What is Couchsurfing?

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Want to travel the world but have limited budget for accommodation? Join Couchsurfing, and you get to stay anywhere in the world for free! Of course, it’s not just the free accommodation which makes it attractive; it’s also the opportunity to interact with locals in their own milieu. First, though, what is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing Project

Simply speaking, it is an online community of travelers whose motto is to “Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time.”

The concept is that anyone can stay in any members’ place for free; as long as that member indicates in his profile that he can host. Other options include “Meet for Coffee or a Drink” which means that he cannot host but he can meet someone and maybe show him around, and “Traveling” which means that he is not available to either host or meet up.

Couch in Couchsurfing

This is the couch of my host Noah (from the US) in Saigon, Vietnam.

A member who is planning to go to another country sends a request to a potential host. When accepted, they then agree on when and where to meet-up when the traveler arrives in the country. The space allotted to surfers (the one who’s requesting) is called a “couch,” which can refer to any sleeping area, from a mattress on the floor, to a real couch, or even a whole bedroom with a king-sized bed.

I first learned about CS from an article in the Reader’s Digest sometime in 2006. The idea intrigued me but full of anxieties about hosting someone I didn’t know, it wasn’t until 2007 that I signed up and began hosting people.

Since 2008, I have been hosted a number of times—all over Asia and Europe, and even in the Philippines—and I have slept in all kinds of beds, from huge four-poster type of beds, to just a mat on the floor.

All my hosts have been extremely friendly and accommodating. My first host in Shanghai, John from Edinburgh, met me a few minutes before he went to work, gave me the keys to the house, and left. My friend and I had the whole house (and his Persian cat, Harry) all to ourselves.

Couchsurfing Host

My host John (from Scotland) in Shanghai, China (2008).

Again, what makes CS all the more memorable is not just the free accommodation (although it is a HUGE savings for a budget traveler like me), but more importantly, the opportunity to chat and interact with the locals in the area.

When I was in Indonesia, for example, I had been hosted by two of the warmest, sweetest, and kindest people I have ever met—Zuky and Fivi. We had spent hours talking, and I deeply regretted not being able to spend time with them longer. Without CS, I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet these lovely people.

One drawback is that after establishing bonds with your hosts or surfers, the time eventually comes when you (or they) have to leave, and sometimes it can be quite painful. I had gotten along very well with my first surfer, Jacob (from the U.S.). After three days, when he was scheduled to leave, he wanted to cancel his trip to stay longer. I had felt the same when I was with Zuky and Fivi in Indonesia.

Fivi from Indonesia

My host Fivi and me in her couch in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2010).

What about safety? Living solo as I am, my friends have always been concerned about the security of my hosting strangers in my home. While it is a real issue, CS does have some safety features, including references in the profile (feedback given by CS friends, hosts and surfers), a verification system (identity and physical location are confirmed by CS), friend links (where you can see the type of friendship, from being an acquaintance to a close friend), and a quick and responsive CS team which addresses reports of abuse seriously and quickly.

I also take some precautions whenever I decide to accept surfers. Here are some of the tips I follow:

  • I review the member’s profile very carefully. I make sure that he has been a member for some time and did not just join up to contact me.
  • He should have positive feedback, not only from people he met during CS meet-ups, but more importantly, from his previous surfers and hosts as well.
  • He must have been vouched for by other CS members.
  • Unlike other CS members, I don’t give my surfers a set of keys to my house, and when I go out, they go with me. I don’t leave them behind (although this is more about hospitality and less of a security measure).

Do I recommend CS? Absolutely. It is the true measure of your faith that despite everything, it’s still a wonderful world.

Update (January 2012): I’ll be using Couchsurfing a lot in my 70-day solo backpacking trip to Europe next month. Thanks in advance to my CS hosts! Without you, this trip wouldn’t be possible, as I’m not rich and would need all the assistance I can get to make this dream come true.

What about you? Are you willing to try surfing abroad or hosting a traveler in your home?


 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!


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Comments

  1. says

    I have tried signing up, but #Couchsurfing required me to give them my credit card number? Same holds true for you?

  2. says

    @ BPS: CS only requires the credit card when you want to verify your identity. Otherwise, you just remain unverified, which is not usually a problem if you have positive references from other CS members, your hosts, or your surfers. If you give your credit card number, they’ll deduct a small amount as donation to CS.

