I remember the first time I heard about Couchsurfing… I was traveling in Costa Rica, sitting in the sunshine alongside the thundering Nauyaca waterfall when out of the mist walked two college students who were exploring the country on their summer break. As we got to know one another, I learned some of the ways they were able to make long-term travel affordable, and one of the things they mentioned was Couchsurfing. Like many people, I was intrigued yet skeptical about a service where complete strangers open up their houses to you and let you stay with them for free. In the months that followed, I set up an account personally, and from that point on my world expanded as I tapped into an incredible source of travel enthusiasts who are located all around the world. As I began to utilize Couchsurfing, it taught me many things, several of which I will share with you now.
1. Couchsurfing isn’t about a “free place to crash”.
When you participate in Couchsurfing, the expectation is to share things with your host or surfer. Whether it be a meal, a walk around town, a trinket from your hometown or simply a few life stories, the idea is that Couchsurfing can help people make connections and feel at home in a place away from home, and keep it affordable along the way.
2. Couchsurfing helps make the world smaller by facilitating connections.
As I travel around the world, I am able to use Couchsurfing to help make local friends along the way. The cool thing about these Couchsurfing friendships is that sometimes you make such a great connection with someone that you may surf with them, then host them a few months later. I have had several multi-continent meet-ups with friends I have met through Couchsurfing and it is so much fun to reconnect with a familiar face after having shared a previous surfing experience together.
3. Couchsurfing is more than just hosting or surfing, it’s about people helping people.
When I find myself alone in a new location, I turn to Couchsurfing to try and make a friendly connection, and it hasn’t failed me yet. If you’re traveling through an unfamiliar place, and you’re looking for travel tips, recommendations or even a friendly partner to hang out with, you can reach out to the local Couchsurfing community and you will nearly always get a response. Also, if you’re ever in a bind, there are typically people who can help you out. I’ll never forget the time I needed a ride from the airport, and my actual friend in the area had to bail, so I reached out to the Couchsurfing community. I met a newfound friend who picked me up and spent the afternoon showing me a few of his favorite places in the area. We ended up maintaining contact the whole time I was in the area, and by the time I left, I felt like I had met someone who really had my back if I needed them.
4. Couchsurfing reminds you that the world is full of good hearted people.
As I am welcomed into the houses of Couchsurfing hosts, I am constantly reminded of the kindness of strangers. These people share their lives with me, and treat me as their friend and I am forever grateful for their help and the connection we share while I am on my journey.
5. If you really want to get to know a place, visit someone who lives there.
When you know someone living in another city or country, they can help you see the place through the eyes of a local, and not only as a a tourist. Before I knew about Couchsurfing, I often chose my travel destinations based on where I may have had friends living or studying. Now that I know about Couchsurfing, it’s as though I have friends all over the world who can show me the wonders of where they live.
6. People live in all sorts of ways. Embrace the differences.
As I stay or “surf” with more and more people around the world, I experience many different ways of life. Sometimes I have my own private bedroom, with wifi and hot water, other times I wake up on the floor surrounded by a deflated air mattress, and there have even been times where I have bathed “Indian style” with a bucket and pail. There is beauty in the differences, and with each new Couchsurfing experience I am able to get a taste of what it might be like to live in the that city, state or country. It opens my mind and expands upon what I may know as “normal”.
7. Couchsurfing is not only for “hosts” or for “surfers” but for anyone with a love of travel and cultural exchange.
As I came back to my hometown, I found myself wondering if Couchsurfing existed there as well. I did a quick search and was happy to find an event group who got together to explore different restaurants around town. The great thing about Couchsurfing is that it provides a sense of community, centered around people who love to travel and get to know other people. With this community, you can always expand your world by getting to know new people and places, and by learning from the connections you make along the way.
8. Pay it forward.
As people take me under their wing in my travels to all corners of the world, it makes me want to help others in any way I can. Whether it is hosting when I am not traveling, or simply sharing travel tips or advice with a weary traveler I meet on the road, I want to treat people well and make their travel experience the best it can be.