Couchsurfing Changes the World

Couchsurfing Changes the World

Couchsurfing.org can change your life.  Everyone has idealistic views of how people could be, how we think people should be, that strangers, across languages, cultures, and beliefs are more similar than different, but too often we see the opposite demonstrated. Couchsurfing transcends all this, it brings people together, sharing homes, meals and ideas.  It is a living demonstration of what we want the world to be, of how it could be.

A couchsurfing "family dinner" in Taupo, New Zealand. As his children have left the house, he's filled their bedrooms with Couchsurfers. Also here were LOCAVORista's parents who graciously grilled dinner for all of us.

WHAT IS COUCHSURFING?

Couchsurfing.org is a website that people offer up spaces in their home for travelers to stay.  They may be offering up a couch, guest bedroom, or place on the floor, but do it for free, to strangers.  Each person, a host or surfer, has a profile similar to facebook, including references, photos and information about themselves.  People interested in surfing send a “couch request” including details of their stay, and a personal message to make a connection with a host.  Hosts then review the request, profile and references to determine if they want to host a specific surfer.

The backyard of our Couchsurfing hosts in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. They had a stunning "lifestyle block" complete with orchard, riverfront, and picturesque views.

It’s great for single people, couples, or even groups of travelers.  Just make sure you check out profiles to ensure that there is enough space for you and your companions.

HOW DOES IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

Couchsurfing is about more than a place to stay.  Surfers and hosts often share meals, life experiences, and exchange ideas.  The connections are between strangers; strangers who without Couchsurfing would not have interacted.  Often the relationships created by the site transcend religion, socio-economic backgrounds, and nations.  Not only does a surfer get to know a city from a local perspective by staying in a home instead of a hotel, the hosts themselves learn about their city.  Before hosting Couchsurfers I was fairly condescending of our hometown, Minneapolis, considering it fly-over country as many Americans do.  In hosting I learned much about our hometown, the things of interest to visitors, and that there are a lot of things to be proud of going on.

LOCAVORista practicing her coloring with Asha, one of our Couchsurfing hosts in Townsville, Australia.

Let’s acknowledge how it really changes the world: strangers allowing strangers to stay in each others homes is pretty radical.  It’s one thing to put up a profile online, exchange a few messages and meet for coffee as in online dating.  It’s another thing to sleep in a strangers house, or worse, let them find out that your snoring penetrates walls.

IS IT SAFE?

This is probably the most common question we get about Couchsurfing.  There are two sides to it: Is surfing safe? Is hosting safe?

I think surfing is very safe, arguably safer than a lot of budget accommodations.  Let me ask you a question: do you think taxis are safe?  You get into a taxi with a stranger, often with baggage and valuables.  A driver can take you anywhere, then relieve you of your things or have their way.  They can drive off and leave you anywhere, with your ability to identify them limited (especially in places with “gypsy cabs”).  If you are Couchsurfing you can choose who to send a request to based on their profile, references and personal judgement.  Then there’s the fact you are in someone’s home, most people aren’t going to commit a crime in their own home.  Obviously if you are uncomfortable with any person you shouldn’t request to stay with them, and you are always welcome to leave.  The people that always have the most safety questions are single women, for them I recommend staying with other single women or couples.  For everyone check references and be discerning.

Our hilarious hosts in Brisbane, Australia, Barb and Grant are headed off on their own world travels soon. Hopefully they will find Tim Tams wherever they go.

Hosting is obviously different.  There is obviously a lot to lose in your home due to either theft or accident.  This is a personal judgement question, how much do you want to meet new people, help travelers out, or build up karma?  For every request you get you can obviously say no, and picking and choosing surfers will enrich your experience.  For us hosting was a great experience, we loved having new people around, showing them our favorite places, and it got us out of doing the same things over and over again.  For us though, we only hosted on weekends, when convenient.  If you are interested in hosting, but hesitant, I’d recommend starting slow, getting your local Couchsurfing community gatherings, and being choosy with guests.

OUR EXPERIENCES

We’ve hosted and surfed quite a bit.  In the six months we had a home after joining we hosted more than a dozen people.  While traveling we’ve surfed in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.  Australia and New Zealand were incredible for us, we Couchsurfed 50 of 67 nights in those countries and owe our great experiences in the countries as a whole to Couchsurfing.  We saw parts of cities, ate in restaurants, and did things we’d never do without our hosts.  There is nothing like having a local guide to visit a place, even better if it’s someone that is doing it from the kindness of their heart.  Our trip, memories and experiences have been shaped by Couchsurfing.

ARE YOU READY FOR YOUR WORLD TO CHANGE?

