I’m a big fan of couchsurfing. If you’re not familiar with this idea, basically it is a network of people all around the world who are willing to host or meet up with travellers who come to their city. Sometimes this just involves meeting up for a coffee or a drink, others it involves having someone stay for several days at your home. The host doesn’t get money for having the surfer stay, and often helps organise trips and things for the traveller. Of course, it’s always nice for the surfer tor provide some kind of gift for the host; maybe a nice dinner, or cleaning the house, or a little present.
I have stayed with travellers and had travellers stay, and it’s been fantastic! However, as a traveller there are pros and cons for you to think about.
- You can really see a country from the local perspective, not just the tourist’s perspective. This is probably my favourite thing about couchsurfing. It’s not really about free accommodation or having a tour guide, it’s about connecting people and cultures and allowing you to sort of stand in someone’s shoes for awhile. You will learn much more about a country and its people couchsurfing than you will in a hotel, or even a hostel.
- It’s very budget-friendly. As I said above, CS isn’t just about free accommodation, it is about connecting people. However, it is obvious that this is a really budget-friendly option: you can stay for free, and often the host will drive you places or provide you with food, too (but don’t count on it). CS really does have the added benefit of being able to save you a lot of money.
- It is very safe. Despite what your parents/neurotic friends might say, Couchsurfing really is incredibly safe. You correspond via the site’s messaging system and so all your plans are recorded. In addition, they have an excellent referencing system where other travellers can leave reviews or even “vouch” for particularly trustworthy hosts. Finally, if you’re super paranoid, you can choose only to stay with those who have been ‘verified’ – though even I’m not verified (it costs money – pah!) so you might miss out on a lot of hosts.
- You’ll get to do activities you would otherwise not have known about. Couchsurfing in Montpellier, France, I was taken to an awesome wine festival that I didn’t even know was happening! Likewise, when I have couchsurfers in Adelaide, I love to take them to a tiny wildlife park that is not very well known and certainly not in any guide books!
- Lifelong friends are made on Couchsurfing. Of course it’s a cliche, but I have met some truly wonderful people through Couchsurfing. I have made incredible friends and had amazing conversations with people. I also have standing offers to stay in many, many cities and in fact am taking one of these up in January in Malaysia!
- You have to be willing to ‘fit in’ with the host. Sometimes your host will get up really early when you want to sleep in. Sometime’s your host will work and ask you to stay out during the day. You really just have to be flexible and willing to fit in with these plans.
- Couches aren’t that comfy. Of course, couchsurfing doesn’t always literally mean you are sleeping on a couch. However, often you will be sleeping on a pull-out or mattress. Beds are rare.
- There’s little privacy. Sometime’s when you travel, especially if you’re introverted or in a couple, you just want some privacy and to be alone. This is basically impossible when Couchsurfing, and someone is nearly always there.
- You might not get along with the host. The vast, vast majority of people I have met through Couchsurfing have been fantastic. However, that’s not true of every single one. Sometimes you may not get along that well with the host, or perhaps there will be a language barrier which can, depending on the person, be a bit awkward.
- If you’re a lone female, you should be really picky about your host. I only stay with female hosts with lots of references. Some women might be perfectly happy to stay with male hosts, and that’s totally fine, but it’s not unheard of for men to crack on to their female surfers, which must be pretty darn awkward. In particular, avoid men who have selected ‘female’ as their preferred gender of couchsurfer. Why the heck would they do that unless they’re going to try to hit on you?
Image credit: Thanks to ponsulak/freedigitalphotos.net. Link: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1983