CouchSurfing is like a social network for travelers. There are discussion groups, user profiles and events you can participate in. But what CouchSurfing is mainly known for is the hospitality of its users: people all around the world offering a place to sleep to other members. All for free.
How does it work?
As a member of the website you can indicate that you’re willing to host people, add a description of your home and a few personal preferences (maximum number of guests, preferred gender to host, …). When other members are traveling they’ll search for hosts in their destination and will see you showing up in the results.
The place you’re offering can be a couch in the living room, an entire bedroom or just some empty space on the ground. Travelers can send a CouchRequest with arrival and departure dates and an introductory message. If you’re both on the same page after a few messages the host can accept and the traveler has a free place to stay and hopefully a new friend in the process.
During your stay hosts will often show you around the city, take you to some of their favorite spots and help you out in any way they can. While no payment is expected, it’s appreciated if you do something in return. Maybe cook them a meal or leave a little souvenir to remember you by.
Is it safe?
Taking in someone you don’t really know or sleeping at a stranger’s place doesn’t come without risks. Unfortunately there are people out there with bad intentions, so safety is something many people worry about.
Luckily CouchSurfing has implemented some precautions:
Getting verified requires you to make a yearly $20 payment and ensures that both your name and address are correct and valid.
You can only become vouched for by an already vouched for member, so this is basically a trust circle.
After a stay both the host and traveler can leave a positive, negative or neutral reference. When looking for a place or deciding on hosting a traveler it is essential to go through these and look at what other people had to say.
All of these precautions can help keep you safe but be sure to trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe for any reason at all, don’t be afraid to leave earlier than planned.
Getting Started with CouchSurfing
Does all of this sound interesting? Then the first thing you should do is register for an account and create a profile. Take some time for this and fill it out as much as possible, including a couple of photos. Your profile is the first thing other members see so it should invite them to get to know you better. Be interesting!
If you don’t have any references it will be hard to find a place to stay, so it might be a good idea to look for any events near you. Join the event, get to know some fellow surfers and ask them to leave you a reference. This will show potential hosts that you’re not just looking for a free place to crash but really want to be part of the community.
That last part really is essential to CouchSurfing. Don’t just use it for the free accommodation. Get involved in discussions, open up your own place for hosting and get to know your host while traveling.
Make some travel friends!