“ Connect with the world. Need a place to stay on your next travel adventure? Find someone in the city your heading to and spend a night on their couch. „
The more I use CouchSurfing, the more amazed by the idea, but especially by *how well couch-surfing works* I get. It's one of the prime examples of how the communications revolution facilitated by the Internet has genuinely changed the way people interact and actually do things - do things in real life rather than just things online.
For those who have not heard about CouchSurfing, here is a quick run-down: it's an Internet-based hospitality network, where people offer a place to sleep to travellers for free. This is the essential idea and this is really what CouchSurfing is about. There is a website, there is a big, growing and active community around it, there is a multitude of forums and sub-groups for people to interact on, exchange travel tips, advice or just socialise, there are meets and events. But at the core of it all is this fundamental idea of opening your home to strangers that need a roof over their head, with no expectation of payment.
I was talking about it to another CouchSurfer one day and we agreed that the CouchSurfing website makes it possible, in the 21st century, to practice the old virtue of hospitality as it was practised in so called olden days, where a traveller could knock on anybody's door and expect to be put up for the night. CouchSurfing is thus essentially post-modern phenomenon, in the best sense of the word. According to the CouchSurfing website, it is "not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives." And although very gushy and somehow reeking of new-age California, this is actually, well, true!
Set up by a once-backpacker and a son of hippie travellers, the website now boasts members over 1.5 million members in over 200 countries, offering close to 900,000 "couches" and reporting over 3 million "positive experiences" (of which in a moment).
The website itself is simple enough, but very usable and seems to have enough to make it interesting and easy for people to participate without becoming too heavy or turning into a social networking site.
Every member has a profile, on which they can (but don't have to) place their photo(s), a description and the way they want to participate in the project: this can be either by offering a "couch" (i.e. being prepared, in principle, to host people) or by showing willingness to meet "for coffee or drink" or by just joining and marking oneself as "unavailable" or "travelling".
This profile forms the first, basic level of security - I would be reluctant to host or stay with a person who has neither a photo nor any information about themselves in their profile.
There are other safeguards, though: you can get verified (you make a small payment to the website, this depends on the country and in the UK was 10 GBP) and via that your address and name get checked with the card company and are thus confirmed.
The main way to enhance security is, though, through system of references, or feedback, that members leave for each other. This is simple and helpful, allowing the hosts and the "surfers" to report on their experiences as positive, negative or neutral. Hugely overwhelming (over 99%) majority of the references are positive. Hard to believe? I can't judge - as my own experience is tiny and probably atypical sample, but of the experiences we did have all were positive, and most significantly better than expected.
In addition to references, there is also a higher-level of positive feedback, in which members can be vouched by others, but only such that have been vouched for by three people before. The "vouch" is a harder accolade to achieve than a positive reference and people with more vouches tend to be those that travel or host a lot.
As for our experience, we have hosted several people in our house in Perth - and each encounter was enriching, while some seriously inspirational. We are now travelling around Canada as a family of four, with two children, mainly CouchSurfing, and the whole experience - so far (we have done about 20 days, of which only two were in hotels) has been simply amazing.
The level of hospitality, trust and openness has not ceased to astonish me (despite the fact that I did similar things when hosting people). We were picked up at bus stations at midnight, given daily lifts from the Metro, had our kids taken off our hands for a few hours, had breakfast cooked for us, were even provided with packed lunch of sorts (never asked for) and shared numerous meals, bottles of beer, hours of conversation and company. None of these are required in principle by the CouchSurfing system, but people just do it. As another CouchSurfer said "it's like a secret society of really nice, honest, genuine and generous people".
We try to be decent guests, keeping the space we are given clean, we also buy food and cook at least one meal for our hosts. If we stay longer, we also get gifts for our hosts (or at least their children). But again, none of this is required.
In some places you will be offered a floor, in others an en-suite bedroom with fluffy pillows (the profiles describe what the host offers). Some hosts will want to socialise with you, some will be happy just to provide the bed. You create the CouchSurfing experience yourself - and it will be as varied as people who host and who surf, but it has over 99% chance of being positive.
Couchsurfing is a little known gem amongst the backpackers and travellers of the world; This is despite it being the largest hospitality network in the world with something along the lines of 1.5 million members!
