So, would you? Would you stay the night in a stranger’s home in a foreign country? Would you let a stranger into your own home and show them around your favourite city, eat with them, take them on a night out? In the next 500 words, I’m going to try and convince you that, hell yes, you should.
The travel bug
Since being a student I’ve travelled the world more than ever before; not really what I was expecting when I moved into my 2x2 box room and had a £25 weekly #budget to live on. How? The #adventure started with the £10 Mega Bus deals to Amsterdam and Paris, then the £20 easyjet flights to Norway and Poland. But one thing was still burning a hole in my student pocket: accommodation.
Just a few days before I was due to #travel to Copenhagen, I was introduced to CouchSurfing: the social networking site that connects people around the world who want to open up their homes to fellow travellers. You got it- it’s airbnb, but without the dollar signs.
My first experience
I downloaded the CouchSurfing app just days before I was due to fly, and I was I was amazed at how easy it was to get started. All you had to do was set up a profile, search for the country you want to visit and start messaging some potential hosts.
I ended up staying with four students in the centre of Copenhagen for two nights. They put out mattresses and blankets for us in their very cool, arty lounge and we spent most of our first evening chatting with them in their kitchen. That night they gave us a map of the city which they had marked with all the best local places to visit.
A boarded up on the outside and candle-lit on the inside late-night jazz bar didn’t make the cut in any of the tourist guides. I have CouchSurfing to thank for that night.
What’s in it for them?
I can hear you asking: but who would open their house up to complete strangers for free?! A lot of people: 400,000 of us to be exact. CouchSurfing now has 4 million users, 400,000 hosts and spans over 238 countries and 97,000 towns and cities all over the world. That’s a lot of couches.
So why are so many people doing it? Believe it or not, there are still some very interesting, intelligent and fun people out there who are passionate about showing off their cities to like-minded travellers. For the ones I’ve had the privilege of staying with, it’s about building a travel community, learning new stories and making global connections.
Think about it: if you’ve hosted 300 couchsurfers from 20 different countries, wherever you travel next you’re likely to be drowning in places to stay, and even have a personal local tour guide at your fingertips. It's a traveller's dream.
Is it safe?
It’s quite easy to see from hosts’ profiles whether they’re suitable or not; a lot of information on their interests is given and, most importantly, there are plenty of reviews from other couch surfers’ experiences with that host.
If you’re new to CouchSurfing, always go for a host that has plenty of positive reviews and try not to travel alone. It’s also good to get chatting to them before you arrive and always try meeting them for a drink in a local bar first.
It’s addictive, and you might not want to settle for hostels or an airbnb next time you're looking for an adventure. Since Copenhagen, I’ve CouchSurfed in Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Berlin. I fully plan on extending that list when I reach South America next year.
Not convinced? I challenge you to try it; then we can talk.