  3. says

    Hi Aleah! Like I said, CS is a very interesting concept. It’s definitely something I’ve never heard of till I read your post.

    I wonder what it’s like to bring in travelers from all over the world and welcome them into your home. And how does a new CS member with no references get accepted though? Without any feedback from past hosts (and vice versa), it seems rather difficult to get started. Man, that sounded like a newbie applying for a job on Elance or something. XD

  4. says

    @ Mica: Yes, CS is so much fun because of the people you meet who intimately know the place. Have you signed up already?

    @ Stef: That’s why I hosted someone when I knew I was going to surf in Shanghai in 2008. That being said, hosting IS easy if you’re a woman (the perception of not being a threat haha). You can actually join and not surf/host, though, and just meet travelers.

  5. says

    hehehe nice one aleah…. sana magamit ko yung cs membership ko soon…. may kakilala ka ba na CS sa Montalban punta sana ako sa wawa dam eh…hehehe but seriously…. I really want to experience how to cs in other countries….
    ian dela pena recently posted..Packing 101

  6. says

    I’ve tried Couchsurfing in Bacolod and Iloilo and my hosts became good friends and they themselves also couchsurfed during their respective backpacking trips in Asia…and in Bacolod my fellow guests are an Australian girl and a German dude while in Iloilo my fellow cs guests were a couple (American girl and German guy) and fellow PTB Ada…and among them I heard lots of backpacking stories that further inspired me to travel…

    Yeah CS is a great idea, its not only bout traveling cheap its also garnering friends along the way.
    Marky recently posted..Cebu Foodtrip- Larsian- Siomai sa Tisa at Lechon sa Carcar

  7. says

    Marky, that is so true. When I was in Kota Kinabalu, I met this really nice English couple who introduced me to another CS in Yogyakarta to become my host. Then when they came to the Philippines, we met each other again, I showed them around, and introduced them to CS Manila. The friendships really add up, and although it’s sad when you see people leave, you know (or at least, you hope) that someday, somewhere you’ll meet again.
    Aleah recently posted..Couchsurfing Project—Stay Anywhere in the World for Free!

  8. says

    Hi,

    I liked your blog post about staying with locals. Have you heard of Tripping.com? It’s a newer community where travelers connect with locals for cultural exchange.

    We have a lot of solo female travelers on the site. In fact, we have micro communities called “Networks” and in addition to the Solo Female Travel Network we also have networks in partnership with the community for female travelers Do It While You’re Young and the community the authors of The Lost Girls travel book and optioned tv series created (the Lost Girls Network).

    I run the blog and would love it if you were interested in doing a guest post for us. Let me know if so. If not, it’s cool. You have a great site!

    Best,
    Anis

  9. says

    Wow, this is the first time I’ve heard of this concept, and it sounds incredibly fascinating! I’m sure anyone would be anxious at the idea of putting up a stranger in their home, yet it seems the site is offering good safety measures to protect those who do it. Truly a great idea, and an excellent way to meet new people and make new friends.

    And hi! Just like to say this is a great blog. :)

  10. says

    Helpful tips!
    Ako rin I want to try this pero I’m scared HAHA

    How can I build my profile din pala if I can’t host? Ok lang ba yun? I want to couchsurf din sana this coming September pagpunta kong Saigon, pero di ko pa nababalikan yung CS account ko hehe
    Cai recently posted..Who doesn’t love Oreo?

  11. says

    @ Cai: You can set your profile to “Meet for Coffee or Drink” then join CS Manila meet-ups. There’s one every week! I’ll add you to the CS Manila Facebook page so you’ll also be updated. Once you meet people, give them a reference and hopefully they’ll give you one back. That will work when you search for a couch in Saigon. In my experience, it’s hard to get a local couch there–a lot of them still live with their parents. Your best bet is to look for expats; there are a lot of them offering couches in CS Saigon.
    Aleah recently posted..Snapshot Sunday—Child in Ta Prohm Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

  12. says

    Wow I never thought that kind of thing exist. That is a good thing for travelers since they can save money from accommodation plus they have somebody who could be with them while they’re staying. Cool!
    Mei recently posted..Vector Girl

  13. Vicky David says

    Good Evening!