Couchsurfing is the ultimate example of the kindness of strangers. Essentially what happens is that strangers will let other strangers stay with them for free. This might sound terribly scary, or you might be expecting a catch, but there is none.
People register for free on the website and create a profile. If they want to, they can say that they have a couch/bed/floor available for people to sleep on should they be in the city. Members currently travelling or planning their travels can then search within an area for couches available for them to sleep on. After this, a few messages are exchanged between potential host and the traveller and all going well they will say yes. Traveller arrives in the city and makes their way to the host or the host's house and they then stay there for free, although it is nice to bring a small gift to say thank you.
The beautiful thing about couchsurfing is that not only do you get free accommodation, but you make fantastic friends. This might be through staying with somebody, having somebody showing you the city or indeed by turning up to one of the many couchsurfing meetings around the world. You are guaranteed hospitality.
This all sounds potentially dangerous, but the wonderful thing is that it's not. Firstly, users can verify their identity using credit cards information. This way the people running the website can be sure the person is who they say they are. The most reliable indicator however is the rating system. After meeting somebody or staying with somebody, travellers have the option to rate their experience. This allows other people to decide if that person is worth staying with or not. This global community is moderated by the community itself and as such is safe.
The same applies when hosting people. The host can decide whether or not they want to host a particular person (although only very rarely would I say no) which means that it is safe for both traveller and host.
I spent four months backpacking recently and for the first two I couchsurfed. I did eventually find however that as I travelled further east, hostels became the best way to meet people and see the cities. One problem with the system is that many people make profiles and don't respond to requests. Other places have so many visitors that it is incredibly difficult to find a place. Regardless, the idea is a fantastic one and the website is in my opinion deserving of it's position as top hospitality network.
CouchSurfing.com, which redirects to CouchSurfing.org, is an accommodation exchange website. It offers users the chance to stay with other participating users in their home free of charge or host other users without the expectation of reimbursement. The website has been online since 2004 and has grown steadily in popularity. According to Alexa traffic research, the website is currently the 3415th most accessed website in the world. It sees most of its popularity in Ireland where it is the 504th most accessed site. Here in the United Kingdom, its ranking is 2401.
I'm not the most avid of travelers but I do like to mind the pennies when opportunities to go abroad come up. Before coming across CouchSurfing I had been a member of HelpX exchange for farm labourers but never received a suitable reply. As HelpX requires users to pay a subscription fee for the privilege of contacting hosts it was a bit out of my league and not something I wished to do for infrequent travel. It was shortly after removing my information from the site that I came across CouchSurfing.com and have been satisfied thus far with the registered community.
The website sports tan accents with black font size 12 text on white background information panels. This design is somewhat appealing to me as I'm able to read information with ease and don't find the colours to be particularly repelling. Each part of the website is accessible through a drop down style menu at the top of the page under appropriate headings. For example, the "Surf/Host" option reveals further options which allow the user to search for others based on personal preferences such as gender and location. CouchSurfing.com also sports a well developed forum system with various topics and communities which allow more intimate correspondence before agreeing to set travel times. A private messaging system is also available, but I have not made use of it at this time. It is through surfing through the various groups and discussions that the community seem genuinely interested in one another and concerned for their well being. Of course such a concept requires a high level of caution but my personal intuition hasn't guided me away from the website. I have yet to have an official accommodation exchange experience but do enjoy the time I spend reading through and discussing topics with others. The bulk of the community appear articulate and switched on which makes me feel more comfortable in the surroundings. It is required that users are 18 and above prior to registering so it's perhaps this adult feel which draws me in.
As users must yield to their better judgment regarding stays, CouchSurfing.com allows those interested in hosting to further prove their commitment to the project. Members may become verified hosts by making a small contribution which verifies their name and may also verify their location through receiving a postcard in the mail containing an ID number to input within the website. Users seeking accommodation may filter host results based on members who are verified and I personally do this when browsing through the directory. I would not rule out staying with an unverified member but I would prefer my first experience to be with someone who has more experience and is able to prove their willingness to help others out. CouchSurfing.com also provides a review system which allows users who have stayed with a host to leave comments regarding their experience, and these comments are publicly viewable by all who access the host's profile.
