Have you heard of Couchsurfing?

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Credit photo: Wikimedia Commons

If you are a budget traveler or in general someone who travels to foreign countries for tourist purposes, you certainly know that often, most of times, the large part of your budget goes to accommodations that can be very costly in places like Hong Kong or Singapore. Sometimes you may have to change all your projects because of this, maybe you dream of visiting a country but the prospect of having to pay a lot for hotels or even hostels makes you indecisive.

If yes, well, there is an easy solution that maybe you have never known about. Imagine that you can travel wherever you want without worrying about your accommodation and yet making the most of your experiences by hanging out with local people and expats. That was the idea of Casey Fenton, the american entrepreneur who founded Couchsurfing.

What is CouchSurfing?

For now, CouchSurfing is both a website and a mobile app. It is a free hospitality service and, incidentally, a social network platform. It has 15 million travelers and 400,000 hosts. Users live all over the world. The hosts are often local people or expats willing to offer free accommodation to travelers for a number of days decided in advance. As travelers, you have nothing to pay. You are only supposed to show respect and sympathy to your host. Nonetheless, It is still nice to bring a small gift or to contribute in any way. Most hosts will propose to show you around and will make your trip easier.

But CouchSurfing is not only a possibility to have free accommodation. It is more focused on bringing travelers from around the world to meet each other and perhaps to build friendships for life. You may prefer to have your personal space. Anyway, on CouchSurfing, you can share the plan of your trip and ask the locals to serve as a guide or ask for advice. In addition, since 2016, a new feature called “hangouts” allows you to meet users nearby.

How it works?

It’s really very simple. All you have to do is fill out your profile on CouchSurfing. Try to include as much information as possible: about your travels, your hobbies, everything that seems relevant to you. It’s totally free. If you wish, it is possible to pay a single fee at any time to become a verified member, which would give you a more trustworthy appearance for other users. You can share your plan and wait for someone to contact you or review the profiles listed at the location you are targeting to find your host. You can then send a message. If the person agrees, all the details can be configured before your arrival.

How safe is CouchSurfing?

Just think for a moment, CouchSurfing gives you the opportunity to go somewhere, often to a foreign country, to stay with people you have never met before and who do not know much about you. It may sound terrifying, but Couchsurfing is as safe as any social networking platform. They focus a lot on safety and give you very good tips for staying safe. The truth is that you must be responsible and take your time to choose a host. Shortly after you have stayed at a host’s place, Couchsurfing asks your host and you to evaluate the experience and the other person. So you should avoid profiles that show a lot of bad reviews or at least read what is being criticized. Also try to choose the users with the most complete profiles and, preferably, those who are verified.

My own experience with CouchSurfing
Couchsurfing in Thailand

I have had the chance to use CouchSurfing in three different countries: Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong; I feel more grateful than anything else for those experiences. Of course, you should not always expect the highest level of comfort, sometimes all you get is well a couch. But some hosts have guest rooms and you may feel even better placed than you would have been in a hotel.

But the best part is the people you can interact with. I was traveling with a friend. In Vietnam, we were greeted by a young Russian, he had so many stories to tell. He had traveled to many countries hitchhiking. In Thailand, we were received by a French couple. They were very friendly. The woman was an independent nurse educator and the man, an artist. Their house was beautiful and incredibly decorated. At the same time they welcomed a young couple of environmental activists. We had interesting discussions and had the chance to try a delicious vegan meal and a French breakfast. Our last stop was in Hong Kong where we met an Englishman who had been living on Hong Kong Island for many years. He kindly offered to show us the best trails in the area. Its place was really comfortable and right next to the beach.

Hong Kong Island
Credit photo: Wikipedia

The hotels in Vietnam and Thailand are pretty cheap. But an Airbnb in Hong Kong costs up to $ 30 / night, so CouchSurfing can reduce your expenses. But Couchsurfing can also make the experience more satisfying. The fact that some people accept complete strangers at home and offer them their friendship was really what was astonishing. The human side of the whole CouchSurfing system is something that money can not buy. Of course, it can be tiring to have to socialize constantly, even more for an introvert like me. It is also good to have your space and follow your own plan. CouchSurfing may be just one leg of your journey. If you make an effort, it can be one of the best experiences of your life. All he asks is to be good, respectful and to be someone with whom people like to spend time.

Magdalée Brunache

Ready to give it a try? Start by visiting the website: couchsurfing.com

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