    I didnt know that this type of accommodating someone really exists. This is a great news for country hoppers like me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Yours,

    Vicky David

  14. says

    wow this this the first time i read about this.. it’s interesting though i must admit while reading your post the only word flashing in my mind is “too dangerous”.. hehe well with our world now with so many killings its better to be safe. But its good to know you are researching about the person really well before you accept them in their home. Just be very careful.Im not sure I’m willing to try this but will give it a thought.. Nice and interesting post! And goodluck on your europe tour! Good for you that you dont have to spend on accommodation, went there for 2 weeks which cost me a fortune.. hehe. Have fun on your trip!

  15. says

    I understand “couchsurfing” as hospitality at its best. It should sit well with Filipino culture though I doubt if the higher echelons of our society practice such.

  16. says

    Honestly, I am not familiar with couchsurfing. I better check some information about it kasi parang maganda. Well, Almost all free are good. hehheheheh

  17. says

    I didnt know about CS until I met a fellow travel blogger who introduced it to me. I was in fact hesitant about this project because of questions of trust since we have been hosting people sleeping in our house for sometime until we have learned that they are “wanted” by law trying to seek hide out in our house. I referred to my parents what can they say about this program and they warned for it hahaha.

    Without their knowledge, I am really gonna try this but first, will try to surf to nearby provinces then probably will do what you are doung now. :))

  18. says

    “Couchsurfing” is an online community of travelers who select a host for him/her to stay to h is/her house for free. This is quite weird for me for we don’t know the culture, the habit or social practices of others. It is good as mentioned here to view first the profile of every member thoroughly, for you might be a victim of rape, murder or whatever. This is a unique program or project for people to fellowship their fellow.
    Gil Camporazo| RandomThoughts! recently posted..Biospectator, a Value-Rich Blog

  19. says

    This is quite exciting but pretty scary too. I just cant imagine myself sleeping in a total stranger’s house and not think about something bad. Well, anyways, it takes guts and passion for travelling to be able to pull this couchsurfing off. I admire and envy you for having all these opportunities. Hope you’ll be able to travel the world. :)
    julie recently posted..A Blast from the Past: The 80′s Era

  20. says

    This is interesting. Something that seems to be a good option for people who loves traveling and to get to know people more. You share the same interests but you get to know the culture than just being a normal tourist. I appreciate you sharing this. I might share this to my friends who travel a lot.

  21. says

    Wow! This is really really practical! Thank you for the recommendation and I’ll certainly join this once I have a place of my own. I really want to travel!

  22. says

    CS ngayon ko lang to nabasa. very nice idea. sana mabasa to ng DOT. a concept to build upon lalo na ibang tourism destinations natin kulang accomodation facilities

  23. says

    Oooooh! Finally, I saw this na! Will check on this and review. Who knows, I might be able to enjoy this too! haha! Thanks!!! it was really nice meeting you and I told you, I am happy for you. haha!
    Ness recently posted..Untitled

  24. says

    Hi there… this is the first time I heard about CS and “hosting”…. Very interesting pero natatakot ako ng konti…hehehe.. I can’t imagine people (stranger) will let me in there houses or me, meeting them for the first time and actually stay in their place… :) Nice read… I learned a lot. :)
    carmz recently posted..iPad Prices in the Philippines – 2012

  25. says

    Thank you for introducing me to this concept Aleah! This will indeed be my next project! What I like most about Couchsurfing is the chance to “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” and to network with wanderlust folks just like us!

    OMG! OMG! Is there a CS member living in Li Jiang, China? When I attended classes in Fudan University in Shanghai, I won in a singing contest and the prize is trip to Snow Mountain, Shangri-La Mountain and Li Jiang Province!

    The meet up point is at Shanghai. I will definitely have to meet your Scottish host!

  26. says

    @ Lagalag: Most hosts especially here in Europe will not accept someone who has no experience hosting or being hosted. I suggest you build up your profile months before your intended long trip. That said, people in Asia are more accepting of newbie members. “Traveling” only means that you are *currently* traveling and cannot host or show people around in your home town. If you don’t want to host at all, but you are not traveling, just choose “Not right now.” You don’t have to meet up if you don’t want to :)
    Aleah recently posted..How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

  27. Sue says

    Thank you for introducing CS! i just signed up.. into believing that this would be my first step in preparing to travel solo.. hope to learn more from your bloggggss :)

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