Registration is required on this website but is free of charge. The form is somewhat lengthy but only requires the basic details typical to many websites including username, e-mail address, date of birth, physical location and suggesting how you came across the website. After registering, the user is directed to edit their public profile which includes further questions regarding their personal interests, how they plan on participating and the like.
The website is generally fast but it is susceptible to 503 service unavailable errors during peak hours. Under optimum conditions, the index of the website requires a total of 7.6 seconds to load when using a broadband connection. I find this to be fast despite the longer load time which is partly due to the numerous graphical features which the website contains. I have also found the posting features to be operable and have never had an issue sending or receiving messages within discussion groups.
Overall, CouchSurfing.com seems to be a promising way of budget based traveling and I would recommend it to those interested in such. The website seems more geared for short term stays similar to a typical holiday or weekend break so those looking for a free ride for long periods may find themselves out of luck. It is nonetheless a functional directory and I have yet to have any negative experiences using it.
Couchsurfing (CS) is one of the travel world's great inventions. It is a hospitality exchange site meaning that you join the community and people exchange their sleeping space for the pleasure of your company.
As the name suggests, guests using CS often end up sleeping on the couch, but for those of us with red blood, not blue, that isn't a problem.
Once you are registered, this is how the CS experience goes.
1) Search the city of choice
2) Select one of the names that pop up
3) Read their profile
4) Send a message asking for hosting
5) Get a positive reply and go to their house
6) Stay at their house, chat, eat together, do things together
7) Leave with hugs and well wishes have had a great time
For the skeptics out there - yes this is actually free. Yes people really do believe in doing things without needing the exchange of money.
If you are one of those people so afflicted that you need to give something back, you may give your host a gift, buy them some food, cook them a meal (my favourite) or something else nice. However, it is against the rules for the host to ask for anything material.
Hosts have different rules - you might have to sleep on the couch, you might sleep on the floor, you may have to wash dishes, you might be required to spend time with the host (people want to get to know your culture) and many more rules. Some hosts have no rules at all. This is the beauty of CS - there are no set rules about hosting and you do whatever you feel like.
The website is the best hospitality exchange website out there (there are many, all of which I have tried). CS has the best security measures in place and it is the easiest website to use. It can be integrated with Facebook and other sites.
People from any walk of life can participate. I have been hosted by students, by rich people, by young people and by old people in their 60s. All of it has been a blast.
If you are skeptical, then just try it - the only thing you have to lose is your skeptopride. Yes I just made that word up. What you will gain however is a brilliant insight.
I personally rate the discovery of CS and other hospitality sites as the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
Give it a try. If you don't, you are REALLY losing out.
So far I used Couchsurfing.com for 2 years and I'm sure many more years will come.
I try to give you a short overview what the Idea of CS is and how to use it.
CS gives you the opportunity to crash n other people's couches while travelling. A couch can be a bed in your own room or a bit of floor space to put your sleeping bed on. You don't have to pay any money for this but you host will ask you to share your time, your stories and maybe a nice cooked meal with him/her.
On the other site you can offer your couch too. When you are to busy to travel yourself you can still meet new cultures by letting surfers stay on your couch.
Cs is all about making new connections and having a great time while travelling. I couchsurfed in over 10 countries and hosted more than 50 surfers and had always a great time!
Here are some common questions and words you'll find on the website.
Verification: Couchsurfing is free, there is fee whatsoever. However, CS.com offers a feature called 'Verification. hat means that you pay a minimum fee + voluntary donation. By doing so CS can make sure that you used your right name and your addresses matches the one on your credit card. The min. fee is based on a sliding scale depending on you location. For western Europe it is around 25 Pound/Euro. A new logo will be added to your profile telling the community that your name and address are verified.
Again, you do not have to do this - you can use CS without verification and there are no extra features for verified people.
Vouching: People can vouch for each other. A vouch is a sign of great trust and cannot be changed again. You can only vouch for others when you collected 3 vouches.
References: The most important security feature. After every encounter with couchsurfers (surfing hosting, travelling, party etc) you can add this person to your friend list and leave a reference. You can choose between positive, neutral and negative and write up to 1000 words. Write a factual reference describing the couch, the person and explain how you felt while meeting him/her.
