This post is long overdue as I have been Couchsurfing now for about two and a half years. I have been asked numerous times about Couchsurfing and the dangers of traveling alone and choosing to surf. I am going to attempt to address numerous questions I have received and explain why I believe Couchsurfing is a great option when traveling.
For those who have never Couchsurfed before, the idea might seem foreign, scary, bizarre, or even insane. When explaining what Couchsurfing is to people who have never heard of it before, I often get looks of confusion and questions asking why I would choose to do such a thing.
When I first decided to Couchsurf in 2011, I was on my way to the Philippines from my home in South Korea. Before I moved to South Korea, I had never heard of Couchsurfing. I was introduced to the website while living in Korea and decided I wanted to try it out for myself. I liked the idea of getting to a know a place locally through the eyes of someone who lives in a particular place rather than staying in a hotel or hostel and fending for myself to escape from the tourists.
My first Couchsurfing host was a man named Japs, who lived right outside of Manila in the Philippines. I chose him based on what his references said about him and the information he had listed on his profile. I contacted Japs and asked him if I could stay with him during my upcoming trip to Manila. He accepted my request and for weeks we stayed in contact prior to my arrival. My experience with Japs was excellent. He explained how to travel around the Philippines, he gave me invaluable advice, and he even took me diving with his friends. It was a priceless experience I never would have had if I had gone the route of staying in a hotel or crashing at a hostel. It also opened me up to the amazingness of Couchsurfing and to new and interesting experiences.
Since 2011, I have surfed with over ten individuals and couples in six countries (South Korea, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Spain). I have also traveled with individuals who happened to be in the same country as me at the same time, and I have also participated in numerous Couchsurfing outings and events. Some of my favorite memories in a country have been CS related.
Benefits of Couchsurfing
While many people see Couchsurfing as a way to save costs when traveling (it is free), I see it more as an opportunity to meet new people, learn about new cultures, discover new foods and places, and create lifelong friendships along the way (the free part is just an added bonus).
What do hosts get out of it?
I have been asked this question time and time again: why would someone let you stay in their home for free? What do they get out of it? Hosts and surfers get the same benefits: creating meaningful experiences with people around the world and hopefully creating bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Is Couchsurfing safe?
I would say CS is as safe as any accommodation you choose to stay in during your journeys. My advice is ALWAYS do your research. There are instances where you might get yourself in a sticky situation if you are not careful, so it is best to always check someone’s references, make sure they have (at least) a couple of clear images, make sure they have information on their profile, and go with your gut. Remember: you are not just staying with a stranger, a stranger is opening up their home to you as well.
I’m interested. How do I begin?
There have been numerous posts written on Couchsurfing, so I will not beat the topic to death. Instead, I will direct you to the website of travel blogger IcedChai and their post ‘How to Use Couchsurfing‘. For any further questions, please feel free to ask them below!
*Side Note: Couchsurfing is now operating (for-profit), which I do not completely agree with. A lot of talk in the CS community by outraged surfers has led them to a new (not-for-profit) site called BeWelcome. Same concept as the old CS, more community-minded people, just so you know that you have options.
Have you participated in Couchsurfing before?
– This post was part of the Sunday Traveler Series –
Great post, Chanel! I’ve always wanted to try Couchsurfing. It seems like an awesome way to get an inside perspective on the culture of a place. It’s so nice to learn from your experiences!
You definitely should try it out Brad! 😀 Thanks for reading!
I am an expat living in Taiwan and I too had never heard of Couchsurfing until I moved to Asia. While I have never done it myself, a lot of my expat friends have. Most love their experiences! I think a lot of people get stuck on the concept of trusting strangers but I have found through my travels that people are mostly good.
(Also, I love, love, love your picture of the lantern festival. After living in Taiwan for two years, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is still by far the coolest thing I’ve witnessed there! )
Agreed: people are mostly good 🙂 – I got lucky with the festival because I did not know anything about it and would not have without my CS hosts!
I never did this, and now that I have a family I doubt that I will. Although I could sign up and be a host when I have my house I guess. Thanks for joining us for #SundayTraveler again Chanel.
Yeah, I think when you have a family it is a little bit different as far as surfing. I too would not surf once I have a family.
I have seen families that host however, which I think is pretty cool 🙂
I love that you’ve had such great experiences. I was so leery about Couchsurfing at the start of my trip and now I can’t wait to get home and host. You’re right, it’s so much more than a free place to stay. I have had hosts who cooked gourmet meals for me and hosts who took me out and showed me all the “hidden secrets” in a city. I’ve encountered so much generosity that it’s basically restored my faith in humanity!
Exactly! That is what makes CS so wonderful 😀
I haven’t tried Couchsurfing, but I’m sure I will end up doing so the next time I am travelling solo in Asia or Europe. It really seems like a great entree to the local culture. You’ve probably had some great home-cooked meals in the process, which would be a big highlight for me!
Yes! You should definitely try it! My favorite home cooked meal was with a couple in Madrid, who coincidentally I will be visiting again soon here in Italy!
Good for you, I think it’s an awesome concept! So sad it’s now for profit! Thanks for all the great info 🙂
Chanel, sounds like you’ve had some great experiences with Couchsurfing. I tried it for the first time about 5 years ago when Ethan and I first came out to the Bay area to find a new place to live. We had a wonderful experience, met nice people, and had a nice couch to sleep on for free. We’ve not done it much since but I’d definitely recommend it for those who are on a tight budget and want to meet locals. I agree that I think it is generally safe but not as safe as say a hotel, but couchsurfers should do their research beforehand and leave if anything seems out of sorts after arrival. I am somehow not surprised that the folks who own the site are now trying to make a profit….but glad to hear there is a not for profit option as well:) #SundayTraveler
Yes! Research is key! There are some strange people out there as well so make sure you really look into where you are going to stay 😀
I’ve never surfed, but I’ve hosted people before. I loved the process! Everyone that stayed with me were so great and friendly. I don’t know if I feel comfortable with staying with others, but I’ve reached out to people for meeting ups and what not. I would love to be able to host people again, but current circumstances don’t allow it. One day maybe…
You and I are opposite as I have never hosted before! It is great that you have had such wonderful experiences 🙂
Hello, on behalf of Christa, host of The Sunday Traveler, I was stopping by to check out your article. Great read! Great concept. I think it is so awesome that people from all over the world are blending cultures and experiences and connecting like this. Another one of those instances where you recognize there’s still hope for humanity. Thanks for the info.
I had no idea it used to be free! If I had known about this years ago when I was young and more adventuresome maybe..! But it looks like you such memorable experiences & having friends Worldwide is a plus!
CS is free, but the company does run for profit now. There are so many memories that I have from CS, they’re immeasurable 😀