02 May A Quick Guide to Couchsurfing: Travel Meets Hospitality
We’re excited to bring you this guest post by our newest Intentional Travelers contributor, Lianne Bronzo. We asked her to share her couchsurfing expertise with us since she has had a lot of cool experiences with this network around the world.
Example 1: CouchSurfing in Mongolia
During my first afternoon in Ulaanbaatar, I navigated the rickety local bus to stay with a Mongolian family of six. Even though we had never met prior, they warmly welcomed me into their humble ger (Mongolian yurt). The outskirts, known as the ger district, may lack running water, but are connected to the internet, which is how I found this family.
Over four days, I learned how Mongolian people live through milking cows, cooking meals and playing traditional games with sheep ankle bones. In exchange, I taught them about my culture, how to solve a Rubik’s cube and do French braids. Even though we have different cultural backgrounds, we were still able to enjoy the same music and games over homemade food and laughs. The family may not be in a position to travel abroad, but the world comes to them.
This experience was free; the only thing exchanged was culture.
This homestay in Mongolia was possible through CouchSurfing.org. Founded in 2004, CouchSurfing is a global community rising in popularity. Currently, six million people representing more than 100,000 cities are involved.
CouchSurfing is a worldwide network connecting travelers looking for cultural exchange, a local insider’s guide and new friends, all for the price of zero dollars.
How does it work? To put it simply, you log onto the website and search for a couch in your destination of choice. Then, write some detailed requests specific to hosts. If accepted, you arrange to sleep at the host’s residence for a specified amount of days. Essentially, you are sleeping at a stranger’s house in lieu of a hotel.
Example 2: CouchSurfing in Japan
Jordan V. from Canada CouchSurfed around Japan for one month with a budget that most people use for two weeks in such an expensive country. He remarks, “From sleeping on a tatami mat floor in a traditional Edo house to bicycling through a quiet market, my experiences in Japan were made all the richer by the friends I met through CouchSurfing.”
Traveling on a smaller budget does not necessarily diminish the quality of the trip with the help of CouchSurfing. In fact, it can enhance travel experiences.
The True Value of CouchSurfing
An obvious perk of the system is that it costs nothing (it is appreciated, but not expected, to bring a small gift from your country or treat your host to a meal). However, saving money is not the primary purpose of CouchSurfing. The network was created to connect with others and exchange ideas, travel advice and stories. It is more of a style of travel rather than just accommodation. For instance, our host in Nha Trang, Vietnam, taught me how to cook a traditional meal after shopping at the local market. Conversely, I taught her how to bake my specialty: banana bread.
Oh the things you will learn!
Travelers can gain rich experiences through CouchSurfing. Hosts or surfers can offer lessons in piano, juggling, languages or other random skills. Adam G. from U.S.A. was introduced to acro-yoga by his host in St. Louis, Missouri. “We had a grand time,” Adam adds. “She took us to spots we definitely would not have found on our own, like the fantastic park under a bridge on the Mississippi River where we had a campfire dinner.”
Hosts can serve as excellent insider guides by sharing local treasures. If travelers only stay at hotels, they might only visit what guidebooks suggest – sometimes overcrowded and overrated tourist spots.
Hosting: Bring the world to your home
Not only can you enhance your travels by surfing, you can benefit from hosting. Ian, an American hitchhiker and author, inspired me to explore my own backyard. Chrystal from Malaysia taught me how to write my name in Mandarin and even gifted me a beautiful Malay shawl. I never met anyone from Belarus before, but hosting Alena enlightened me what life is like in the small country.
If you cannot currently travel, you can bring the world to you by hosting CouchSurfers.
Wait, so you are saying that strangers sleep at your house? Isn’t dangerous?
In general, no, but one must exercise caution. Fortunately, there are several safety measures built into the system. Similar to eBay feedback, surfers and hosts can write references based on their experiences. Further, there is an official verification where CouchSurfing.org sends a postcard to your home with a special code to verify that you do, in fact, live there.
Be alert like you normally should be when entering an unfamiliar environment. When requesting or accepting, trust your instincts. Read profiles and references thoroughly. Let other people know when you are hosting or surfing with someone as well. Meeting at a public place is also a good idea. Use your best judgment. If you are a solo female traveler, I would advise against staying with men who only host single women, for example. With that being said, I have not one single report of feeling in danger after over fifty experiences.
If, for whatever reason, you have lost your faith in humanity, CouchSurfing can help retrieve it. People nowadays have grown afraid of fellow human beings, as evidenced by the general fear of strangers. Most people, however, will find that humans can be incredibly hospitable and selfless through CouchSurfing. The positive vibes are contagious; good experiences inspire others to give back to the community. CouchSurfing is not for everyone, but I encourage others to leap boundaries and give strangers the benefit of the doubt.
More than accommodation exchange
The CouchSurfing network offers more than just a place to sleep. One can arrange ride shares, find travel buddies and attend local meet-ups. If you are not in a position to host or are still uncomfortable with the idea, you can still benefit from the community by meeting like-minded people in your city. Essentially, it is just another social network.
How to join the CouchSurfing network
How do you get involved? It is easy. Sign up at CouchSurfing.org. Detailed profiles are more likely to get traffic, so tailor it to shine your personality. “Add” your trusted friends and write some honest references. On your next trip, search for potential hosts and write a personal request to surf. If you want to host, provide details on your living situation. Be responsive to requests and messages, remain flexible, and enjoy!
For a detailed CouchSurfing guide to hosting and surfing, check out Adam and Lianne’s CouchSurfing guide.
About the Author:
Lianne is a Korean-American adoptee who taught elementary school in Korea for three years. She traveled to nearly every Asian country with her boyfriend on a budget of $15 per day. She is passionate about finding ways to make travel meaningful on a budget such as CouchSurfing and volunteering. In May 2016, Lianne will start teaching English in Japan. Read more about her teaching experiences, travel tips, and adoption story at LianneBronzo.com.
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