Traveling around the world is always exciting, especially when you are going to some foreign place you have never been before. Along with the fun and adventure, traveling brings with it a heap of worries including loads of expenses and the uncertainty of unfamiliar territory.
What if you could visit a foreign country or the town next door, without worrying about lodging expenses and having the bonus benefit of a personal tour-guide free of charge? This has been my experience in almost every foreign city I’ve visited. How? CouchSurfing.
CouchSurfing is not to be confused with SofaSurfing, which is where one goes from friend to friend staying on their sofa as long as their friend will let them and then moves to the next friend usually due to the financial inability to land a place of their own. CouchSurfing is a community of travelers around the world. It is made up of hosts, who offer their couch, and surfers, who sleep on other people's couches. An altruistic society of give and take, where you repay kindness and friendship with more kindness and friendship in a pay it forward style of life.
Every surfing/hosting occasion has been an adventure and a new experience. With each new guest or host comes with it a lifetime of experiences, travels, and past adventures. Foreigners bring with them their culture and traditions from lands near and far, in an attempt to share understanding and acceptance in the best way of embracing diversity I have ever seen.
Is it safe? Of course there is a certain amount of risk with opening your house to a stranger, or staying on someone’s couch you have never actually met, but in general, CouchSurfing is very safe as long as common sense is used.
The website has a few unique features that provide additional safety and compatibility to those seeking connections. In the same manner as Myspace or Facebook, CouchSurfing offers a profile area to tell others a little bit about yourself and post a few photos of your travels. The profile serves as the primary way of finding out if someone is compatible with you.
Through a small donation to the cause with your credit card, the site verifies that you are who you say you are. A postcard is then sent to your address with a code on it, and when that code is entered at the site, it verifies that you live where you say you live. Neither of these verifications are necessary for someone to use the site, but it does add a level of safety, allowing you to choose people who have been verified.
The other way to determine if someone is trustworthy or compatible with you, are by his or her references from past CouchSurfing experiences. After a successful hosting or surfing, references are left for each other that can be positive, neutral, or negative. Common sense tells us not to host a negatively referenced surfer. Those with loads of positive references will probably be really great hosts or surfers. As a host, there is never an obligation to host and extras, such as sightseeing, are completely optional and up to each individual.
If you are interested in embracing the differences in others that make everyone unique, helping out a stranger, traveling on a budget, or learning about new diverse cultures, give CouchSurfing a try.
It is the little things, like what I have had the privilege to experience with this community, that give me hope that the world still has some good in it, that borders do not have to mean limits, and that great new adventures could land in my living room (and have) with just an email.
Joey is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, a prior Marine, and a triathlete. Originally from Illinois, he moved to San Diego in 2004 and fell in love. He writes for pleasure while traveling the world and continuing his education. He believes that experience is the spice of life and tries to find new things to see, do, and write about everywhere he goes.