“The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.” –O. Henry
I have to admit that when I first heard the term “couchsurfing” from a travel loving friend back in my early college years, I was a bit apprehensive.
You must be insane to shack up at a complete strangers house, even if you are paying zero cost.
As if reading my mind, my travel loving friend just replied, “I know it sounds creepy, but it’s a truly wonderful experience.”
Hmmm. I made a mental note to myself to maybe maybe someday give it a shot. Just maybe.
But let’s rewind for a second: what exactly is “couchsurfing?”
Couchsurfing is a social network specifically designed for travelers, aimed to cultivate community, lifelong learning, and more accessible traveling.
It allows potential travelers to search the couchsurfing website for available “hosts,” or locals in the area with room in their home for you to stay. Prospective travelers can then “apply” to stay at the house by writing short paragraphs expressing their interest in the hosts, and asking permission to stay there.
But, before you get freaked out, there are ways to screen for creepos –
1. References – every guest and host is recommended to leave honest references after a couchsurfing experience, so as to better inform future guests/hosts.
2. Vouches – a vouch is basically a sign that you would trust this person to stay in your house while you were away for a week (or insert other scenario here). In order to give vouches though, you need to have been vouched for three times first.
So the obvious point is – if you come across a member who has many negative references, don’t stay there. As simple as that.
Apart from being a cheap option for travelers on the budget, the values of couchsurfing dig much deeper:
Lifelong learning – Couchsurfing is about an exchange of knowledge, whether related to a hobby, a field, an academic discipline, a culture, or an experience
Community – Couchsurfing aims to clash with our increasingly isolated culture, and bridge community through connections among travelers
The Unknown – Couchsurfing forces people to face their fear of the unknown by putting them in unfamiliar situations, which help them grow and build trust in themselves and the universe.
Another pro to couchsurfing is the fact that interacting with a local guarantees more information than if you were just routing your trip based on Tripadvisor or other travel advice websites or books.
Another good note to make is that you do not need to just use couchsurfing for well, couchsurfing: you can also use it as a way to meet people in the city you are visiting (or your own city) by searching the forums on the website. Often times there are “couchsurfing meetups” in which couchsurfers meet at a centralized location whether a restaurant, potluck, or other event, to mingle and make community.
I have done both actual couchsurfing and meeting couchsurfers, and I have not had a bad experience yet. Always someone new to meet, and something interesting to learn.
The great thing about the couchsurfing experience is that it pushes you to try something you wouldn’t have tried otherwise; it pushes you outside of your comfort zone bubble in every sense of the word: not only are you exploring a new area, but you are also pushing yourself to open up and meet new people. And before you know it, you are opening up to a stranger and learning about their experiences, travel adventures, and stories.
I mean seriously, yolo ya’ll.
Thoughts? Have you ever couchsurfed?