Whether or not you are familiar with the Couchsurfing website, I would like to offer you some inside information from a chaotic, yet devoted, surfer. If you aren’t acquainted with the concept, I will consider it an honor to introduce you to this eye-opening way of traveling. The CS mindset will help you to meet extraordinary people, discover new cultures and swap ideas with kindred spirits. All of the above is an inevitable part of any surfer’s life.
I have always been a late bloomer. It’s a fact that doesn’t get my knickers in a twist, as it’s just a part of who I am. The above became utterly clear to me when I first discovered Couchsurfing, admittedly later than most 30-year olds out there. My late-blooming nature, combined with some newly acquired perspectives, made me realize that nobody should live the same year 90 times and call it a life. Becoming a member of the world’s largest traveling community could be the right vaccine for you, as it was for me, to make sure you will have an erratic, yet fulfilling and enjoyable life.
As with every success story, there will always be pros and cons being uttered online. This small article will be my humble contribution to raising awareness about a beautiful concept that goes far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Comfort zones perish as strangers allow outsiders in their lives, foreigners with whom they can be themselves and have real conversations. It’s about occurrences that are founded upon trust, and a mutual belief in the good that resides in all of us. The world can become a more desirable place to live in simply by connecting with each other through traveling. Couchsurfing merely offers the platform that assists you to aggrandize your voyages. It is up to you, the architect, to create inspiring, meaningful, and thought-provoking connections in your life. Nevertheless, here are some answers to some questions I’ve received from new surfers. Hopefully, you’ll feel inspired to give Couchsurfing a try after reading this post.
What is Couchsurfing?
Well, many of you might think that you know the answer, but I do feel like going a bit into detail. Here are few of the perspectives that I came across when discussing this genius website with fellow carbon replicas:
“It’s a dating website in disguise.”
Some critics believe that CS is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing: tricking young women into losing their innocence abroad, trapped in a hostile environment that is occupied by perverts. Oh, the tragedy. However, those who have shared this assumption had no prior couch-surfing experience. This biased audacity acknowledges another problem that ails our society: prejudiced opinions that float around in “Ignorantopia,” which is food for another discussion.
When you host plenteous people or surf on a regular basis, you are bound to meet an attractive soul sooner or later. If you paid attention in math class, you would understand that the odds can be in your favor. All the same, dating is not the motor that drives this community. Let’s just call it a pleasant side effect. Who doesn’t like to bump into a soul that grooves with theirs?
“It’s a way of traveling that will save you some money and keep you from booking a hotel. Most of the surfers out there are too cheap and don’t like spending their hard earned dollars.”
It’s free. Can I get a “Hooorah?” Hosts do not charge their surfers and don’t expect anything in return. This concept is based on a gift economy: a mode of exchange where valuables are not sold, but rather given without explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards. (Thank you Wikipedia for this clear and wonderful definition.)
Opening your home and sharing your life could very well become one of the best decisions you have ever made during your time in this vast galaxy far, far away from intelligent life. Couchsurfing isn’t just a way of traveling. It is a mindset and a way of life as well. It presents numerous opportunities. The curiosity, appreciation, the respect towards other cultures as well as the generosity it promotes can change the world. You’ll be able to experience life, in almost every country in the world, in ways money cannot buy. Hence, I wouldn’t go as far as calling the members cheap, seeing that we all just want to share.
“It’s a community of hippies and drug addicts.”
I’m afraid I must disappoint you, especially if you define a hippie as a young person who spent his or her days in the 1960’s or early 1970’s protesting commonly accepted values of society. Most surfers are everyday people like you or odd chaps like me. The one thing that unites them is a common curiosity when it comes to traveling, cultures, and meeting new people. Among its participants, you will find doctors, architects, programmers, strippers, linguists, carpenters, pool boys and truck drivers. The mix itself is what makes Couchsurfing so popular. It succeeded in creating a consensus on equality within an extremely miscellaneous community.
What are some of the advantages?
Sometimes CS-nomads bring you a small token of their appreciation, cook you a meal or help you out by doing some chores around the house, merely for allowing them in your personal bubble of convenience. Others may even buy you a drink or dinner after you’ve guided them through your local jungle and showed them your stomping grounds. But let it be clear, nobody is obliged to do so. Social norms and customs do govern the gift exchange, much like what you experience while interacting with your best friends.
Another fun side-effect is that you can become acquainted with the local life while receiving tips straight from the horse’s mouth. In turn, this connection can add to a very memorable experience. The colonization mentality and trusting the happenstances that come your way could result in long-term and durable friendships. Life is magical.
What are the disadvantages?
The lack of privacy. When hosting people or traveling for a long time from one contact to another, you might just want to be on your own for a while. Relaxing with a good book, a glass of wine or falling asleep as soon as possible are possible desires that could prove to be tricky to bring about. Communicate about whatever may upset you and try to understand each other’s mindset. After all, you did agree to meet up with each other. Don’t be shy but be straightforward with one and another.
Telling the same story about yourself over and again might be draining as well. Hence, booking a night in a hostel or at a B&B might be a smart thing to do to recover a bit, instead of traveling from one host to another. It could help to recharge your batteries.
What can you expect from your host?
A roof over your head. It’s as simple as that, don’t expect more. You might be sleeping in a bed, on the couch or the floor if you’re less fortunate, which can be just as exhilarating depending on how you look at it. Floor surfing could very well be the next trend. Keep an open mind at all times, because many members will be improvising. Some of them might not be able to offer you more than their unconditional hospitality and a place on the floor.
