Couchsurfing is a movement. For all intents and purposes, it is a cooperative travel program, with members using the site to both ‘surf’ other’s couches, or ‘host’ travelers in their hometown. It is a testament to the rapid growth and spread of globalization; you can now contact strangers worlds apart and request to stay with them. There is no monetary exchange. This concept is often confusing to those outside of the Couchsurfing community because it goes so far beyond the economical rules of our society. Couchsurfing encourages the sharing of space yes, but also time, cultures, personal history, experiences, and passions; all things which are quite literally priceless.
This is the general approach as a ‘surfer’:
Browse the hosts in your destination. Look for similar tastes in hobbies, philosophies, travel background and practicalities such as smoking and drinking rules and location. This is an important step, as you want to heighten your travel experience by staying with someone you will have the possibility of making life long friends with or at the very least, someone you can coexist with.
Verify your potential host. Check the reviews written about them from previous surfers or from past hosts who gave them a place to stay. There a three types of reviews: Positive, Negative and Neutral. Reviews cannot be deleted but remember that sometimes personalities clash and you could still have a nice experience with someone who has a neutral or even negative review. Read them carefully.
Send them a message. Explain your travel plans, why you chose to contact them specifically and what you hope to accomplish from your trip. Be candid and remember that host in well-traveled cities (New York City, Paris, Sydney etc.) can get hundreds of requests per week so make your message personable and really read their profiles. A host’s home is by no means a free hotel. They can very easily tell who is copy/pasting requests to stay, and who genuinely cares to pursue a locally inspired form of travel.It is by no means a free lunch program. Hosts can very easily tell who is copy/pasting requests to stay, and who genuinely cares to pursue a locally inspired form of travel.
The host will then (depending on availability) accept you! From there, you can discuss the travel specifics and plan to engage in at least one or two activities with them depending on the length of your stay. We recommend that you message host approximately 2 weeks before your travel dates but people have been accepted inquiring as earlier as months before their trip and as late as the day of arrival!
We both find it to a beautiful exchange of trust. Opening yourself up to being in the vulnerable position of having a stranger grace your personal living quarters, or- equally as vulnerable- trusting the hospitality and goodness of a perfect stranger.
We decided to Couchsurf for our entire two month road trip because it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to view the local food scene of each city we visited but it has become so much more than that thanks to the truly unique connections we have made with our hosts; from single men and women, to couples and families with children.
In this way, we have been consistently interacting with and living with strangers for the last month, which is both intensely thrilling and exhausting. Exposure to newness and otherness is something that we will both continue to search for because of this experience- there’s nothing quite like having your opinions questioned, your generalizations contradicted, or your expectations fulfilled and, sometimes, even surpassed.