Couch Surfing: How Does It Work and Is It Safe?

One of the biggest budget blowers while travelling can be accommodation. A hostel that costs $20/night can quickly add up to over a hundred dollars if you just stay there a week. Considering that some hotels will add up to over $100 just for one night, this can seem like a pretty sweet deal. An even sweeter deal is getting to stay somewhere for free.

Introducing couch surfing, where you can sleep at a complete stranger’s house and maybe even get a local tour guide, for the low price  goodwill and kindness!

How does it work? How do you find a couch?

The couch surfing idea has a karma principle: you give it when you are at home, and you use it when you travel. The most common way to find a couch is to use the website couchsurfing.org, which was started in 1999.

Couch Surfing Couch

It is similar to many other social networking sites. You set up your profile, add some photos and write a description of your couch if you are willing to host other travellers in your home.

In the Couch Request you specify when you are arriving and leaving and why you specifically want to stay with that person, even if it just because “you sound like a great person to get to know”.

When you are about to embark on a trip you can search for available couches in the area you are going to with a simple search, which can be refined by age, gender, etc. You browse the profiles of people who look interesting and then send off Couch Requests to those that you would like to stay with.

If they are willing and able, they will accept the request and then you go about planning to meet up. If they refuse the request then you keep searching and sending requests until hopefully someone says yes.

So wait, you just meet up and go off with random people you have never met before?

Pretty much. You get to meet all kinds of interesting people and learn so much about them and where they live.

That doesn’t sound safe at all! What if I get mugged/kidnapped/murdered/etc.?

The couch surfing community is just that, a community. The website has the option for members to get verified for a small fee. They will send a postcard to the address of the person hosting and then the person enters the code on the card when they receive it.Couch Surfing

Other surfers can also leave references for their hosts and vice versa. The more references you have the easier it is to find someone willing to host you. Even just having a nice reference from someone you met but did not stay with is better than nothing.

I personally would not stay with someone who did not have references, unless I really really needed a place and then I would meet up with them first just to say hello. You can tell fairly quickly if someone is going to be creepy.

The website does try and make couch surfing as safe as possible. In the end though, the safety issue is a valid point. There is always going to be that ‘what if’ aspect. Surfers take a risk by staying with strangers and likewise, hosts take a risk letting people they do not know into their houses.

The couch surfing community is a working example of the goodness in humanity though. It shows that people are willing to help other people with nothing to gain from it but a warm fuzzy feeling of being a nice person.

Couch surfing does have risks, and it could be argued that the odds of something bad happening increase when you agree to meet up with a stranger.

It would be a lie to say that no one has ever had a bad couch surfing/hosting experience, because they do happen. They are the exception though and as long as you are switched on and smart about what you do and who you choose, then couch surfing can be a really great way to travel.

Are there any benefits to couch surfing apart from a free place to sleep?

Couch Surfing Girl

You Can Put Your Map Away

Yes! As well as getting a place to sleep (this can either be a bed, air mattress, couch, or soft bit of carpet, depending on how picky/desperate you are), you get inside access to someone who lives where you are visiting. They can let you in on all the best and cheapest places to eat, where to hang out, what you must see and where to absolutely avoid. If you both have the time available then you can go out together during the day and/or evening, meet their friends, and see all the hidden gems that just do not get mentioned into the guidebooks.

For example?

One time I was staying with a gentleman in San Francisco and he took me cruising along the Californian coast in his Mercedes convertible and showed me the giant redwoods.

While in Los Angeles, I went with my host to an outdoor shopping mall/farmers market and there was a spontaneous promotional Ne-Yo concert going on. I was taken to a little gourmet ice-cream and cookie family owned business, which was probably some of the most amazing ice-cream ever.

I got to see neighbourhoods that I might never have ventured out to as well. There is so much people would never see if they did not put their trust is the kindness, generosity and goodness of people, as they do when they couch surf.

Sounds good! Sign me up!

If you are keen to give couch surfing a try then you can sign up to couchsurfing.org (or log in with your Facebook account) and set up a profile. Be sure to include lots of information about yourself and at least one photo.

Most cities have weekly meet ups between local members, which is a great way of making new friends. There are also location specific forums where people can advertise local events and meet up with other people in the area. The website also has a lot of information about how it works, and tips for staying safe.

Happy travels!

 

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4 Comments

  1. Peter J

    22/07/2012 at 2:36 pm

    I like the concept, but if it were me doing the couch surfing I would generously donate for the use of the couch… There will always be risks in travel, but this concept should catch on for working backpackers..
    Good review!

  2. Luan

    24/07/2012 at 9:34 am

    I’ve always wondered about couch surfing and if its worth looking into. Sounds like there are some major pros and cons involved. Either way, I loved the article!

  3. Margaret Garcia

    28/07/2012 at 11:20 am

    That’s really interesting. Thanks for posting all the great information! Had never thought of it all that way before.

  4. Rachael Koch

    16/09/2012 at 3:22 pm

    I couch surfed when I was in Europe, and I think you’re right to say you should be aware. I had some amazing experiences I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, but you need to have a back up plan for accomodation. And as soon as you feel uncomfortable use it!

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