I joined CouchSurfing.org back in 2009, as a friend in one of my classes had told me some stories about a friend of his who CouchSurfs quite a bit. Before I dive into details too much, I’d like to take a moment to explain exactly what CouchSurfing is.
CouchSurfing.org is an online network of people who have graciously opened up their homes for fellow travelers. Members can contact one another and request to stay on their couches free of charge. The ultimate goal of CouchSurfing is not only to provide a cheap place for travelers to stay, but ultimately to give them the experience of staying with a local, someone who knows the area, the language, and can introduce them to the aspects of the city they may not already be familiar with. CouchSurfing isn’t just about hosting and surfing either, many members use it simply to find people to get coffee with, or to find someone to show them around the city for the afternoon. The possibilities are truly endless.
In my experience with CouchSurfing I have had nothing but good experiences. I have hosted people, surfed with people, attended events, traveled with people, gotten coffee and drink with people and even given several members tours of the city that I was living in. In the end, it’s about a sense of community and showing that the world is so much smaller than you really realize.
About now you’re probably wondering how safe all of this is. Anyone who has ever done business online knows that everything comes with a certain risk. With CouchSurfing, members are allowed to post feedback on another members profile, something that can be edited by the poster, but not removed or hidden by the other member. Any feedback can be marked as positive, neutral or negative, giving future members an idea of what that person is like. It’s much like eBay in the sense that a few negative references can ruin your entire account and building up positive references takes a lot of work and trust from the people in your community. Members can also get verified which links their account to a physical address, providing an extra measure of security. Neither I nor anyone I know has ever had any bad experiences with CouchSurfing. In fact, my friend Karen and I were interviewed by a newspaper in Germany to talk about all of our positive experiences with CouchSurfing.
If you’ve got a moment, check it out and give it some thought. Even if you’re not a traveler, hosting someone can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Many surfers also join groups in their area and meet up for events on a regular basis to establish a sense of community and accountability. Check out your local CouchSurfing group, you may be surprised with the people you’ll meet!