We’ve traveled quite a bit, both during and prior to this trip, but Couchsurfing has changed our worldview more than anything we’ve seen or done.  The fact that strangers would welcome us into their homes, show us their towns, and share as much as they have with us has renewed my belief that we humans do have a lot in common.  While politicians talk about us and them, religions build clubs around their beliefs, and the media presents all that is wrong with the world, Couchsurfing is a real-life sign that deep down there is a lot of good in the world.  I’m not naive enough to believe that bad things haven’t or will not happen due to Couchsurfing, but when you’re sitting at someone’s dinner table learning that we all have similar dreams, goals and fears, the positives outweigh the fear of negatives.

Our Couchsurfing saviors in Christchurch, NZ. Due to the massive earthquake damage, many of the hotels were closed or fully booked. We posted on Couchsurfing that we needed a place to stay and recieved their response within 10 minutes.

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Research into Couchsurfing from surfers, hosts, and those that don’t participate.

Read LOCAVORista’s perspective on Couchsurfing in Japan and South Korea.

Laugh at how I got naked with our Couchsurfing hosts in Japanese saunas.

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Comments

» Tawny- Captain and Clark :
Mar 13, 2012

We absolutely love couch surfing. It’s not only a great money saver, but also a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends (and locals). It hardly ever disappoints.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Tawny, I agree we have never been disappointed in our couchsurfing experience. We have met amazing people and loved getting in touch with locals. Of course we love the money savings as well, but that has always come second to the incredible experiences we have had.

» Kristen :
Mar 15, 2012

Awesome! I shared your article on my facebook page. I’m currently traveling in NZ and we’ve been doing quite a bit of CSing over here. It’s such a great way to meet nice people! I’m always trying to get friends and family to join.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Kristen, glad to hear that you are taking advantage of the awesome kiwi CSing community. Enjoy New Zealand, we loved the hiking on the South Island.

» Jon and Jenny Stark :
Mar 15, 2012

Hi. Love your blog. We also love couch surfing. We are two Aussies currently travelling the world, living off our rent! We had the pleasure of hosting lots of great people from all over the world before we left. Since then we have caught up with some of them on our travels.
Read Jon and Jenny Stark’s awesome post Trekking in the Thai Jungle

LOCAVORista Reply:

Jon and Jenny, thanks for the comment. It’s always fun to hear from other couchsurfers- thanks for hosting! We loved hosting at home in Minneapolis as well. Enjoy your travels, sounds like you had quite an adventure on your Thai trek- the sun can be scorching. Happy trails and enjoy your continued adventures!

» Bka :
Mar 18, 2012

As you know this “leap in faith” is still somewhat of an enigma to me……having had dinner/drinks/great conversations with you guys on 5/6 occasions, with your amazing couch surfing hosts, I too have had my faith restored in the dream of world peace…..be safe and keep your safety/sh** detector well tuned….love dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, I totally believe that couchsurfing is a direct path to world peace and that’s no joke.

» Hanna :
Oct 18, 2012

Do you have more information about how your experience in Japan and Korea was? A good friend and I are thinking about going to Japan& Korea and our budget is low.
Do they expect something, what are things that can easily be misunderstood/done wrong and how to avoid misunderstandings and lot’s of other questions. But we’re also unsure, because on some blogs there were lot’s of negative feedback for Japan& Korea but what you wrote seemed like a pleasant experience.
And do you know japanese? or is english enough to get around in Japan?

LOCAVORista Reply:

Hanna, I’m excited to hear about your upcoming travel plans for Japan and Korea. I followed up with you via email, enjoy your travels and let us know if you have any other questions.

» Hanna :
Oct 24, 2012

Hello,
thank you for answering!
As I said we want to visit Japan and Korea as soon as we finish school, I just found out that even though we’ll be an adult here in Germany, we’ll still be underage in Japan& Korea, do you know if that’ll be a problem and do we need take special preparations because of that?
I’ll be able to join couchsurfing next year, so I hope I’ll be able to look into couchsurfing and get an first impression of it, before going to a complete foreign country.
I’m only planning the korean part of our visit, could you recommend some places, because the guides I’ve look into so far recommend far too much and I can’t really decide what to leave out and what is a must see, or do you have a suggestion how I could systematical decide on what we could skip in my opinion?
Like for Seoul Trip reports say about 3 days are enough, but there seem to be so many sightseeing places that such a short stay seems impossible to manage but maybe that depends on what you focus on to do and see?
You could say it’s a bit early to start planning (we want to go in summer 2014) but we’ve never traveled far on our own and haven’t convinced our parents fully that the trip is a good idea.
Your posts about backpacking were really helpful, I’ll need to go through then thoroughly but they gave me an idea on what we have to be ready for and what we have to consider.

I’ve still got heaps of questions, but right now these are what I’m thinking about.

A big part of our plan up till now is to WOOF and couchsurf a lot to cover the sleep place costs, is that realistic?
Will we each need an account, one at WOOF Korea and one at WOOF Japan, or is it enough if only one of us has an account at each and inform the farms we’ll stay at that we’re 2 people?
Ok, I just realised your email is non reply so I’ll just post this here(:
Love Hanna

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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