I have heard about Couchsurfing or CS from Youtube channels. During this pandemic lockdown, I used to watch travel videos a lot. I installed it but never used it once. Recently during the month of Feb 2021, I saw an event going to be hosted at Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi. So I applied to it. There was a fear inside me before going but it vanished after meeting people. I really liked the concept.
Table of Contents
- What is Couchsurfing?
- Story behind Couchsurfing
- Who can use Couchsurfing?
- How does it work?
- Couch Surfing History Timeline
- What are the Charges for using Couchsurfing?
- Is the Couchsurfing verification cost worth it?
- Benefits of Couchsurfing
- Demerits of Couchsurfing
- How to be a good Couch Surfer?
- Frequently Asked Questions About Couchsurfing
What is Couchsurfing?
It is a worldwide hospitality and lodging service where travelers can get accommodations and food via a mobile app or website. Any traveler or member can make a request to stay via the mobile app or website. It is a global community of 14 million people in more than 2 lac cities who share their culture, life, and travel stories with each other.
The host is not supposed to charge anything and therefore no agreement is required between them. Regular events are organized in the cities to meet travelers and make new friends. It is a great social platform for budget traveling and backpackers.
Story behind Couchsurfing
There is an interesting story behind the birth of this amazing platform. A boy in his 20s went to travel from Boston to Iceland. After booking a cheap flight, he did not have any idea for lodging. He got a new idea in his brain. He hacked the database of the University of Iceland and randomly emailed around 1500 students asking for a homestay.
Surprisingly he got replies from 50 to 100 students to have stayed with them. The name of the boy was Casey Fenton of New Hampshire. This happened in 1999. After coming back to Boston, he created a website with this new idea of lodging and registered the couchsurfing.com domain name on 12 June 1999 and this is how an idea came into the picture.
Who can use Couchsurfing?
People who are interested in meeting new people, knowing different cultures and languages can become hosts. Travelers who are traveling around can get accommodations and food without spending their money. People who have already traveled become hosts in their own country. Anyone who loves to share travel stories, likes to know different cultures and languages can become a host.
As a Couch Surfer, you can organize local events also. Like local meetups in their own cities. When Couch Surfers meet together, they can enjoy food, drinks, visit some historical places like I visited Humayun’s Tomb. There is fun meeting new people locally.
It is not only you get Couch to sleep, you can get a bed or a room and sometimes a separate room and toilet also. CS is a good option when your budget is tight to travel. Using CS for a few days and nights can actually save you some money so that you can travel more.
How does it work?
1. Create a profile
Creating a profile is the first step. As a traveler or host, you have to create a profile on the app or website. This is going to be some sort of reflection about yourself, what you like, what is relevant to you, your interests.
A perfect profile helps to know each other better before the actual meeting. This is important for both whether you are going for a weekly event or want to host a traveler. Always include your recent pictures. Your profile pictures and your event pictures can be added separately. It gives a little confidence in the person looking at your profile.
2. Exploring the City
If you are staying in a city and you are new there, you can explore the city with the help of experienced couchsurfers in that area. Weekly events are organized in the city.
You can get this option under Search> Events. Click on the desired event and check the details like when it is going to happen. How many people are coming? Which are the locations and the name of the organizer. You can chat with the organizer and other attendees directly also. I can invite other people too with the help of the invite option.
3. Traveling Around the world
When you are ready to travel the world or any city, just search for the city or cities in which you are going to travel. Find the right profile and references you like to stay with. When you select the right and potential host, review the profile once and send the request to stay.
Always send appropriate and personalized messages and tell you the reason for your stay. Just do not send “Hi, I want to stay for 2 days.” Always write proper request messages. It is advisable to research one and write a clear and crisp message. You can create templates and save them under the “Message Templates” option provided on the app. Send a request mentioning the dates you want to stay.
4. Become a Host
Once you have explored a city or went to an event, you may consider being a host for other travelers. If you have a spare room, couch, or mattress available you can help other travelers to stay. This is how the community works.
You can do this under the “Hosting” option, you can mark “Accepting Guests”, “Maybe Accepting Guests”, “Not Accepting Guests” or “want to meet up” as per your availability and preference.
5. Nearby Hangout
If you want to hang out with the locals, you can. There is an option available. You can create your own hangout also. The number of available people for hangout can be seen also. You can directly contact them also. It is a great way to meet and hang out with nearby couchsurfers. You can also see number of participants who are going for the hangout.
Couch Surfing History Timeline
What are the Charges for using Couchsurfing?
Food and lodging are totally free. Exchange of money should not happen but as a guest one should bring some gifts for the host. You can bring some pickles or a bottle of wine or your country’s famous spices, however, nothing is expected. One can help in bringing groceries or help in preparing food.
There is no charge to use the app. It is totally free but for verification purposes, they charge around 60 dollars for lifetime access. It might vary from country to country. You have to just pay once and stay verified for a lifetime.
Verification is not compulsory but it has some added benefits. It allows members to verify their phone number, ID, and address and gives access to priority support and the new features of the platform. It gives a verification badge at your profile.
Is the Couchsurfing verification cost worth it?
It totally depends on how active you are using it. For some people, especially old couchsurfers, it might be not a big issue but for a new couchsurfer, it might be not worth it. Just because you are verified or not verified, many hosts does not bother about it.
