Lots of young people already heard about it, but in this article, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons and some safety tips to consider when you decide to do sleep on somebody's couch. I also asked three of ESK volunteers, living in Karlsruhe, Germany, what they think about Couchsurfing if they have done it and how do they like it.
Couchsurfing began in 2004 as a small project by Casey Fenton, Daniel Hoffer, Sebastian Le Tuan, and Leonardo Bassani da Silveira. They came up with the idea that people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers. Couchsurfing now is a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities and in every country in the world. Couchsurfing purpose is to connect travelers with locals who are willing to share their space and time, making travel a truly social experience, money can’t buy. Couchsurfing in many cities also provides weekly language exchanges, dance classes, hikes and dinners where you can make new friendships, share your life, learn about new cultures, practice a language and meet interesting travelers from all around the world. Couchsurfing values are: share your life, create a connection, offer kindness, say curious, leave it better than you found it.
You can create a Couchsurfing account for free and for that you can stay with local host (you have 10 “tries” of introduction to find a host), you can host travelers and attend all events. If you get verified (you usually have to pay) means you are more trustworthy and you get highlighted in search results. You have an unlimited number of introductions to find your host, you also get an ad-free website, app and priority support.
Couchsurfing is affordable
Guests are not expected to pay any fees but it is recommended to bring a small present, a bottle of wine for the host or cook dinner. It may not be totally free, but it undeniably is one of the cheapest accommodation options.
Experience the city from the local perspective
Couchsurfing gives the advantage of seeing the city through the eyes of its locals. Staying in a traditional house, tasting hosts food, watching them perform their daily routine, observing their usual habits will surely give you an unforgettable taste of real life in any place in the world.
Meet new people and become open to different cultures
Being a global network of users, the platform joins people with different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. You can discuss and learn about politics, religion, manners differences, celebrations and learn phrases in the local language.
If you decide to surf somebody’s couch, you will be probably sleeping on their couch or a mattress. You should not expect the host will provide you a hotel standard bed, pillow, sheets, blankets and towels. Do remember that the hosts are opening the doors of their own homes for you because they want to get to know you as a person. You can still ask your host what you should bring with you to make yourself a little bit comfortable, for example, sleeping bag.
When you are a guest in someone’s house you will have to be prepared to obey his or her rules. That means you may not smoke, be loud and come home at 5 a.m. in the morning. Some hosts are still ready to offer keys of their homes but that is rather a plus than an obligation.
Distance from the center of the city
Not everybody lives directly in the center of the city due to high housing rents. If you’re not ready to pay for a hotel in the downtown, be prepared that you may have to take a little bit longer ride from your hosts home to the center.
Is it safe?
Couchsurfing pays special attention to safety by verification of its users but once in a while, you may read some unpleasant comments from the surfers who experienced odd behavior or improper sexual advances made by the host. Abuse of any system happen very rarely but they can still happen. Couchsurfing highly recommends you to check references and go through users’ feedback before making any contact. Read what members say about themselves and what other members have said about them. Give yourself the time to read through all the information available and don’t compromise. If you feel uncomfortable don’t contact this host and rather keep searching for the right one. Communicate clearly with others, take care of yourself and never give your phone number or email address – rather communicate through applications chat. If you’re uncomfortable staying alone with a host, consider staying with families or with couples.
Also, make sure you have an alternate place to stay. Identify the nearest hostel or hotel, or have a backup host in place before you go. If possible, research your host’s neighborhood prior to arriving, including how to get to and from there on your own. Be sure you are aware of cultural and religious differences and general safety recommendations for each place that you travel. Gender roles and expectations can differ wildly. If you had a negative experience you should report it and spare the bad experience for next couchsurfer.
Opinions of volunteers
Andri, 20, Ukraine
I heard about the Couchsurfing but I have never done it before. I think that is a nice chance to meet interesting people, feel adrenaline and experience adventure. Hosts or other couchsurfers can share their life stories with you and that can change you as a person. I think you can also encounter some “crazy people” so you have to be careful, it can be dangerous. You should trust the person who hosts you. I’m considering to do it in the future.
Busra, 23, Turkey
I think Couchsurfing is a nice way to know people and it is amazing that they open their home for you for free. I didn’t do it yet but I want to do it in the future. I’m not scared something dangerous can happen to me. Of course, there is a risk but you have to be ready and accept the risk as a part of the experience that can happen while traveling.
Alexandra, 25, Russia
I have done Couchsurfing in the past and I would definitely do it again. I like how host can share his daily life with you and sometimes shows you around. I also got some good local advice where to eat or go for a coffee (and that you cannot find in any travel guide).