We are continuing our week about accommodation with a guest post from Emma Higgins!
An Introduction to Couchsurfing and Why Everyone Should Try It
In recent years, hospitality exchange websites have revolutionised the way people travel. It used to be unheard of to go and stay in a stranger’s house for free while you’re traveling, but now it’s become a way of life for some people, and a means for connecting travelers across the globe.
Couchsurfing is an example of one of these websites, and its success has grown massively year on year since it was founded in 2004. Hundreds of new members now sign up each day to get involved with this innovative and interactive networking tool.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using Couchsurfing as a means of travel, but the majority of people find it a positive and liberating experience, and one which enables them to meet other travelers on a local scale and share their travel experiences with people they may never have met had they stayed in a hostel or hotel.Got a couch?!
One thing that does draw a lot of people to Couchsurfing is the benefit of having a free place to sleep. The way it works is that you create a profile, and then browse through the profiles of people in the area you’re visiting, find someone who has a couch available, and send them a request to stay with them. Their acceptance of your request is based on their approval of your profile, but apart from that it really is that simple.
Most hosts like to stipulate a 3 or 4 day stay, so it’s not the best place to look if you are seeking out long term accommodation, unless you find someone you really get along with and come to an agreement. To start out with though you’ll be looking at a few days at a time, which makes the system perfect for backpackers moving around.
Using Couchsurfing as a social network
Many people who are avid users of Couchsurfing don’t like to focus on the free accommodation side of it too much. These people would much rather see Couchsurfing as a way to connect with other travelers, an opportunity to spend time with people passing through your city, and the free bed element is just a side note. You will find that if you stay with someone and only use them for their free accommodation offer but don’t spend time hanging out or making an effort to get to know them, it leads to bad reviews and disgruntled hosts.
Couchsurfing isn’t only for people with a place to stay on offer of course. You can make a profile and set it to different display functions depending on your level of availability, such as ‘maybe has couch’, ‘definitely has couch’ and ‘available for a drink’. The latter applies to people who don’t have anywhere for a surfer to stay, but would be open to meeting people for a drink and perhaps showing them round the city.
There are group discussion and activity boards as well, which notify you of upcoming social events that a number of Couchsurfers are attending. So as you can see from all of this, the free accommodation side of Couchsurfing really is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are still many advantages of joining the website even if you don’t have a place to host.
The main question on everyone’s lips when it comes to Couchsurfing is, ‘Is it safe?’ I can understand why people ask this as the thought of staying in a stranger’s house does sound like it would be a dangerous idea, but the website has some safety measures in place to make sure your experience is nothing but positive. Couchsurfing can verify your location, you can be vouched for by other Couchsurfers but only after you have been vouched for 3 times yourself, and there is a review system whereby you can tell others about your experiences with a host. Using a combination of all these things and using the system wisely, Couchsurfing can be a very safe way to travel and the majority of people never have a bad word to say about it.
I myself have Couchsurfed in Canada and the USA, which lead to so many adventures with new friends. Not only that, but through Couchsurfing I’ve had what felt like my own little tour guide of a city, someone to show me their favourite places and give me an insider’s look into their home town.
I can’t stress enough how beneficial Couchsurfing can be, and I will forever be telling people not to focus on the possible drawbacks of the system because the advantages far, far outweigh them. If you’re nervous, why not try going to a Couchsurfing social event in your home town before you commit to using it for accommodation. Meet other travelers who have used it and open yourself up to the opportunities that Couchsurfing will create for you – there are thousands to be explored.
Would you try couchsurfing/ have you tried couchsurfing?