A social and travel phenomenon, people have been asking "what is couch surfing?" for nearly a decade. The idea behind couch surfing is to leverage the hospitality of friendly people around the world who open their homes to travelers -- an act of kindness that dates back millenia.
Couch surfing is a remarkable way to travel for cheap, and travelers of all budgets take advantage. Couchsurfing.com -- the social website that makes connecting travelers with places to crash easier -- now has more than three million members in 246 countries around the world!
What is Couch Surfing?
While the term "couch surfing" loosely refers simply to staying with hosts while you travel, most people associate the concept with couchsurfing.com -- a social site to help budget travelers meet hosts in different countries.
Hosts, who are often former travelers or expatriates that want to meet and interact with travelers, sign up on couchsurfing.com to share their homes. You can find free accommodation ranging from simple couches to spare bedrooms and guest cottages. Not only is your place to sleep free, you can befriend a local who knows your new destination well -- a huge asset while on the road!
Couch surfing can dramatically lower your expenses when traveling in expensive places such as Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore. Hosts are usually interested in learning about your culture, practicing English, or just enjoying your company as a break from their regular routine.
- See 10 tips for saving money during budget travel.
- Learn how to find budget accommodation in Hong Kong.
Couchsurfing.com first became a public website in 2004 as a way to match travelers with willing hosts. The site operates much in the way of other social websites such as Facebook; people add friends, build profiles, and can send messages.
Signing up for an account on couchsurfing.com is free, however, members can optionally pay a small fee to become verified for more credibility.
Couchsurfing.com offers more than just a place to stay. People often meet new real-life friends, find travelmates, and gather information about destinations where they are traveling. The forums come in handy for everything from asking questions about a city to buying a bicycle or getting settled in a place for an extended stay.
The groups on couchsurfing.com are operated by local volunteers known as ambassadors. Local groups often have informal meetings and gather for events and outings periodically. Even when not traveling, you can use the groups and ambassadors to meet fellow travelers and interesting people at home!
- Check out couchsurfing.com.
The Benefits of Couch Surfing
Aside from the obvious benefit of finding a free place to stay, couch surfing can enhance your trip far beyond simple accommodation. A good host will show you the sights, offer advice on where to go, and will provide you a deeper insight on a destination beyond what guide books give.
Rather than being a tourist in a horde of other tourists, your local friend will know the insider hotspots and can offer money-saving advice for sights and activities. Friends made through couch surfing are often friends for life.
- See other good websites for meeting people while traveling.
Another often-overlooked benefit of couch surfing is the fact that you may have access to a kitchen. Grocery shopping and cooking meals at "home" are cheaper and healthier alternatives to eating out every day as travelers often do.
Is Couch Surfing Safe?
While constant bombardment of bad news from the media makes staying with complete strangers seem inherently dangerous, couchsurfing.com's ingenious system makes sure that the bad hosts are weeded out.
First, you can choose what type of host you wish to stay with (e.g., male, female, couple, etc) and can get a feel for their personalities based on their public profiles. You can see reviews left by other travelers who they have hosted before you, and even contact those travelers to see if they had a good experience and would stay with that particular host again.
Hosts know that acting poorly toward guests will result in negative ratings and reviews, and will eliminate their chances of hosting people in the future. The bottom line is that if couch surfing wasn't safe, it wouldn't be going strong with three million members!
- Read about staying safe while traveling.
How to Be a Good Couch Surfer
Although couch surfing is completely free, remember that your hosts do not have to offer up their homes and time -- they are doing so to meet people and to form new friendships. Be a good couch surfer by getting to know your host; plan to spend a little time with them rather than just turning up when it is time to sleep.
Consider bringing a small gift or token from your home to give to friendly hosts, and always leave a nice referral for them on couchsurfing.com if your experience was positive.
- Learn more about responsible travel.