Is there a secret ingredient that makes travelling more than visiting sights? I think there is, if not so secret. How we experience what we encounter on a trip is highly influenced not only by our own emotional state and mindset, but by how we interact with our travel companion(s) (if any) and the locals. Arguably, without the social aspect, your recollections of a trip wouldn’t be that much different from the anyone’s visiting the same place. It’s us people that make the difference. Couchsurfing could be an excellent way to spice up your journey, to hit it off with other travellers, and share stories over a cosy meal or an alcoholic beverage of your choice.
In case you haven’t heard of it before, Couchsurfing is a global community for people who are willing to welcome others into their home in exchange for nothing but being social. You can open your own home as a host, or stay with others while travelling. Some only travel, some only host, some do both. And when I say Couchsurfing is a global community, I mean global. You can travel the Sahara using only local transportation and Couchsurfing if that’s what your heart covets. According to their website, about 200.000 cities and more than 10 million people participate, and add value to their network. Let me make it clear, Couchsurfing is not a charity, but more a friendly gesture of generosity. The quality of the accommodations vary depending on your destination and what the host can offer, and ranges between a place where you can roll out your sleeping bag and a room with a private shower. Yet you always get something money can’t buy that makes up for any potential discomfort. Couchsurfing allows you reach out to locals, provides access to local knowledge no travel books offer. Get language help in any country if needed, or a friendly smile and a warm place to stay when that’s just what you want. In many larger cities the local communities organise mingles, hikes, dance classes and much more.
My boyfriend and I have not yet travelled with Couchsurfing, but we host regularly. How else would we meet an astrophysics major specialising in space exploration theories, marathon runners who only want to take a shower? Or a fresh graduate who decided to cycle around the borders of the ancient Roman Empire, or a horror writer visiting the local haunts as part of her research for her next book? Hosting itself is a rewarding experience, because even though we’ve never met before, we already have something in common: the drive of discovery, of staying curious in life. Sharing ideas and past travel stories is like travelling without moving; it helps discover new places, potential destinations for your future journeys. On top of it, most travellers don’t come empty handed, even offer to make you dinner in exchange for the accommodation. Staying or hosting, you’re looking at a mutual exchange of generosity and kindness. I may be idealistic about Couchsurfing’s approach to supporting worldwide travel, at the same time I realise the value in connectedness and shared responsibility as a way of giving back to society, and allowing people to visit destinations that otherwise would be unavailable to them.
Surely, there will be some who would try and take advantage of the inherent trust that permeates the idea, and what most of the members of the community share. Safety is always important, which is why Couchsurfing provides a support network based on individual input to screen negative experiences and filter out the “bad seed” in a confidential manner. They strive to build a trusted and safe community, and dedicate time and resources in case you need help in that regard. All reviews (both travellers and hosts can be reviewed) are uncensored and honest, helping you further to find the best option. “We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection.” A statement most of us can get behind. My experience with Couchsurfing so far could only be qualified as overwhelmingly positive. Want to feel your life enriched by massive intellects of well-read, well-experienced travellers, and sometimes challenged by long conversations into the wee hours of the morning? Well, I can only speak from experience. And I trust the standing invitations we collected over the years to several worldwide destinations, were not polite, empty gestures but signs of honest interest and friendship. Some returning guests of ours would also testify to that regard. If you’ve never tried Couchsurfing, give it a chance the next time you feel adventurous. I’m quite sure several million people share my sympathy.
* Note that all captions are excerpts from the Couchsurfing website.
Have you tried Couchsurfing? If so, what was your experience?
Would you consider becoming an ambassador for them?