If you’re intro travelling you’ve probably heard of Couchsurfing before. An online community of travelers and culture exchange enthusiasts who offer accommodation free of charge, plan activities, meet ups and provide foreigners local insights. The idea consists of signing up and building yourself a profile where you can upload a profile picture, basic information like name, age, gender, nationality and location, then you can add a description about yourself, the places you have travelled to, photos and if you’re able to host people or available for meet ups.
What is CS?
The concept originated back in 1999 when American founder Casey Fenton found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland but as most college students, he was on a tight budget. Fenton decided to email 1,500 random students from the University of Iceland asking for a place to stay. His technique worked somehow since he received between 50 and 100 offers. On his way back to Boston he decided to create a website specifically for this purpose, a global community connecting travelers. The website was finally launched in 2004.
At the moment Couchsurfing has 14 million members distributed in 200,000 cities worldwide and promotes three main usages: Travel the world: stay with locals in every country on earth. Experience the world in a way money can’t buy. Rediscover your city: Many cities have a local committee who organizes diverse activities like language exchanges, camping trips, hikes and dinners and Become a host: Open your home to travelers. Learn about new cultures under your own roof. Make the world a little smaller; a little friendlier.
In this website users can search for hosts anywhere in the world, host travelers, meet up with couch surfers in their local community, create events and ask locals for traveling advice.
How to use it?
In order to sign up, users need a valid email address and to provide basic information. Your profile consists of one main profile photo, a section where the information you chose to share can be found which usually includes complete name, age, occupation, nationality, location, languages spoken and if you’re available for hosting. After, you can find the section of “About me” – here is the perfect place to tell the couchsurfing community everything about you. Make sure to provide enough details and to write in a friendly way. The other sections are “Teach, Learn and Share” where stating the obvious, users share what they would like to learn and what they are available to teach and share. “What can I offer hosts” here you can include if you would like to cook some national dish for them in order to thank them for their hospitality, or if you’re hosting, maybe include some tips for traveling around your country. Then the section “Why I’m on couchsurfing”, where you can write as much as you’ll like but in my personal opinion, shorter and concrete answers look more sincere. And last but not least, “Countries I’ve visited” and “Countries I’ve lived in”, you can select which sections to answer to and display on your profile.
If you’re hosting you can fill in the tab of “My home” where you specify which days of the week you’re available for hosting, the maximum number of surfers, if you’re place is suitable for children, pets and if smoking is allowed. You can also include pictures of your home, describe the sleeping arrangements, if you have pets, kids and if your place is wheelchair accessible.
There’s a final tab where you can upload as many pictures as you like, (here is the place to upload all of those travel photos you haven’t shared on Instagram because you’re afraid you’ll annoy your followers with!)
I came across the website back in 2013 and decided to check it out, I became an active member until 2015 while I was studying abroad in Europe. My roommate and I hosted some people on our apartment and meet up with other travelers while backpacking. During the summer of 2016 I took some solo trips and used the “Hangouts” section of the app, this section connects you with other members who are also traveling in the same city. This was fascinating! The app creates a group where people can see what the plans are and decide to join, I had dinner and beers with an international group of travelers in Croatia, visited a museum with some amazing locals in Norway, had a tour of the city in Estonia, went bar hopping in Berlin just to name a few. I noticed that most people who were using the app were solo travelers or small groups of two or three people who wanted to connect with different cultures and explore the city. I met people who have been couchsurfing for years, others who were just getting started, people who only use the app to meet people while traveling and others who only travel when they can find someone’s couch to crash on. I did notice that they all had things in common, desire to explore new destinations, curiosity about different cultures and multicultural skills. After returning to my hometown in Mexico, I decided to keep exploring the couchsurfing community by hosting travelers, giving free tours around the city to foreign visitors and sharing what my amazing city has to offer. I must include that my friends, family and boyfriend have all been great, treating my guests as friends and asking to join in on my next couchsurfing adventures. Together we have shared our city, homes and stories with travelers from around the world.
If you’re thinking about joining the CS community I would definitely advice you to give it a try! You’ll get international friendships, travel companions and be part of a community of people who want to make the world a better place. My advice would be to fill in your profile as much as possible, include photos, details and a good description of yourself. Before hosting or surfing, ALWAYS read the reviews on the profile of the members you’re in contact with, and make sure to include your own review if you do meet them, this will help future members. Remember that this community is based on trust and people wanting to help, you can always say no to a request or a meet up. Trust your gut, if something doesn’t seem right then don’t do it. To make your profile more trustworthy I would advise new members to meet up with people from their local community, attend CS events or offer surfers to show them around the city. This way you can start building up your couchsurfing network and start receiving reviews. If you start surfing make sure to stay with someone you have things is common with or would like to hang out with, some of the unspoken rules of couchsurfing I’ve came to learn are that couchsurfing is not a free hostel or hotel, most people would like to get to know you and not only offer you a sleeping space, therefor making plans with your hosts is a must, also being clean and respectful towards their home and if you want to show some gratitude, small details like a bottle of wine or some home cooked meal are always well received.