They actually see how active you are on couchsurfer. If you have no friends and you a newbie and still verified, chances are that host might hesitate to host you. Again it is not always true but they prefer that you are active on the platform.
The best course of action would be to attend local meets in your city and put some CS profile pictures and make some friends and references. The host trusts these types of informal verifications than a badge on your profile.
Benefits of Couchsurfing
We all know Couchsurfing for its free accommodations. Apart from it, there are a number of added benefits. Some of them are:
1. A Good Company
Traveling alone in a city might be a little boring. Sometimes host comes along with you for a quick tour of the city. It reduces some sort of loneliness. It is always fun to visit with people than alone sometimes, at least in my case.
2. Meeting locals and culture exchange
Another best part of this platform is that you get to meet the locals of the city in which you are staying. It helps to know the culture better with the eyes of a local. If you stay in a hotel, you probably won’t get to know about these things.
So this is an added advantage of CS over an expensive hotel. Locals also tell some money-saving advice as some places, people, sometimes overprice things for tourists.
3. Hygienic Food
Sometimes you can have access to the kitchen of the host where you can cook it by yourself. You can buy local groceries and cook meals for yourself and for your host. It is a good way to say thanks to them and exchange your culture and ideas. It might be possible that you cannot have hygienic food outside.
4. Network of Travelers
After a couple of traveling, you have a decent amount of travelers who might think or love what you do. CS helps to create a network of travelers for you. Just think you took hotels for the last 2-3 trips, you end up with no network, but if you used this platform, you get a network of travelers, sooner or later, for a lifetime.
5. Hidden Spots and Recommendations
When you travel with locals, you get best recommendations and hidden spot which you might not get on Google or on any other travel website. You save money as you are not paying a local guide. It is totally fun.
6. Local events and group trips
If you do not stay with any host and plan to stay in a hotel, you still can have exposure to local culture and tradition with the help of local events and group trips. There are many events mentioned on the CS app. You can join it or invite somebody you know. I have recently attended the Humayun’s Tomb get-together event.
Demerits of Couchsurfing
1. Not a Hotel
It might happen that you will not get that cleanliness or comfortable like you get in a hotel. You can get a sofa or mattress or if you are lucky enough then you can get a separate room of your own. It might be possible that you have to follow some house rules but that’s should be okay.
2. Not feeling Comfortable
You might feel unsafe due to the odd behavior of the host. Especially for female travelers. You may find good profile pictures but do not rely on these only. Always check references and contact via application chat only. Sharing your email id or phone number is not advisable. Always keep a backup hotel or host.
3. Away from City Center
Living in the city center is quite costly in some cities. If you are not willing to pay rent to hotels, you might get ready to give some extra time to travel to the end of the city. It happens, not always, that the host lives away from the city center. Some hosts will be kind enough to pick you up from that station or bus stand.
4. Canceling of Request on Last Moment
In most cases, this does not happen but one should keep it in mind. Hosts can have the last moment urgency and can cancel the request or may not reply. As a traveler, we should keep some 2-3 hosts as a backup and some hotels also.
How to be a good Couch Surfer?
Try to bring some gifts or candies for the children in the house. You can offer a bottle of wine, sweets or any paintings. This can be done when you meet them or leave the host. This gives a good impression and a way to start a conversation. Remember this is not mandatory but as a good traveler, one should do that.
2. Help in Kitchen
Some hosts do not allow to handle kitchen stuff to the traveler but if they allow, make some of your favorite dishes. If you are from India, make some curry dishes or biryani or whatever you like. You can help to buy groceries if you do not know how to cook food. It is a good way to exchange cultural ideas and dishes.
3. Exchange Ideas and Knowledge
As a traveler, you can share your journey, your ideas with the host. Remember hosts also want to know about you and your culture. I know about WordPress website creation, blogging, etc. You can share knowledge like this if they want.
4. Fill the Tank
Sometimes the host will come to take you with his or her bike or car or will help to visit the area by his own vehicle. As a good traveler and a couch surfer, you can ask to fill the tank for fuel as a kind gesture.
Frequently Asked Questions About Couchsurfing
Volunteering is a free- willed act or voluntary task or act by an individual or a group of people ready to give their time and energy for some community service. Volunteering can be done in any field. Couchsurfing is also similar to volunteering but in travel niche. As a couchsurfer, you can be a host or a traveler. When you are a host, you help someone for staying and fooding.
Yes. You can be a couchsurfer in India also. As a Host or traveler, you need not to pay anything. Couchsurfing is used by host or traveler for any monetary benefits.
In order to get verified, you have to pay fees. The app still works without verification but it has its own added advantage. In United States, it is $2.39 per month or $14.29/year. The amount is lower in many countries.
It is a platform or a service which connects people to a world wide community of travelers. It makes your accommodations and fooding easy by like minded hosts.
As a female traveler, you must double check the profile of the host and read reviews properly.
Couchsurfing is an amazing platform to make friends and travel the world. Most people fail using it because they think it is a way to get a free place for staying. Couchsurfing is a thought, once came to mind of Casey Fenton and is most importantly a community. Abuse of the system is taken very seriously by the community. Though self-consciousness and awareness are recommended.
The traveler needs to have a positive attitude and a desire to give back to the host and put some effort into the welfare of the community by sharing his or her knowledge.