Back in 2004 it was simply a web site that connected like-minded Budget Travelers to Locals that wanted to share authentic cultural experiences for free. Since then it has grown to 14 million users, in 200,000 cities worldwide. If you want to travel alone, but never feel lonely Couchsurfing is the perfect tool to use to meet new friends from around the world and have a cultural experience, even from your own living room.

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing in Paris France in a city park with travel blogger Sarah Fay.
Couchsurfing Hangout in a Park in Paris, France Sept 2018

The Couchsurfing Experience is unlike anything you will get on Airbnb. People share their life, their world, their journey for the love of it and not for money. Couchsurfing creates lasting friendships by connecting travelers with a global network of people. Skeptics look at it thinking people are using it for ulterior motives, but in my experience, I have only met people that want to share social experiences in profound and meaningful ways.  

I have been a member of the Couchsurfing community since 2011. There are multiple ways one can participate in Couchsurfing, which is great because we all have our own comfort levels in regards to meeting strangers for the first time.

Central Park with friends travel blogger Sarah Fay
Central Park with Couchsurfers in front of the Friends Fountain.

Ways to Couchsurf:

  1. Couchsurfing Events There are many events that happen in cities around the world. Some are weekly meetups that occur at the same time and place each week where you can meet locals. Others are huge events, such as Couch Crash that happen in different cities that is basically a long weekend of Couchsurfers with organized events all weekend, such as Kayaking, hiking, Club Nights, and tours lead by locals. It is a great way to meet the local couchsurfing community.
  2. Hangouts- is an amazing feature of the Couchsurfing App that allows you to browse other surfers near you looking to hang out and do something. See what people are up to and reach out to anyone you want to hang out with. Interested in finding a surf buddy, or grabbing a drink or coffee. Tell other Couchsurfers what you want to do and someone will most likely come along for the adventure. I have had picnics where my hangout got to around 12 people in Paris and have some of my best memories with some cool friends from this App. Trust me it will give you some rewarding experiences.
  3. Hosting- From the inception of Couchsurfing it relies on two things community and a shared love of traveling. Hosting is an amazing experience to stay connected to the world and meet travelers from across the world that can share their stories, songs, or culture with you in your own home! Also, you can share the amazing underground spots of your city, your fave coffee shop, or the must-see places that aren’t in the guide book. I have hosted a few people and have had nothing but positive experiences. From making pizzas, to dancing the night away the people I hosted became my friends.
  4. Being Hosted – I have been hosted in a few different countries and I believe my experience was so much richer because of it. Living like a local and experiencing my hosts favorite spots in their city whether it was Rotterdam or Paris I met so many interesting people that I otherwise would not have. Whenever I am hosted or hosting, I spend time with the other Couchsurfer. Couchsurfing is so much more than getting a free couch, it’s about human connection. When you write a couch request, it is important to let hosts know why you think you would enjoy each other’s company and what you can contribute to the stay. I learned to be reliable through Couchsurfing and communicate changes that might occur while I am on the road. It is key to developing the trust and reviews that will get people to want to host you in the future.
Couchsurfing boat party on the Seine in Paris France in front of the Eiffel tower.
Couchsurfing in Paris means not having to take a romantic boat ride on the Seine alone.

Why Couchsurf?

Just like pineapple on pizza is not for everyone, Couchsurfing may not be for everyone. But for people like me that have become addicted to traveling the world and meeting people across different cultures it is away to bring the world into our living room.

Many Americans may feel consorting with strangers unappealing, especially the security reasons go through people’s minds when one let’s someone in their house. However, the sharing economy and the ethos of Couchsurfing has a checks and balances system that has been working and brings people from different parts of the globe together.

Couchsurfing in Tallin, Estonia means if your phone dies you have someone to get the photo with a view from.

I Couchsurf to get out of my comfort zone, meet people from different backgrounds, and people that I otherwise may not come across in my daily routine at home.

When you take the leap and join Couchsurfing, you must complete a profile delineating your mission and philosophy in life, the skills you want to share with others, whether that be cooking, music, a game of chess, or the stories of your travels.

