Surfing the World, One Couch at a Time

An interesting method of traveling has been gaining popularity recently.

It’s called CouchSurfing.  You know, that thing you did when you forgot to pay your rent.  OK, well maybe not quite the same thing, but the concept is simple.  Travel around and sleep on somebody’s couch for a night (or longer).

I first came across CouchSurfing last year before I ventured to Morocco.  I wasn’t sure what to think of it at the time but soon I realized that it was an amazing project that can really change your life.

Think of CouchSurfing as a social network for people who all love to travel and share unique experiences around the world.  If you want to travel somewhere but either can’t afford, or don’t want to sleep in a boring hotel room, you can look for locals on CouchSurfing who might be able to host you, for free!

The system has some built in precautions, requiring you to register your name and address with your credit card for safety purposes (the site is totally free, but they use this to prove your identity).  In addition, friends and travelers can leave references indicating whether or not that person is friendly and safe.  Of course there is always a little risk involved, but overall the system works very well.

CouchSurfing runs on Karma.  There are no limits placed on how many couches you can sleep on, and no requirement for you to reciprocate.  If you choose to allow people to stay, you have complete control on who you allow in and you are in no way obligated to offer your couch to anybody.

The majority of the users are open to the idea though and are generally welcoming.

The concept of allowing strangers into your home (or entering a stranger’s home) may sound strange, but it can prove to be very rewarding.

Sure, it’s a way to save money.  But more importantly, it’s a very unique way to experience a town.  Staying with a local can be a very different experience than you might find in a hotel or hostel.  Especially if you are in a foreign land and experiencing a culture you are not used to.  Many CouchSurfers spend time together sharing their culture, food, and lifestyle together.

Other hosts simply hand you a key, or tell you when you can come and go, and let you stay for free.  It all depends on the host but this type of information is typically posted on their page.

I have hosted quite a few people.  I received a lot of requests last summer and fall (high season here in Southern California) and I had to be somewhat particular about who I let stay.  I preferred people with references and also chose foreign travelers over domestic ones when possible.  To me, CouchSurfing is more about the culture and experience than a free place to stay.

And if any of my guests were looking to save money, I probably helped ruin that plan.  We went to several baseball games, the firing range, and some local restaurants.  Explaining baseball to Liam from the UK was certainly fun, as was watching him shoot his first handgun.  Playing golf while attempting to speak French with Fabrice was also a great time, as was watching him experience his first enchilada!

As I’ve talked about before, I was welcomed to Casablanca, Morocco by several CouchSurfers who gave me a lovely walking tour of their city.  They also shared tea with me at their favorite cafe as well as a late night snack of chwarma, which I’m still not exactly sure I know what was.  Their generosity and friendship made me feel welcome and at home in a place where I was completely out of place.

There are downsides to CouchSurfing as well though.  Often, potential hosts will not live in the central area that most travelers want to experience.  Sometimes, you simply want to do the touristy things and that may be difficult if you are staying with somebody who lives outside of the city.  Public transportation may not be as accessible.  Sometimes CouchSurfing just isn’t appropriate for your trip, especially if it is short.

If it will work for your trip, I highly recommend giving it a shot.  Sign up for CouchSurfing (remember: it’s free!) and browse around.  Completely fill out your profile and also look in your area.  There are many large groups with local CouchSurfers putting on events and meetups.  In fact, I’ve made several good friends thanks to the local gatherings.

CouchSurfing is a wonderful concept that can make this big world, feel a lot smaller than it is thanks to strangers sharing kindness and culture.