A month before my recent vacation to Europe, while I was casually browsing through some travel websites to get a hang on some accommodation reviews, I came across some reviews about “Couchsurfing”! Well, yes, I had heard of it before and I never really thought that I would take it seriously. I am sure many of you would have no idea what it means. So, couchsurfing is the world’s largest social travel network which connects a global community of travellers. As of now, more than 6 million people in 100,000 cities are a part of this community.
What does it mean? When you travel, you can stay at somebody’s home for free and you could also host travelers who are planning to come to your city. Well, this doesn’t mean that you get a luxury space to live. As the name suggests, in most of the cases, you get to sleep on the couch or may be on a mattress on the floor and if you are lucky, then maybe you get a separate room to sleep.
How to start? You have to register on the couchsurfing website, put in your details and elaborate it nicely, put some pictures for your hosts or guests to see. Let’s say, I find the profile of a girl on CS who lives in New York, where I have to go for the coming weekend. I send her a request with a personal message explaining a little about this situation. She will take a look at my profile and if she likes me and my approach, she could look at her availability and respond back to me saying yes. Now, I have a place to sleep in the expensive New York city and in addition, I get to interact with her (who is a local) and will definitely have an amazing intercultural exchange. Sounds exciting, right?
But, it doesn’t end here. Although there is no denying the fact that couchsurfers who are looking for a place to stay want to save money, but if you are not ready to spend some time with the host and walk that extra mile to be courteous enough with them, there is no point. Remember, your host’s home is not a hotel or an Airbnb. It’s just like staying with your friend at his/her place. You don’t want to go to your couch, sleep, wake up and leave. This also means no returning drunk at 3am or bringing home additional ‘guests’. Try to work around your host’s schedule if possible. You hang out with them by coordinating time with one another and make the best out of it. You don’t have to pay for your stay, but that doesn’t mean you won’t show the basic etiquettes. Try to get some gifts or may be a bottle of wine for your host. If that doesn’t work out, cook your traditional food for them in order for them to experience your culture. Also, try to pitch in for the shared expenses.
Alright now, we all know that every subject has some positive and negative aspects to it. Let’s check out the same for CS.
- Soaking in the richness of cultural exposure by staying with locals which otherwise is rarely possible.
- Finding some really good people and making friends with them. It’s a reciprocal community, I would without a doubt host any of the couchsurfers I’ve stayed with if they came to India.
- If you are travelling to a place for the first time, you get better and in-depth guidance of things you could do there, the hidden must go places and the best restaurants and food outlets in town.
- Free accommodation.
- Having a temporary home away from home.
- Not everybody is okay with the concept of living with a stranger in their accommodation, but this platform also gives you options of so many events or casually meeting up and hanging out with the locals. This way, you get to interact with the locals in a much better way and get a hang of a lot of things.
- There are always bad people out there, be very careful and smart, and if you don’t feel comfortable at any point, leave!
- Don’t expect the accommodation to be the most comfortable. Keep in mind that it’s called “couchsurfing” for a reason, and a lot of times, it’s a shared space such as a couch in the living room that will be your temporary sleeping space.
- You host might not be living in the city centre and so figuring out your way to their accommodation is very important. I have stayed with CSers in the beautiful country side of Slovenia which was of course, extremely far from the city centre. But since I was ready to explore and live the true essence of Slovenia, this was by far the best accommodation which I stayed in – with a beautiful balcony with the view of the open fields.
- Your host can cancel the request at the eleventh hour and you cannot do absolutely anything about it. That is how it is. So, always book a hostel or an Airbnb for backup which you can cancel 24 hours before check-in. I did this for the duration of my entire stay in Europe and it helped a lot because my host in Prague canceled at last and my Airbnb was a savior.
From my couchsurfing experiences by far, I have realized that not everyone can do this. It requires a perfect blend of social skills and good manners to be a good couchsurfer. It is projects like Couchsurfing that reinstated my faith in us as a global human race. I believe that even though we all come from different backgrounds, religions, families, cultures, and experiences – we CAN get along well.