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Couchsurfing is an online community where travelers from all over the world can connect and stay with each other. Think Airbnb, but free!
"Well, how is that helping me," you think. "I still can’t afford to go anywhere."
Well, apart from the obvious benefits when you are traveling yourself, hosting is a wonderful experience. Letting people stay with you opens up a whole world, without you even leaving your living room!
I have hosted more than thirty people, and I have met the most amazing individuals doing so. The people in this community (especially the more hardcore ones) are so passionate about traveling and experiencing the world. They have stories that make you gape with wonder and laugh with surprise.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
What kind of people can you meet?
These are just some of my visitors:
And, of course, my latest guests; a couple driving their friend up here from Alabama because his car broke down (they drove for fifteen hours, spent the night, and drove back). They were the sweetest, funniest people ever, and I so wish they lived here so we could hang out.
Most people are like that; they leave you wishing they would stay longer. It is such an amazing experience and I always get so inspired to go out on adventures myself. I usually hang out with my couchsurfers if I can; taking them to my favorite bar, exploring the town, or going on a tour with them. The beauty with couchsurfers is that they are in your city for the first time. And you have the chance to show them the best parts! What I look forward to the most when I surf myself is the chance to get insider tips. Locals know where to go, what to do beyond what TripAdvisor recommends. When people stay with you, you get to be that person!
Photo by Karina Carvalho
Why you should let strangers into your home
I have lived in a lot of places, and usually I found the coolest things in the very end of my time there. You just get blind to what’s in your backyard, because you don’t look for it. When you’re hosting you need to think like a tourist: What is fun around here? What cool activities are there to do?
A few months ago I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. for a yoga festival, and I stayed with a wonderful host and his daughter. Since I love dancing I had looked up local blues groups and found one not far from his house; they had a weekly dance with a lesson for only $8, and he had no idea! Thanks to me, he found something he can do every week that he never would have known about if he hadn’t hosted. He had never tried yoga either, but ended up joining me for the festival as well which made my experience so much better, having someone to share it with.
I really enjoy hosting here in America; everyone is so grateful. Couchsurfing is a bigger thing in Europe, and in general people are more open-minded and trusting. The people I have hosted here are just taken aback with my hospitality, especially first-timers, which I must admit is pretty fun!
I just do what is pretty standard for hosting, though; I offer dinner, I let guests shower and settle in, and I tell them to help themselves to the kitchen if they need anything. If our schedules allow I like to do something with them or just hang out at home, sharing our stories. A lot of surfers bring you little presents from their home country (I have gotten a lot of Belgian and German chocolate) or offer to cook for you as a thank you for letting them into your home. My latest group made heart-shaped biscuits for breakfast. How sweet is that?!
It is up to you though what rules and perks you have for your house; it is by no means a requirement to provide food, etc. The only thing you promise is a couch to crash on.
Photo by Dave Lastovskiy
How to stay safe
Of course, safety is always crucial. You don’t want to let just any people into your home, which is why the profiles are so important. When you join, you fill out a profile about yourself: who you are, your hobbies, where you have traveled, and what you can offer hosts.
The most important part is the references. When you have stayed with someone, or hosted, or just met up for a pub crawl, you leave each other references. This way other couchsurfers can see for themselves that you are a nice person who will respect their home.
As a woman, who often hosted living by myself, I have certain ground rules for hosting -- especially for hosting men traveling alone. It is just a sad truth that women have to be more careful. To feel more safe, take a self-defense class so you know how to protect yourself!
Here are my two rules:
It is true that there are people who will use the site just for the free bed and won’t spend any time with you at all. I have had one such experience myself; two German girls were gonna show up around ten o’clock, leaving for their train at 5 a.m. It wasn’t optimal, but I wanted to help out. However, they didn’t show up until one in the morning and wanted to go straight to bed without chatting at all, and they didn’t even say thank you. Or leave me a reference.
The thing is, when you behave like that you will get a bad review. And then people will be reluctant to hosting you. So if you try that approach, it generally only works one time. So, all in all, I firmly believe in the system. I have had that one bad experience in the seven years I have been a part of Couchsurfing, and that is a pretty darn good track record.
Photo by Slava Bowman
It is all up to you
Remember, you don’t have to say yes just because someone requested to stay with you. You can even put your status to “not available to host” if you will be busy moving or have a lot going on in your life. What you can do, especially if you are new and not quite sure you want to let people into your home yet, is to put your status to “wants to meet up.” This way local couchsurfers or travelers who already have a host but wants to meet even more cool people can look you up and suggest to do something.
A final note; this community exists because we think that the most important experience while traveling is the people we meet. Sure, seeing the famous things is cool, but, at least for me, some of my most precious memories are from late-night conversations on rooftops. I have traveled a good bit on my own, and I got to experience what it really is to live there by staying with locals. I see hosting as a way to give back to the community that has given me so much, but I do it mostly because I really enjoy it (which you can easily see on my profile, since I have hosted more than twice as much than I have surfed myself).
There are so many amazing people out there that you’re missing out on meeting. There is no better way to have adventure at home than to invite adventurers into it.
Photo by Ben Duchac
Interested in some other adventures?
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