5 reasons you should consider Couchsurfing on your next trip

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.

Ben: During my stay in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), I was hosted by Mwanaharusi. Most tourists get on the first boat to Zanzibar, so I was really lucky to see city-life in Tanzania through local eyes. A luxury resort can probably be a nice experience, but sharing a meal of fried bananas with my new friends is surely a memory I will treasure until the day I die.

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.

Naya: As a Russian, I've often had to make the most out of the money I earned. Although I always try to have a plan B, Couchsurfing has definitely enabled me to go to places that otherwise would have been above my budget. Hong Kong is one of the destinations that comes to mind. My host even took me clubbing, and since I'd only brought my hiking clothes, he was kind enough to lend me something smarter (and yes - they did let me in).

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.

Naya: I couchsurfed many times when travelling solo, and as a girl, I feel there are some precautions necessary. When alone, I prefer being hosted by other girls. If I send a request to a guy, I check if he has references from both genders - if he only hosts girls, I take that as a bad sign. But all in all, I've had dozens of great stays through the site, and I never felt threatened by any of my hosts.

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.

Ben: I met Els at a Couchsurfing event at a bar in Oslo when I just started participating. We didn't really like each other much, but crossed paths a couple of times through the community.

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.

Ben Wixen

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