first timer. Like a baby learning to walk. But completely different.
Here’s what you need to know to get started.
THE INDIE BUTTERFLY PRESENTS:
Couchsurfing 101 – THE BASICS: Building Connections Through Travel
Couchsurfing lingo explained:
- Couch – refers to whatever is on offer for the surfer to lay their head on. Can refer to a bed, a mattress, a blanket fort – even a couch.
- Couch request – what you send a host to let them know you would like to stay.
- Surfing – travelling through staying with locals.
What is this Couchsurfing (CS) you speak of?
For those of you who don’t know (a relative few I assume), Couchsurfing.org is a worldwide community made up of 7 MILLION people in over 100 000 cities. That’s ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND, just in case you misread the 0’s.
CS was started by founders Daniel Hoffer, Casey Fenton, Leonardo Bassani da Silveira and Sebastian Le Tuan in 2004. According to the official site, these people “share their life, their world, their journey. Couchsurfing connects travelers with a global network of people willing to share in profound and meaningful ways, making travel a truly social experience.”
That sounds great! But what does it mean?
As a Surfer
It means that when you travel, you don’t book accommodation at a hotel or backpacker. Instead, when you decide where you want to go, you send out a couch request (the official site recommends sending at least 5 to increase your chances of finding a suitable host as not everyone is available at all times). Then when you arrive, they host you. Duh. A lot of hosts have time to also help you out, show you around the destination. Some might be willing to share skills and knowledge with you, or a keg. Some might only have time to say hi in the mornings before they rush off to work. Situations differ.
Don’t need somewhere to stay? Doesn’t matter. Not every Couchsurfer can host. But most will be happy to show you around the city; maybe grab a bite to eat and a local beer before seeing the sights from a different perspective. You can contact Couchsurfers if you’re just looking to spend some down time with someone. It’s great – once again all about making connections.
As a Host
Do you have a place for a bone-tired traveller to lay their head? Or some time off to show a new friend around your town. Do you want to meet new people from fascinating cultures but can’t physically jet off yourself? Then become a CS host. Give back to the Couchsurfing community by opening your heart and home to a stranger. Or as Couchsurfing.org likes to say, “friends you haven’t met yet.”
I like this thingamajig! How do I start?
Simple. Register your profile online. You can either sign up via Facebook (like EVERYTHING ELSE ON PLANET EARTH) or with your email address. Super old-school. Fill it in. Start surfing. You can start off by meeting fellow surfers in your home town – experienced Couchsurfers in your area would almost certainly be willing to give you advice. After you make the right choice and sign up, you’ll list your current location. After that you can visit your local place page to see what events are being hosted, and if there are any travellers seeking a couch or companion. Now go forth and connect! If you’re shy, take a friend. I find offering first round often works.
My favourite thing about Couchsurfing is its values.
- Share your life.
- Create connection.
- Offer kindness.
- Stay curious.
- Leave it better than you found it.
How cool is that? It’s the way I would love to see the whole world living. Because I am a flower power love can save us all type of girl. It’s true- full on make peace, not war. CS isn’t just a new way to get free accommodation. It’s a community of sharing, learning, experiencing and appreciating others. It’s a community of growth. And supposedly a lot of fun. I haven’t used it yet (my first time spent with a CS member will be later this week) – I’ll be able to confirm this soon enough.
Obviously not every single one of the 7 million necessarily agree. Or are as idealist and hippy-fied as me. Some might be signed up to meet foreign hotties and shag them. I don’t know. Most will be pretty decent – my rainbow coloured heart tells me so.
But on that note…
What about safety?
Ah. Yes. The big ‘S’ word when it comes to travel. Especially if you are a solo female adventurer, safety is really important. Firstly, I’d like to quote something out of the Indie Travel Manifesto. “PRACTICE CAUTION. NOT PARANOIA.” I love this. To me it’s basically saying, “Don’t be stupid. Don’t go into dark alleys alone while being followed by a strange man/pirate/sheep. But also, don’t think everyone with a kind word or helpful hand is out to get you.”
Couchsurfing has a whole section on Safety, & also employs different methods to verify/vouch for their members. As with HelpX.net, members can review each other, as well as vouch for one another. The details of this will be discussed in a future post on Couchsurfing, which will be more detailed.
Personally, I think it’s important to both develop and trust your intuition.
Gut feelings are worth listening to – it’s not just last night’s Mexican that’s sending you a message dear reader. It’s all the little bits of info you’ve picked up subconsciously, combined with a lot I don’t quite understand. But like I said, it’s worth listening to.
As my experience with CS increases, I’ll be posting reviews, hints and tips. You can also expect more detailed posts that look into their values (because I like them so much), your user profile, and how to make the best out of the possibilities that CS provides – the awesome groups and projects for example.
Wish me luck.