If we could only give one travel tip to anybody – it would be Couchsurfing. Well it would actually be to steer clear of those overly friendly girls with suspiciously deep voices that you’ll meet in a Bangkok bar… but Couchsurfing would be a close second!
Most of our favourite travelling memories and closest friends that we’ve made along the way, have come as a result of either surfing, hosting or participating in a couchsurfing event.
It has now grown from a tiny online community reserved for ‘hippy-types’ to a huge international community boasting around 10 million members in over 200,000 cities worldwide. Impressive.
But while more and more people are signing up, most people are still wary of the feeling that inviting ‘strangers’ into our homes goes against everything your mother ever taught you. Even some of the most hardened travellers, content with nothing more than a bunk in a grotty hostel dorm with drunken sex noises coming from below, would still shy away from the idea of couchsurfing.
So I wanted to write a short post to clear things up, explain exactly what couchsurfing is and why you should give it a try on your next trip.
What is Couchsurfing?
If you’ve never heard of couchsurfing, let me quickly explain; the basic concept is that you lodge with somebody who lives in a city that you’re visiting, completely free-of-charge. You may end up sleeping on a spare couch (hence the name) or just as likely a spare bed.
Clearly, saving on accommodation is awesome for a backpacker’s budget, but couchsurfing is about more than just scrounging a free bed. It’s about meeting people you’d never bump into otherwise, making friends from all around the world and sharing your cool travel experiences, tips and advice.
Your host gets to meet people from all over the world, who are likely in the middle of a cool adventure and they can now be a part of it in some small way. They can show off their inside knowledge of parts of the city that regular tourists might never visit and should they ever visit your city one day, maybe you can return the favour.
So both the host and the surfer get to meet and hang out with interesting, open minded people from all over the world and isn’t that really the whole point of travelling?
Is it Safe?
Don’t worry, I know the thought of inviting strangers into your home sounds pretty dangerous and, if you go around making a habit of it, that’s the kinda shit that will get you killed. But couchsurfing isn’t really like that, as it’s not just based on blind trust.
There’s a massive couchsurfing community (around 10 million members) already established online at couchsurfing.com with full public profiles complete with photos and written references from past hosts/surfers. Check out our profiles if you like -> Antony and Rick. So you can read the profiles, read the references and see if that person is someone you would want to meet. If somebody has bad references or simply not enough information for you to judge, you can filter them out and avoid those potential weirdos.
Basically if you’re a cool person, get along well with your host and cook them a mean chilli, they’re gonna write about it for all the world to know. If you’re a bit of a dick, who tries inviting twenty homeless guys back for a house party at 3am, well they’re probably gonna write about that too.
Whilst it’s still fairly new to me, Rick has been an active member of the community for years. He’s surfed, hosted and attended meetups and has never heard of any serious incidents occurring – well nothing worse than an awkward conversation or two.
Groups, Meetups & Hookups
If you’re still not comfortable with hosting/surfing or you’re simply not able to, there are other ways to get involved.
There are loads of forums on the website and people will often post when they arrive in a city and just wanna hang out with anyone who’s around. There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same thing, or even from personally messaging someone you think looks cool but isn’t available to host you. I guess it’s no surprise then that some people use this as another form of Tinder and who am I to judge?
Another great part of the community are the events. On the site you can search for ‘events near me’ and find a list of all the cool stuff happening in the city you’re currently in. All of these events are organised by ordinary members who decided to do something cool and invite everybody along.
They’re usually something simple, like a weekly meetup in a pub where you can just go along and meet some interesting new people, but they can vary. We’ve been to loads of different types of events all over the world, such as poker nights, murder mysteries, free hugs events and road trips and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.
The website also has thousands of different groups which can be used for networking, perhaps with people in the same city or with a shared interest in a particular topic. You can also use the groups to find volunteering opportunities around the world, as many organisations use the site to advertise for willing volunteers & backpackers. In fact, we’ve found a few English teaching jobs in South East Asia this way and all without paying the ridiculous fees that an agency would charge for the privilege.
As if you needed any more convincing to just give it a go, here are a few pics of some of our favourite couchsurfing memories…
If all of this doesn’t have you convinced and you’re still not past the ‘I’M NOT LETTING STRANGERS INTO MY HOUSE! WHAT IF THEY’RE MURDERERS?!‘ stage, well couchsurfing probably isn’t for you … and you should try to get out more.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you found this useful and don’t forget to leave a comment and check out our facebook page @facebook.com/wanderingblindly