“Stay with locals for free all over the world.”
What’s your first response to this? Probably asking, so what’s the gimmick?
Those who know what couchsurfing is only in its most basic sense question my sanity for staying in stranger’s homes in foreign countries. They ask, “You really trusted people enough to stay at their place…alone?!”
It’s a valid concern to have for a female solo traveler. What gets complicated for me is trying to explain the underlying concept of couchsurfing.com and attempting to articulate “the spirit of couchsurfing” for someone who’s never experienced it personally.
Safety first is the Golden Rule in couchsurfing. I explain this to anyone who inquires about how I’ve managed so far. Once your profile is set up, and you’ve described yourself truthfully in the About and My Home sections, along with updated and accurate photos, you can expect the same from other users. When searching for a host, you simply read through their profile and references. If they don’t have much information up describing themselves or any positive references, that’s a clear sign not to stay with them. Trust your instincts. If something is telling you no, even if they have a thorough profile and positive references, you don’t have to stay with someone when red flags are waving in your mind.
Once you start requesting to stay with people, you can also pick up their vibe from the private inbox responses. If they don’t seem consistent with their profile, move on to the next option, or take a deep breath and just book the hostel.
Couchsurfing is one of those things that you really do get better at and more comfortable with over time. For my very first go at it, I remember sitting outside McDonald’s (for their free wifi) at midnight in the middle of Athens, refreshing my browser every 10 seconds in case I missed a Facebook message from my host while simultaneously wondering if I’d just been hugely punk’d.
He showed up, thankfully, and I felt especially safe at a couchsurfing ambassador’s home, for those of you still worried about my rationale and propriety.
This leads me smoothly into the “spirit of couchsurfing” you’ll catch onto quickly if you ever participate in it yourself. It really is all about the cultural exchange. Hosts are opening their home and becoming vulnerable to theft or damage from surfers. Many surfers are in it only to save money on accommodation. However, hosts can spot these people quickly based on how personalized the request is or reviewing the individual’s profile, and then they’ll be less likely to host them, just as an FYI.
People that get the most out of couchsurfing are those that are in it to meet others, learn about that particular city through a local pair of eyes, and hopefully have lifelong friends all over the world.
You can use couchsurfing.com for more than just finding a sofa to crash on. By using the “Find Events” option, I stumbled upon a meetup in Berlin walking distance from my friend’s apartment. I almost didn’t go because I was “tired” from a long day of watching a German futbol club game and basically doing nothing.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip, meeting interesting people from Portugal, Israel, France, Germany, and Italy, as well as dancing until (dare I say it?) 5 in the morning (dare I confess?) completely sober!
The warmth, generosity, and hospitality you often experience from couchsurfing hosts is incredible, and it sets the tone for an amazing immersion in the new culture. I’ve learned more about cities (local eats, the history, neighborhood vibes, way of life, etc.) through my hosts than guidebooks ever could.
And I’ve experienced more than a few eye-opening, mind-broadening lessons in conversation with the brilliant people I’ve had the pleasure of staying with.
I’m recommending it to all my friends, and I plan on paying it forward by hosting in my home wherever (and whenever!) I settle down.
My History with Couchsurfing the last 2 months (some initials given in place of name for privacy.)
Athens, Greece: A. from Turkey for 2 nights.
We hiked up Lycabettus Hill at night for an awesome view of the city all lit up!
Athens, Greece: K. from Turkey for 4 nights.
Great conversations, fun time exploring the marina, and he was just a sweet person through and through.
Athens, Greece: Meet up with Christos from Athens, motorcycle ride through the city!
Santorini, Greece: Meet up with Jordi from Barcelona.
Rome, Italy: Viky from Hungary for 3 nights.
Nice, France: Max from Nice for 1 night.
Madrid, Spain: Language exchange meetup, met Nikki from Wisconsin.
Paris, France: Alexis from Paris for 1 night and 2 full days of tourist-ing around! We have plenty of inside jokes and even a hand signal for language barrier-related miscommunications.:)
Senlis, France: Meet up with Seb and Marie, both from France.
Berlin, Germany: Meet up at local pub where I met Maddalena, Tufan, and Nora, along with many others I sadly didn’t catch the names of.
Prague, Czech Republic: Dominika from Prague, the proudest American not from America!
I’m already anticipating the day I see my couchsurfing friends again somewhere in the world!
the tall girl