If you haven't already heard about Couchsurfing, it's a community of travellers offering free accommodation in their homes, in exchange for getting to know a new culture. You can host travellers, stay with others, attend events, or just meet up with other members for a cup of coffee.
We've been members for almost a decade, and we're not exaggerating when we say it has revolutionised our world.
1. The local perspective
While there's plenty of guidebooks to be read - none of them will ever come close to the level of an eager host. You'll avoid the tourist traps, and often end up in places that are completely unknown to other travellers.
2. It's egalitarian
While the fact that it's free is secondary to most Couchsurfers, the system is clearly making it easier to travel for people on a low budget. We're not saying you should host for charity - we never do. But when we get an interesting request, it's always nice to know that we can help someone else's travel dreams come true.
Because you're likely to frequent a certain section of society through your friends, workspace and hangout spots, it's also a place you'll make connections with people you probably never would have met otherwise.
3. You become more tolerant
The best way to become accepting to new people and new cultures, is to actually meet them. You will probably encounter cultural traits that seem rude, weird, or annoying at first. But as you carry on you will start to recognise cultural patterns, and get accustomed to other ways of life.
4. It's pretty safe
We often meet people who are scared about the prospects of staying in the house of a stranger. But while you can find bad people anywhere, Couchsurfing does have a reference system, and there is some communication taking place before you agree on a stay. You basically get a decent idea about the person who is going to host you.
Are there creeps on the site that are interested in nothing but getting laid? Sure. But so are there in most social venues (bars, events, and probably at your work as well). Pre-screening and using your common sense is advised, just like in other areas of life.
5. Friendships are made
When you spend time with new people, some of those people are inevitably going to become your friends. And while you can make friends at work, your university or a bar, there are several things that make the friendships you form through Couchsurfing different:
During a stay, you're forced to spend a certain amount of time with the people you meet. Of course you can limit this if you're uncomfortable of incompatible with the person, but you're generally going to try much harder than with a random encounter in a bar. A first impression is not always correct. When we're Couchsurfing we're forced to try a bit harder, and it often results in a mutual understanding.
Couchsurfing crosses socio-economic borders. While you choose your host yourself, they will often be people you would never have run into during your daily routine.
This picture is taken 8 years later, in the Namib desert. Needless to say, we had plenty of time to make friends in between. She's now one of the most important people in my life, many of which I met through this fantastic community of travellers.
Go try it
If you haven't already tried it, go ahead and register today. It might not be for everyone, but you'll never know unless you experience it for yourself - time to get out of your comfort zone!
PS. If you want some advice on how to write requests, sign for our newsletter below, and we'll send you some of our best tricks.