Meetings: There are lots of 'groups' on Couchsurfing and you'll normally find a group for every city/town or country. In these groups you can ask questions and announce meetings. Some active communities organise meetings every day. Meetings can be going out to a pub, having a potluck, watching football together or even going on a weekend trip! Join your local community and meet great new people and meet locals while travelling.
The actual surfing:
Couchsearch: Go to the Couchsearch button and and look for potential hosts. Enter Country and city and refine you search by age, gender, languages spoken etc
Read the profile, see if the person is available and if you think you'd get along well.
Write a Couchrequest: This is your time in the spotlight - write a funny request, mention why you've chosen this host, when you want to come and what you'd like to do. Make it clear that you read the profile and always use the right name - nobody likes to be called 'hey mate'
If your host agrees on hosting you you can have a great time in a new city, you save some money and make a new friend!
Your couch: To use Couchsurfing you don't have to have a couch - the will to meet and help travellers is enough. You can set your Couchstatus on the following options: Definitely, Yes, Maybe, Travelling, Coffee or drink and no.
I cannot host at the moment because I live in a student house but I'm more than happy to answer questions or meet travellers for a drink.
Safety: Your safety is the most important thing and your responsibility. Always read the profile of surfers you want to meet. Read all the references, are they positive? Is the user vouched for/verified? Photo and real name?
Use your common sense, if you have a doggy feeling don't meet him/get out of the situation asap!
When you host you can meet the surfer first at the train station and if you don't feel comfortable you can refuse to host him/her. It is your house and you only let in who you want.
Ask to see their passport and over to show them yours as well.
When surfing always have a Plan B. Have the phone number of another Couchsurfer, find info about hostels in that area. Again, if you feel uncomfortable - leave the house asap!
Is Couchsurfing a dating site? No, CS is definitely not a dating site! Of course it happens that people fall in love when they meet- which is great, I've even been to a CS wedding. However, looking at profiles and writing date-request is NOT the sense of CS! If you receive such mails you can mark them as spam and leave a negrev.
How to get started? Go to www.couchsurfing.com, open an account, fill out with as much info as possible, upload photos - and meet wonderful people. It is as easy as that!
And now, save travels and happy surfing!
Yesterday I reviewed Hospitality Club and today I'm going to review their major "rival" in Couchsurfing (CS).
Couchsurfing started a little after Hospitality Club and the founder is Casey who is the complete opposite of Veit Kuhne (founder of HC), born in the USA, Casey is more talkative to his members, kinder to his volunteers and a bit of a hollywood star in comparison to the dull and somewhat inverted Veit. He's also more liberal, letting most things go on the forum and generally doesn't seem too bitter (most probably because he's seen gallavanting from Hawaii to New Zealand!)
Couchsurfing has exactly the same idea, to literally surf peoples couches - if you are planning your holidays on a budget, then just contact people in the cities you want to go to by looking at their profiles, finding a suitable host and then messaging them through the site.
The good thing about CS is that they do ban idiots from using the site if they are reported and they do allow you to change your "comments" (e-bay feedback type thing) on your guest/host or someone you know in the case that someone has a change in personality after a while of you getting to know them.
Whilst HC never openly ask about donations and seem to live off the google ads, there is also no clarity into the fact it is a non-profit organisation. CS registered as a non profit organisation in the US and have the documents to show for it, they openly ask for donations and as a result the site has gone from strength to strength.
Many of the same people are on both sites and CS is stronger in Portugal and USA to name a few. I've noticed a huge difference in the styles of website - HC is quite simple and looks like an early webpage but sticks to the core meaning of the site whilst CS is more of a disney land facebook style website with lots of different options and possibilities. I can't say that there is a big difference in the kind of people using either site, obviously the thought of more Americans on a website is never particularly appealing and whilst the worry that they would be the emptying your refrigerator to a baseball match is always there, it's highly unlikely!
All in all a good bunch of people, if anything CS is more revolved around parties and get togethers and there are lots each weekend all over the world. I'm personally not that active in CS, perhaps because initially I put a lot of effort into HC and haven't got the time for 2 but I definitely see its benefits and have been thinking of switching over recently. If you are looking to travel on a budget or just want to meet cool people from all over the world then it's definitely worth signing up to both to give you that little bit of variation!