What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is the most fantastic concept. If you love travel, love people and love experiences – this is for you.

The term ‘Couchsurfing’ refers to an online community network through which travellers can communicate with each other and offer out their sofas/spare rooms/hammocks etc, to travellers who are visiting their home town and need a place to crash for a night or two.

It is a non profit organisation built around the potential life enrichment that such cultural exchange can bring. The idea is that travellers who make use of the system whilst on the road, will reciprocate in kind on their return home.

You have friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet.

Why would strangers let me stay in their home?

Well in my eyes the reason is simple; what better way to continue to indulge in your travel passion once you have returned to normality? For me, there are four main reasons that I love to travel:

#1 To see new places

#2 To experience different cultures

#3 To meet new people

#4 To learn about different ways of life

In short: To experience.

By allowing travellers into your home you are effectively inviting a major draw of the travel experience to arrive on your doorstop. This is why the Couchsurfing network is so huge and so popular.

Couchsurfing is medication for those with the travel bug who are for one reason or another, tied down at that moment in time.

Is it free?

In terms of money – yes it is. But do not confuse Couchsurfing with a free hostel. That’s not the point.

Although your host won’t expect money in return for inviting you into their home, they would – quite rightly – expect payment in some form. Whether that be cooking dinner one evening, teaching your host a few guitar chords or simply sharing travel stories over a few beers – that’s what it’s all about.

Cultural exchange is currency in the Couchsurfing world.

But is it safe?

Well obviously turning up at a strangers’ home is always going to have its risks… But doesn’t everything?

I was held at knife point and car jacked in a public car park at 10.30pm by two balaclava wearing individuals during my second year at Leeds University… I wasn’t being careless and the situation was unavoidable unless I had chosen a night in with my duvet and a hot chocolate rather than a (in hindsight – horribly awkward) first date and a distinctly unmemorable action film.

An attempt to avoid all potential danger would result in an extremely dull and tedious existence.

I strongly believe that Couchsurfing poses a minimal threat in comparison to certain styles of hostelling. Take the interrailing trip I did around europe a few years back. My friend and I get off the train in Prague; foodless, bedless, lost and tired. We hopped on the first metro we find and got off at the stop ‘I P Pavlova’, purely because we found the name hilarious. We then ambled a little hopelessly up the road until we found a rather run down back street hostel just as the sun was setting.

We rang the doorbell and a man who closely resembled Uncle Fester appeared before us. After establishing that his home was a pull out bed in the office and he was in fact the creepiest man either of us had ever met, we swiftly made our way to our room and barricaded ourselves in with our backpacks.

My argument is this; we didn’t know this man from Adam. We hadn’t turned up on his doorstep as a result of positive recommendations and prior email communication, just pure desperation. The hostel was effectively his home, he had access to every room and he was odd. 

Shudder.

What to look for

It goes without saying that in any situation a certain level of common sense is necessary to ensure your safety. This is also true of Couchsurfing. If you stumble upon a profile with little information, a couple of dodgy photos and not much else – it probably wouldn’t be advisable to choose to surf that particular couch.

If however you find a profile that ticks all of the following boxes… you’re onto a winner.

A full profile – The host has taken time to describe themselves and their life

Positive References – References written by other Couchsurfers give you an insight into what it may be like to surf with that host. It also gives you the added comfort of knowing others have stayed with them and made it out alive.

Photographs – I don’t know about you but I’d feel a little uneasy about rocking up at someones house if I had no clue what they looked like. I’m not talking a portfolio of images here. Just a small selection that give you a little insight into that person and their life. 

Couch Information – Here you can find details of the accommodation available. Always best to check here if you have an allergy to animals or other people.

‘Vouched for’ – The more ‘vouched for’ icons the host has, the more trustworthy other Couchsurfers consider them to be. Find out more about this below… 

What is the vouching system?

The Couchsurfing vouching system is ingenious.

You can only ‘vouch’ for someone (i.e. state that you would trust them with your life) if you yourself have been vouched for by at least three other couchsurfers before hand.

Subsequently a relatively fail-safe chain of trust is created and you are given a fairly hefty insight in to who it is you may be sharing a roof with.

Check out if your chosen host is ‘vouched for’ under the ‘Personal Designations’ heading at the top left of their profile.

You shouldn’t Couchsurf if…

  • You’re only interested in saving money
  • You’re not willing to contribute/help out around the house/cook dinner etc…
  • You’re not interested in learning from your host

 

But you should if…

  • You like travel
  • You like people
  • You’re awesome

 

Join Couchsurfing today