CouchSurfing.org is a social network that allows travelers to have unique experiences with people from all over the world. The website allows users to create a profile and search for, or offer, a place to stay during their travels. The point of the website is not to score a free bed for the night, but rather to create lasting friendships and experience the real culture of a city with people who know it best. Each user profile provides a general bio, photos, languages spoken, interests, countries visited, and references from previous surfers.
The first time I used the site, I was backpacking through Europe with three of my girl friends. We had arranged to stay with two guys in Barcelona, but when we arrived at the train station, we had second thoughts. Staying in a stranger’s house suddenly didn’t seem like such a great idea. However, we soon found out that due to a festival the weekend of our visit, there was literally nowhere else to stay. We showed up at the flat feeling a little nervous, but suddenly realized there was nothing to be worried about. They were people, just like us, with a love for travel and meeting new people. We spent the next few days with our hosts who showed us the best of Barcelona, the Barcelona that many tourists never get to see.
CouchSurfing came handy yet again during my trip to Carnaval in Brazil earlier this year. I was feeling overwhelmed with planning my attendance to the biggest street party in the world, and I wanted to get the most out of my adventure. It took me awhile to find a host that was a good fit for me, and not already booked for the busy Carnaval! I finally found a good match and felt much better about my upcoming trip. My new friend picked me up from the airport, haggled with the non-English speaking ticket vendors for the best deal, took me to the best parties and made sure I was safe the whole time so that I was free to party stress-free, Brazilian style.
Feeling a lack of culture in your life, but can’t gather the funds or time to jet off to a far away land? Why not offer your place to another traveler? It’s a great way to make a new friend, learn about their customs, and share some of your own. We often take for granted the amazing places in our own backyard, that people come from all over the world to see. What a great opportunity to play tourist yourself and learn more about your hometown.
One useful feature of the site, mentioned earlier, are the references that fellow surfers leave describing their experience. To be safe, it’s best to go through the reviews of other travelers who have experience with your potential host or guests before you make arrangements to meet face to face. As a female traveler, I always look for other females who have shared their experience. The site also requires you to verify your name and location when you sign up in order to confirm identity and promote safety.
If you are still not sure about staying with a total stranger, there is the option to just meet up and hang out with a local. Some people are on the site to do just that. If you are traveling alone, or just want to get to know someone who can show you around for the day, this is a great option. You will be surprised how many people are eager to show you their favorite places and learn about where you are from too. I think meeting new people is half of the reward of traveling, and this site is a great way to do it.