A Beginner’s Guide to Couchsurfing
Editor's note: George writes for a large car hire company. He's planning a trip to Faro next summer (who happen to be well represented on couchsurfing!), but is hoping to cycle Europe before then.
Couchsurfing is a phenomenon that has experienced huge growth over the last 10 years. The term comes from the fact that people, especially college students, would move from one friends house to another and sleep on the couch at night. That’s the basic idea anyway.
Now it is a practice used by tourists who travel the world; underpinned by a massive online community. Couchsurfing allows travellers to meet and connect with new people from various backgrounds and cultures, by living for short periods with them, with traditional compensation prohibited.
Multiple websites have cropped up providing tourists with people they can connect with on the internet who share their ideals on travelling, and who are willing to host them for the period of their stay in the country they are touring. The crux of the community is www.couchsurfing.org. This site contains over 3 million members in many countries around the world who share in the couch surfing vision. These members represent more than 80,000 unique towns and cities.
It is important for a beginner to note that the bedrock of couch surfing is trust. A tourist must be able to trust their host and vice versa. Communicating in a friendly and informative way prior to meeting can set the tone for building a wonderful relationship with a host in a foreign country and set up expectations.
There are many benefits that can be gained from couch surfing. First, a traveller gets to save a lot of money that would have been used for paying hotel and hostel bills and paying for food. The money saved can be used as an extra avenue for adventure; while staying with a local can be a great advantage in finding places off the guidebook. Many couchsurfers are able to boast about how many friends of different nationalities that they now have.
Couch surfing provides people with opportunities to meet and interact with new people and to learn about their lives, sharing experiences and enjoying local cuisine. Another benefit that often goes unnoticed are home comforts. Being afforded accommodation and the possibility of home cooked meals makes the adventure all the more memorable.
Getting the Most out of Couchsurfing
Make sure everyone has the same expectations! Some hosts will be happy to just point you to your bed, whilst others will seek to chat the night away swapping stories with their guests (guess which one is more fun). If you can, engage with your host; it’s the best way to enjoy your time, and may lead to a valuable friendship and sound advice about the area. Be sure to leave a detailed review after your stay.
It’s also important get full details from your host about where you will meet them, along with their telephone number and email (though you can’t always rely on internet when travelling). Letting them know of your travel arrangements is also a good idea. If you have problems with travel, you’ll be able to let them know.
As with many great ventures, there are those who seek to destroy goodwill among men. Couch surfing rests on the premise that an individual is willing to accommodate you, therefore if the relationship does not seem to be working, it is best for a couch surfer to have some spare cash to book a room in a hostel. Some hosts have immoral plans and it is important for the couchsurfer to weigh up whether they feel comfortable or whether they suspect their hosts of harbouring ill intentions toward them. Thankfully, the websites employ identity verification and encourage reviews of hosts and surfers. While incidents in couchsurfing are very rare because of the due diligence carried out by the websites and its members, it is best to always keep your wits about you to ensure a safe and pleasant trip.
The couchsurfing community is close knit and this helps to encourage the best aspects of hospitality. It is always important for a beginner to carry out sufficient research and follow all the safety measures provided by the websites Wed recommend staying with an experienced host first. Done correctly, couchsurfing is a great avenue for experiencing home comforts and adventures with new friends.
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