Couchsurfing? Wait, you stay at someone’s place you met through the internet…are you crazy? At this point, most people have heard of Airbnb and it has its advantages but now imagine this: You stay at someone’s place for free and your host brings you to his favorite bar in a tiny village outside Cali, full of Colombians eager to dance the night away. If that sounds appealing to you, keep on reading. All you need to have is a little courage, an open mind and be willing to meet others.
What it is and how it works?
Couchsurfing is a special kind of hospitality service. You have a profile the same as you would on any social media platforms but its main purpose is to connect like-minded travelers and people who like to meet strangers for an exchange. Through the website, you can either meet, host travelers or stay at someone’s place. This is how it usually works: when you travel, especially while being on a low-budget, you send requests to hosts who live in your giving travel destination.
They will have the time to review your account and accept or deny your request. If accepted, he or she ideally should send you the address, phone number, and directions and confirm the date of your arrival. That’s it, now you are good to go. Often, hosts will offer dinner or beers but are never obliged to do so. It all depends on the circumstances you travel or the hosts are in. After all, a certain feeling for the situation is necessary. A host might offer to cook a special dish for the guest or a guest might offer to cook some traditional food.
Hosting or Surfing, whatever suits you
Both are fun if done right. To host has a big advantage when you have your 8 to 5 job. You might get stuck in a certain routine. Couchsurfing can help you get out of it. You might join your guest to go to the local art museum in the city you lived in for five years and never thought of going. So often, we seem to put off going to do sightseeing where we live saying ‘I can do it anytime, I live here’. With the right connection and people to go with, the motivation is much bigger.
On the other hand, surfing enables you to meet locals while traveling. How many Germans, Australians or French people have you met in the Hostel in Canada? Well, it’s time to meet some real locals and eat in their living room, contemplating the political differences or cultural backgrounds you grew up in. These moments can be and most likely will be eye-opening for both sides
The story to success
Sounds all fun to you, well then let’s get started. Remember this social media platform is much more than just talking or cute cat photos. People will need to trust you, in order to do this, fill out your profile! Try to spend some time and really think about what you want to write. Your host should get a good feeling of your personality by skimming your profile. Once this is finished, try to get some references from other members by going to meet-ups or host other travelers.
Now that your profile is good and stable, you can get verified. You support the platform with your contribution and your identity is verified (passport, payment, phone number and/or address). This, of course, builds more trust within the community as well.
When you write your message to find a host, think of it as what you would like to receive from others. Be polite, you shouldn’t expect anything you wouldn’t want to be asked. In very touristy places, your story counts a lot more than anything else, so you want to tell your host why you are here and also why you want to stay with him/her.
Staying at someone else’s place might be scary at first but luckily Couchsurfing has a well-established reference system. So before crashing at a stranger’s place you can see what other experiences people had. Based on those comments you can make a decision about your own safety. Additionally, take the references system seriously and leave references for your hosts, the same as you would expect them to leave you a comment. This will help both of you in your future travels.
On the go or from your laptop
Couchsurfing has made many changes within the last few years. One of which is an App that offers more than the browser function does. The app is easily manageable for Android as well as iPhone. It additionally offers you a hang-out function. So even if you don’t feel like a host or surfing, you can meet up with locals or other travelers. Just select one of the activities you would like to do such as ‘ Go out for a beer ‘ and wait for people to contact you or contact others that would like to go out. Much of the app is based on spontaneity so don’t make plans 5 days in advance. Fellow travelers are not prepared enough for this.
A world full of freeloaders?
Couchsurfing will keep your travel budget low, nobody will deny this but it’s not the main intention behind it. A certain amount of cultural exchange is expected from both sides. It does happen that the host is much busier than expected due to workload changes, so again, both parties need to be flexible.
With a once in a lifetime $50, your chances are much better. Your hotel night (depending on the country you travel to) might already cost you this much, so if you stay only once with someone it could already pay off. But this is not the point, more importantly, you will support a website that makes helps to create intercultural connections and brings people from different backgrounds together.
Alternatively, you can also host members and gain 3 months of verified membership with each person you host. This is a great way to save money and help the community thrive as well.
Still not convinced
If you are still scared to try it but curious then you should go to local events and meet others. They will tell you their stories first hand and will most likely try to convince you to join as a host/surfer.
After that, try to find a buddy to travel with for your first encounters. Being with someone else who is more experienced will most certainly take your last fears away.
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