If you’re lucky you might be able to join them in their everyday routine, receive an invitation to have a few drinks and dinner, or even be given a guided tour in their hometown. All these gestures are part of the courteous nature of your particular host. They are not a general requirement. A word to the wise: have a backup plan. Knowing your options will pay off.
If you have certain luxury standards that you need to see fulfilled, I will advise you to spend a lot of time sifting through the numerous profiles at your disposal. This search may direct you to the doorstep of local royals. Sailing their yacht, staying in a magnificent palace with a personal butler at your disposal could very well be one of the surfing perks.
Is it safe to stay with a complete stranger?
“The vast majority of Couchsurfing experiences are not only safe, but outright life-changing.” This quote originates from the CS website. Nevertheless, taking responsibility for your personal safety when traveling is important. You need to take it seriously at all times. Trust your instincts and use your common sense as well as the various tools that are at your disposal:
- Review profiles carefully;
- Read references thoroughly;
- Check if the surfer has been vouched for;
- Check if the surfer has been verified.
The system allows users to leave each other references in a similar way as one would rate users on E-Bay back in the stone age. Whether they’ll be positive, negative or neutral is entirely up to the members. These references, usually, describe the surfer’s past interactions, and they could help you to create a clear image of the person who you might be dealing with in the future. The network also enables one to become “verified” and “vouched for.”
- Verified: One’s identity and location are verified after paying a small fee to the organization.
- Vouched: This is another way to prove to the community that you’re a trustworthy soul. You can only get vouched for when more experienced members fully trust you and don’t mind putting their couch-surfing reputation and credibility on the line for you. Let’s just say it’s a glorified reference.
All of the above is only as good as it gets. For those who don’t like to read at all, I dare say that your couch-surfing experience could be like playing Russian roulette. You’ll be spinning the barrel of a gleaming gun. When you’re lucky, you’ll be ecstatic. If not, you’ll kill your peaceful holiday spirit. What I am trying to convey here is that you’ll need to take your time to screen the people who you accept in your home, as well as the people with whom you want to stay. Don’t be fooled: this can be time consuming, but it is a necessary investment. You want to ensure yourself that you’ll meet some wonderful souls while dodging the creeps and perverts.
Don’t be shy about stating your boundaries and make sure that you educate yourself about possible cultural and religious differences of the places you’ll visit. Gender roles and expectations differ widely. All the same, you must never stay in any situation that feels awkward or unsafe. No form of harassment is acceptable, so do report all violations, and leave a negative reference when you encounter someone who desecrates the Couchsurfing spirit.
If you don’t like to spend your time on reading profiles, or writing decent requests, I would suggest that you book a bed in a dormitory or a room in a hotel. Another option would be to invest in a nice set of knives, a canister of pepper spray and a stylish Kevlar vest (though the latter will hamper any intercontinental travel you may have in mind). There’s no magic potion that will keep you safe from the perils of the world in which we live.
Am I obliged to host people myself?
No, if you don’t have room nor feel comfortable with strangers staying in your home, then so be it. However, this choice will limit your chances of finding a couch yourself as soon as you start traveling. Nonetheless, the spirit of Couchsurfing respects everybody’s wishes and won’t twist anybody’s arm. The choice is yours, and you determine your level of activity.
Can I get in touch with surfers and still stay in a hotel?
Yes, there are plenty of Couchsurfing events organized on a daily basis. Most of them are free to attend. You can use the platform to meet up with locals, thus enhancing your ability to come across local guides wherever you may roam. So check in, create your profile, and expand your network.
I have a profile but can’t get a couch nor do I receive any couch requests. Why is that?
There are a few things I ought to cover here. First of all, fill out your profile! Second of all fill out your profile! Last but not least, for the sake of all hippies, nerds and Indiana Jones mimics out there, be authentic. Don’t “Facebook edit” your profile. Life is too short for fake butter, cheese, or people. Take your time to fill it out. An accurate sketch of who you are will contribute to a more successful Couchsurfing experience. It took me two days of my precious life, vast amounts of rum, pizza and coffee before I was happy with mine.
Everybody wants to have a vibrant, reliable and ingenuous image of the alien with whom they might connect. Therefore, invest time and energy in your digital “CS identification.” I promise that you will reap what you sow.
Can you surf with a group of friends or your family?
Yes, but you’ll have a harder time to find suitable accommodation. If you travel in large groups, your possibilities to surf at one location as a group are slim. However, doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. You can split up and try to find separate hosts close to each other.
To improve your chances on getting hosted as a large group you ought to bring your sleeping bags and mattresses. Coming prepared will make it easier for any host to accept your large-scale couch-request. I am yet to meet the first industrial Couchsurfing host who owns a property with sufficient rooms and couches to accommodate over 20 people.
What are some of the alternatives to couch-surfing?
Some people swear to the alternatives, but the idea that helped build this project from scratch is still alive. I wouldn’t give up on CS just yet. There are some fantastic Couchsurfing communities out there, and it still is more than a commercial social platform. However, there are a few alternatives, seeing that some people dislike the mainstream course Couchsurfing has taken. Below are two of the most known options:
As much as you can.
As far as you can.
As long as you can.
Life is not meant to be lived in one place.
- Tara Shubbuck, “Friday chewable: from the mouth of couchsurfers.” Two travelaholics (http://twotravelaholics.com/). September 26th, 2014.
- Mike Shubbuck, “Learning to be good surfers.” Two travelaholics (http://twotravelaholics.com/). September 19th, 2014.