Members post galleries usually of their accommodations they offer, hangouts they have been on, and pictures that show their personality. The sleeping accommodations, which range from sofas, bedrooms, to guesthouses!

I usually go out of my comfort zone when selecting hosts and look things that maybe different to get out of my comfort zone. Maybe I want to meet people that live entirely plant based and try that lifestyle out for a change. Or I may find someone that has visited a particular country that I want to visit and request to stay with them to hear their travel stories there. The choices are abundant and you can meet very interesting people through out the world with this app.

The Benefits of Couchsurfing

There are many benefits to Couchsurfing. Aside from obviously having the benefit of finding a free place to stay, Couchsurfing boosts your trip in more ways than one:

  • Avoid the tourist traps, and travel authentically with your host that will provide a deeper understanding of whatever you city you find yourself.
  • Your new-found friend will be able to give the best money saving tips for activities and insider places to visit.
  • Finally you have access to a kitchen, possibly laundry, and a place that feels like home (well at least a home). Grocery shop for healthy options while saving money, NO MORE KEBAB!!! My backpackers will know what I mean.
  • Even if you have accommodation already you can meet locals through meetups and couchsurfing hangouts on the app.
  • Couchsurfing creates lasting friendships, and yes even some marriages! Your love story can be waiting to happen in Italy!
  • Couchsurfing is not just for solo travelers and I have met couples traveling, families, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
  • Tip: Trying to learn a new language? Use couchsurfing to find people from that country who may be passing through your hometown. Couchsurfers often would love to meet up with someone for a practice session!

However, if you find that Couchsurfing isn’t for you there are plenty of other ways to make friends while backpacking. Hostels are equally amazing if it is in your budget.

Couchsurfing and Travel Blogger Sarah Fay with Couchsurfer in front of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy.
Couchsurfing means not roaming around Rome with a new friend.

Is Couchsurfing Safe?

In my opinion Couchsurfing is just as safe as Airbnb.

First, you can choose the gender of your host, check out from their profile their personality, and interests to see if you would want to get to know them based on their profile. Pro Tip: The more time and information put into your own profile, the more likely you will get hosted.

Before choosing a host, you can see reviews left by other travelers who stayed before you. Don’t get the confidence in their reviews than ask the people who were hosted and get more details.

Hosts are careful because they know acting poorly to their guests will result in negative ratings and reviews, and it will affect their standing in the Couchsurfing community and eliminate their chances of being hosted or hosting travelers in the future. This is usually enough to keep members of the couchsurfing community in check.

There is a multi-level account verification system in place that prevents people from making fake profiles and deleting old profiles. Pro tip: I tend to stick to verified hosts, and only hosts with references to increase safety. Always communicate over Couchsurfing. As with any social network that has millions of members, you are ultimately responsible for your own personal safety when making contact with strangers. So be careful and always let someone know where you are and meet in public places.

Getting Started

Couchsurfing in Santorini with couchsurfers and travel blogger Sarah Fay in Greece.
Couchsurfing means taking in Santorini Sunsets with friends from around the world.

Finally, when getting started Couchsurfing will be a numbers game and you will have to really show why you would be someone worthwhile hosting, especially with zero to few reviews. You can build reviews by doing meetups and hangouts in your local area, or hosting.

Also, you the best thing you can do is have a full and complete profile that way people will be able to trust you more.

Most people fail at Couchsurfing because they put barely any effort into it or their profiles. While it is a great site to save money by getting free accommodation, no one (including your host) wants to feel used. Couchsurfing is a community, opens your mind to a different way of thinking, and an attitude. You need to be prepared to interact with your guests as well as your host. If they didn’t want to interact with you, they would use Airbnb.  

In short, if you give to the Couchsurfing community, you will get a world of experiences like no other. Be a good guest, host, or human being when meeting up with travelers and it will show through your profile and to prospective host.

Couchsurfing and Couchsurfers in New York City were awesome. Picture of Travel Blogger Sarah Fay in Central Park taken by a Couchsurfer.

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